Names are a funny thing. You see, when an author wants something to become ‘real’ to a reader — be it a place, a person, or even a fictitious concept — they give it a name. ‘Jack’s Pub’ or ‘The Brass Ring Tavern’ instead of ‘the bar’. ‘Dr. Richard Aberline’ instead of ‘the old surgeon’ or ‘the young dentist’. Once something has a proper name, an identity immediately begins to take shape. It can be for better or for worse. It can stay rigid, or gain fluidity over time. It can be simple, obvious, or absurdly complex. The point is that names hold a certain power over us, especially the ones we choose.
I myself was not born ‘Roux Bedrosian’, but the title has certainly come to suit me over the years. Allow me to explain.
DEEP IN DEPP
I remember when my love affair with Johnny Depp first began. It was 2003, I was 13 years old, and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was the smash hit of the summer. I first saw the movie on a day camp field trip. From the second Jack Sparrow made his onscreen appearance, sailing to shore and safety atop the mast of a sinking boat, I was captivated. There was a foreign charm there that held on to my attention through all 143 minutes of the film’s runtime. His accent was absurdly attractive. His comedic one-liners gave me butterflies. I ended up seeing the movie 6 more times in theaters because I couldn’t get enough of Captain Jack Sparrow.
In the weeks that followed, I could only think about pirates. I quickly started wearing bandannas to school, much to the chagrin of the dress-code abiding hall monitors. I also bought every accessory I could find with a skull and crossbones on it. I begged my parents for fencing lessons, and for a corset, and to “please, just let me try a sip of rum!” It was truly the dawning of an era.
But, it was more than pirates — it was him. It was John Christopher Depp. The second, actually. He was named for his father who, I later learned, he had a very poor relationship with. I learned plenty of other things about him, too, through frenzied and passionate research. He was born on June 9th, 1963 in Owensboro, Kentucky at 8:44 a.m. He dropped out of high school with the encouragement of his principal to pursue music full time. Nicholas Cage introduced him to his agent, who got him into his first role as Glen Lantz in 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street. He quickly shot up to teen heartthrob status during his subsequent tenure on 21 Jump Street. He hated that show, though, and would wear rubber bands on his tongue to set in protest.
I decided to continue my studies by working my way through his filmography. My local library had almost every one of his movies on hand, and I spent an entire weekend watching them all in chronological order. You know, what any typical 13-year-old in love would do. The early 90’s were full of gems — Cry-Baby, Edward Scissorhands, Benny & Joon, Ed Wood — but I started to burn out around 1998 at Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas. I admit I was a touch less enthusiastic than I had been as I pressed on into the 2000’s, but a little film called Chocolat soon gave me the pick-me-up I needed.
“ONE TASTE IS ALL IT TAKES.”
If you’ve never seen Chocolat, I sincerely recommend it. Based on the Joanne Harris novel, it’s a compelling romantic-drama about a young single mother with a restless spirit. She brings temptation to a rigidly pious French town through something as innocent as chocolate. Johnny Depp is in the movie for 27 whole minutes and, honestly, he’s pretty forgettable. He portrays the main love interest — an Irish busker who travels around with a pack of hooligans on some river boats. He’s handsome and charming, sure, and he does play a mean cover of Django Reinhardt’s ‘Minor Swing’ on the guitar. Most importantly, his name in the film is simply Roux.
I had never heard such an incredible name before. I didn’t know names like that existed — that they could exist. I didn’t know why you didn’t pronounce the ‘x’, either, but that somehow made it even cooler. It was one of the most thrilling moments of my young life as I decided then, as the film’s credits rolled at 2 o’clock in the morning, that it would be mine, too.
It was October, and we’d only been in school for about a month. My teachers barely knew anyone’s name, so it seemed the perfect opportunity to test the waters. On a morning vocab assignment, I penned my new moniker — Roux Bedrosian — at the very top of the page. It looked great and invigorated my confidence in the decision. Still, I distinctly remember holding my breath as I awaited push-back from my instructor. Instead, Mrs. Markowitz simply blinked and asked, “Roux? Is that what you want to be called?”
The name stuck for the rest of the year, and then the year after that. I went through middle school, then junior high, all the way up to my high school graduation as ‘Roux Bedrosian’. Nobody ever challenged me. They printed it on my year book instead. Friends who’d met me after that fateful movie marathon never knew I had another name. My parents even praised me for it. “I wish I’d thought of it,” my mom still often says,“what a great stage name! Like Cher or Madonna!”
My affair with Johnny went on, too, until about 2010. It was then I’d decided he’d done one Tim Burton film too many. That atrocious remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory — one of my most cherished and beloved childhood movies — was the nail in the coffin. I couldn’t go on like that anymore. He’d just have to understand. Other actors quickly swooped in to fill his void, and suddenly I knew what time a lot of different celebrities were born. 7 years of devotion and love, snuffed out like a candle.
Yet, the name Roux remains over a decade later. In fact, I relate more to it now than I ever have before. For one, Roux is a unique name, and I enjoy being unique. Secondly, it’s technically a man’s name. I enjoy that, too. Immensely. As a gender nonconforming individual, a gender nonconforming name is entirely fitting. It frees me from a lot of dated, binary assumptions, especially via e-mail. Without my face or my voice to go by, most cyber-marketers address their messages to me as ‘Mr. Bedrosian’. It is a small delight that has yet to get old. I’m not sure it ever will.
There have been a few occasions over the course of my life where I’ve tried to shed the name. In college, for instance, I was in classes so large that the professors never got to know us individually. We were instead reduced to names and student ID numbers on their rosters. That meant using my original name on all my hand-in work as to avoid confusion. It was harder than I thought it’d be to break the habit of signing ‘Roux’. I also surprised myself with my own disappointment every time I had to.
I’ve also tried going into new jobs with my original name. Of course, it always proves to be a huge distraction and I end up explaining myself after a couple of days. My colleagues don’t get all the details — I don’t kiss and tell, Johnny — but I always back the name up with the sheer longevity of its life with me. Most people take to it quickly, and I get more compliments than I do questioning looks. Though, it doesn’t much matter to me either way. Roux makes me feel good. It makes me memorable. It gives me a story to tell. More importantly, it puts me in touch with the things that truly make me me — passion, creativity, ambition, and a little bit of absurdity. It’s the identity that I’ve named to make it real, and the newly single Mr. Depp has absolutely nothing to do with it.
Roux is also a cooking term for when you mix flour and butter together to create a thickening agent, often for gravy, stews or sauces. Some people have asked me if my parents are chefs. I tell them no, I’ve just chosen to be delicious.