By Joe(l) Phelps
I’m not a gambling man, but I’d almost be willing to bet my father didn’t foresee people discussing how to address his unborn son back in 1985.
Fast-forward 36 years and it has come to my attention that not only are many unsure of my preferred monicker, but some are also discussing the matter over dinner! It’s pretty flattering to know I’m dinnertime fodder, but let me set the record straight.
This is a little known fact that I share with very few people (mainly for fear they’ll absorb the information and tease me with it): My dear old dad wanted to name me Joel Joseph Phelps and call me Jo Jo for short. Mind you, this is the same man who thought The Beatles’ “White Album” was so grand that, 14 years prior, he had named my sister Prudence (one can only imagine the interesting conversations that must have taken place between our parents regarding labeling someone with that name).
My mother, who somehow agreed to Prudence, battled my father over his ridiculous idea for my name, and Joel Adam Phelps ultimately stuck. My father won partly, still, as I’ve always been called “Joe” except during formal ceremonies. I can list maybe 10 people in my lifetime who have actually called me by my legal first name, Joel (some of them are reading this, I assure you, and they were teachers of mine in elementary and high school).
Speaking of school, I was a bit of a cutup throughout my childhood while in the company of like-minded young boys (hence my claim to fame as the Sparkman High School Class Clown of 2004), and I distinctly recall my fourth grade teacher at Kingsland Elementary School (there’s another curveball for ya) scolding me so often by yelling, “JOE PHELPS! STOP DOING THAT!” The very memory of the harshness of two one-syllable words still raises the hairs on my neck. It was then that I decided people would call me by my first name, Joe, or they would use the legal name when attached to the surname, Joel Phelps.
Here’s another fun fact for you: When I first began my career in community journalism at the Siftings Herald, one of my many duties was covering the meetings of the Arkadelphia City Board of Directors. And who was among those elected volunteers but my distant cousin, Joe Phelps! Confusion spread throughout our circulation, as those who read the stories likely thought Joe Phelps was writing articles in which he was a subject!
The Joe Phelps who wrote to you then and now hails from Sparkman; the Joe Phelps many of you have known for so long is an Arkadelphia native who once provided the town with Internet services. That latter, elder Joe Phelps — and I certainly hope he doesn’t mind me sharing this — is Joseph Earl Phelps. For years, people would call my news desk thinking they were talking to Joseph Earl Phelps and would begin the conversation with something like, “You probably don’t remember me, but several years ago …” I would eventually realize their intended audience, politely interrupt, and affirm they were speaking with a different Joe Phelps. Are you still with me?
So why, pray tell, did Yours Truly opt against the name by which he had been going for more than three decades? And what do you expect us to call you?! The answer is simple.
I took a much-needed break from news writing before GateHouse killed not only the newspapers it owned but also, potentially, the good names and reputations of the people like me whose name was attached to it. I spent four years working, quite literally, inside a three-sided wooden box applying values to the never-ending lumber that passed before my now-weakened eyes. But now I’m back, doing what I do best: informing my readers of local concerns, and doing so now as the head-honcho of the publication.
What do I want you to call me? I’ll answer to Joe or Joel — any form of this name except Joey, but that’s a whole ‘nother story!