A Directory of Daves
"I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the lyre. He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine-looking man. And the Lord is with him." 1 SAMUEL 16:18 (NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION)
David Watkins-Valls doesn’t play the lyre, but he speaks well and is a fine-looking man, in my opinion at least. There’s a few other ways that our David differs from the biblical king: he’s a robotics Ph.D. student at Columbia University and isn’t from Bethlehem as far as I know, though I didn’t actually ask.
In the middle of June thanks to an Instagram ad, I stumbled upon the Dave Directory and promptly forgot about it, but obviously I didn’t completely forget about it. The Dave Directory, to quote them directly is “a prestigious website dedicated to the verification and promotion of Daves.” For the past week, it’s consumed my every waking moment and haunted my dreams. I suspect that now I’m one of the few people who have used the Dave Directory for its express purpose of directing people to Daves — that’s how I found David Watkins-Valls otherwise known as Dave 39.
Why am I writing about the Dave Directory and Daves, more generally? The story of the Dave Directory is one of community; I love niche and unimportant communities and I’m here to tell the story of the Dave Directory. It’s hard to understand the purpose of a Dave Directory — it’s usually the first thing that’s asked when I end up talking about the Directory. “Why not?” I usually reply but the Daves have a much better answer.
“An opportunity to immortalize yourself in history” is how David Worley, the founder of the Dave Directory and known as Dave 1, frames it. Dave 39 is much more skeptical of that idea, but likes the idea of exclusive clubs and the idea of forming a community and identity around the name Dave.
We talk about this at length over Zoom. He’s framed and lit very nicely in what appears to be a sort of combination of a workshop and a den, with a couple of framed diplomas, a pegboard of tools, and an electric guitar in the background. I’m in my bedroom, lit by the morning sun in front of me and a lamp too weak to actually do anything behind me — the walls seem unnaturally bare and I should have used a virtual background.
David walks me through the rich history of exclusive clubs, inviting comparisons between the Dave Directory and the Boy Scouts and the freemasons. He lists the two requirements for a successful exclusive club: criteria for entry and gain from membership — the former of which is much clearer than the latter when talking about the Dave Directory. We end up talking a lot more about that second point — the point that’s so central to understanding the purpose of the Dave Directory. What’s there to gain from joining the Dave Directory?
This loops back to our central discussion of community and identity. David doesn’t believe that there’s anything associated with the name Dave or David — he brings up names that are usually associated with memes like Chad or Karen. Seeing as how these names have negative connotations, I’m confused and so we discuss it a bit. I’ve done a bit of reflecting since then and I think I know what he’s talking about — he’s asking the same question that we all ask ourselves: What is a Dave?
Dave.com is the “finance version of David vs. Goliath.” It’s one of the first things that show up when you Google “dave” — or when you DuckDuckGo it, at least; I’ve been using DuckDuckGo because I think the duck in the logo is cute. This and the fact that I’ve combed through the over 120 Dave employees to find out if they employ a Dave (they do; David Vieyra works in UX research) are irrelevant. The only reason I bring up Dave.com is because they define what Daves are on their about page: helpful and decent, innovative entrepreneurs, resourceful, persistent, and transparent.
David says he likes to think of himself as an innovative entrepreneur, having started his own company, and hopes that he’s helpful and decent. I can tell that he’s sincere about that. While chatting, David tells me that he thinks that there’s generally a positive connotation behind his name. I’ll admit that at the time I was skeptical of there being any connotation behind the name at all, but looking back at what Dave.com says about Daves, I’d have to agree with David. Unbeknownst to probably all of us, what it means to be a Dave has already been quite well-defined. What further work is there to do then?
Identity taken care of it must then be the Dave Directory’s purpose then to address community for Daves. I find the idea of a community behind a name fascinating — I don’t think I’ve ever personally met another Quoc. Gatherings of people that share a first name are more popular than one would think. In September of 2019, The Sun published a short article titled “Pub boss plans largest gathering of people named Nigel amid fears name is dying out” — 432 Nigels showed up, but that’s not the important part. This event seems like an oddity — a fun little bit of trivia — but it’s not, “Nigel” from the comments of that article tells
"It’s so typical that the plight of Nigels everywhere has been trivialised by non-Nigels in “big media” and relegated to the “slightly humorous” middle pages of mediocrity. Though Nigel is not my name I have identified as a Nigel for some time now, and I think it is time that this kind of constant and degrading reporting was put a stop to, and allow Nigels or anyone identifying as a Nigel to have the respect and dignity we deserve." NIGEL N
I won’t lie and say that I haven’t toyed with the idea of infiltrating the Dave Directory. As Dave 1 puts it, the reputation of the Dave Directory relies on the proper verification of Daves, so verification for a non-Dave, such as myself, would consist of forging social media accounts or ID cards, which seem to the sort of stuff journalists that write hard-hitting exposés do. I’ve always loved the work behind investigative journalism and I like to consider myself a sort of amateur investigator into the most inconsequential issues that we face — topics like milk cap color standardization and the history of a city motto— and a successful infiltration of this Directory would do wonders for my ego. Despite this, I haven’t even tried. I think I respect the idea of the Dave Directory too much and such an attempt on my part would trivialize the plight of Daves.
I still fear that I am doing the Dave Directory and Daves all over a disservice, though. Regardless of however much I respect the Dave Directory, the issue is that this, alongside every single thing that I’ve ever written, is the epitome of, as Nigel puts it, the “middle pages of mediocrity.” This overly-verbose, tongue-in-cheek essay won’t do much for the promotion or community-building of Daves. However, I don’t think the Dave Directory is doing a great job of that on its end either.
In the two months that the Dave Directory has existed it has accepted 132 Daves and rejected 24 “fake Daves” — in the two days that it’s taken me to write this only one more Dave has been added to the Directory. Davey Cuthbert joined on the fifth of August and has no contact information — the Directory has failed at its sole purpose of directing me to Daves.
I was also thinking about doing something to see whether or not the Dave Directory was as effective at listing Daves as phonebooks were for all people generally. It turned out to be too much work, so I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader. If you end up finding something, let me know and I’ll Venmo you like five dollars or something.
While we’re on a tangent at the intersection of data science and Daves, I noticed that it seemed that the Dave 39 I talked to knew a lot more Daves than I did. I only I know two, maybe three Daves: Peter’s dad and Miguel’s friend that I met at Astrea’s halloween party two years ago. I think that I have a memory of a David from elementary school, but trying to conjure up his image only brings me back to the playground at the school next the monkey bars that have a turn in them. I found the playground on Google Street View — it’s the complex on the right and the monkey bars connect the two main structures. I remember it being bit bigger in my memory and also a much more overcast.
This was not meant to be a discussion of the Daves in my life, though that might have been more interesting. Long story short, I was curious to see if Daves knew more Daves than non-Daves, so I published a quick survey to reddit, which was met with an overwhelming number of responses. The answer is yes.
I’ve rambled on for far too long about Daves and gone on a lot of unnecessary tangents (I wrote this last paragraph first, but my powers of clairvoyance are unmatched, so I knew it would be true), but I think David Watkins-Valls summed up the idea of the name the best in our chat.
"It’s a good name." DAVID WATKINS-VALLS