What's in a Name?

Sometimes you begin a project, and something about it that doesn’t sit quite right. A product can feel forced; an event an obligation rather than an intention. Sometimes it’s a matter of following a trend and when at the time of launch, the realization the fashion has already changed. Like a a piano tuner, you hit on something and it just doesn’t ring true to who the company is, or what you’re attempting to do. And depending on what is out of tune, it can be a minor key, or something that can mean everything is out of sync.

In my case, it was the issue of our name, an issue I would qualify as being pretty significant. If my original name, Faygele, felt too personal and specific (my Los Angeles-based baking project, which emphasized Jewish pastry and breads from across its ethnography), Diaspora was both too broad (which diaspora, really?) and perhaps more importantly, invoked something I hadn’t thought about during the initial planning phase: the violence that tends to engender diasporas in the first place.

Diasporas are, first and foremost, according to a variety of researchers of demography, geography, and historical sociology, defined as a dispersal, usually forceable displacement (see Safran and Reis for some of the better elaborations of diaspora identity). Both the Jewish and African diasporas can be defined in this condition, and while both share strong shared histories and newly cultivated traditions amongst their diaspora communities, their experience is one of trauma; violence and displacement are cornerstones and are regularly invoked by their living communities. For a place specializing in a desire to bring people together over food, drink, and workshops, even the most charitable reading of diaspora as a group coming together in shared values didn’t quite evoke what it was we wanted the company to be, or the energy we wanted to put forth. (And to top it all off, no one could seem to pronounce it.)

Good names, as silly as it sounds, are incredibly important to a project: they evoke strong feelings and impressions that set the tone and act as a connector for the many things a project may intend to do. Alice Waters and partners decided on Chez Panisse in part for their love of the films of Marcel Pagnol, but also because of the romance, the love that paints not just the love triangle but also the seaside scenes of Marseilles and Provence generally, feeding into the desire for the space to be filled with natural light and some textiles, and at its start a very French approach to food (that has evolved some in time). Supermoon Bakehouse is well named to project the otherworldly looks of their pastry and 2001-A-Space-Odessey-styled decor choices. Like many of the small touches that happen in a hospitality-driven project, a name can convey so much, so getting it right can be important.

Diaspora was a name chosen in a moment, perhaps appropriately, of some duress. Finishing my masters project at NYU, which was the initial build of this business, I had a hard time choosing a name; many of my classmates came down hard on the number of choices I had come upon (Kiln? Too abstract and hard to pronounce. Faygele? Same, even with the precedent. Commune? Already taken by a design firm. And does anyone like communal tables?), and at the time I lacked confidence to defend some of the choices. I was also working forty hours a week while going to school full time to so I could keep my loan repayments down, so my mind wasn’t fully in the game in terms of anchoring what I wanted to bring to the table. And so Diaspora, a name for a business with no home, and being in New York City, a place filled with people from elsewhere, seemed an easy fix.

For a while that worked; we did a few pop-ups under that name, which we learned in NYC are logistically frustrating and maddening, and got to supply a few shops for a while. I did this while working at paying off my loans continued working in a variety of other places picking up new skills and relationships. I kept returning to more experiences from the West Coast, what my favorite places were managing to accomplish there, and parts of the vision began to get buttressed and affirmed. As those wheels turned, the ideas became more coherent and the name less so; Diaspora felt less attached to notions of hospitality, warmth, gathering, and easygoing approachability. Nature, and agriculture, were not referenced or even in near imagination, let alone specific notions of food that were evoked by such a name.

As I began to come back to the the idea of running my own shop, and coming out of the confidence building exercise that was my time with City of Saints, I began to have confidence in what I wanted to do with this project, and began to return to workshopping the business plan. In a moment of brainstorming, a name that evoked almost precisely what I wanted materialized; one that I could grow from, and one that was tied to a very specific memory to me*, but could be generalized for anyone who had experienced it in reality or in imagination, and a name that left little room for interpretation.

That name is Campfire, or specifically for purposes of legal woo-woo, Campfire Coffee + Bread. The concept of being a cafe and bakery hasn’t changed; neither has the notion of being a community food hub in the underlying principle of the place. We’ll be slinging coffee and baked goods, making our own bread, jams, and preserves of various sorts, but also workshopping stuff like home baking and pickle making on off days and hours, or doing the occasional one-off dinner series. Yes, there’ll be a toast bar. And we’ll be doing it in a space that feels genuine the my sense of hospitality, which means literally coming into my home: chairs and tables that are welcoming to a variety of dispositions, a southwestern color palate, and a lot of blankets, throw pillows, wood, clay, and hopefully a backyard space for an actual damn fire pit (and some greenery). All of the ideas about progressive pay schemes, educational programming, and hospitality driven by surprising, supporting and delighting both our guests and each other will get to see the light of day.

So in all that, there’s been a few changes: the website, the instagram/twitter page, and even the shop got a little update and tidying up. A new logo is in the works, and we’re formally looking for a space to open up shop in, probably in the New York City area. I’m preparing some funding statements, and getting some things together for a kickstarter. It’s fulfilling the promise to myself that i set up earlier this year, if taking a little longer than expected. And while there are some other irons in the fire, job-wise, there’s no reason not to get onto this project. So we’re taking the leap, saying yes, now with a little more confidence and understanding of what this project should be. As it is said in the Tanchuma: In life, you discover that people are called by three names: One is the name the person is called by his father and mother; one is the name people call him; and one is the name he acquires for himself. The best one is the one he acquires for himself.

The story of that particular campfire in the next post, later this week. In the meantime, there’s some good grooves that still #standbythejams, and a good way to liven your week as it goes. Give it a listen, yeah?