September 26, 2007

What's In A Name?

My last name is long. It's under the 10-letter mark but only just. While the whole thing is pronounced pretty much the way it looks, people inexplicably throw in extra consonants like n and g. It has a couple of syllables that seem like they were thrown in as a joke and earned me almost endless ridicule in elementary school.

Over the years - all thirty-four of them that I've been dealing with this name - I've learned to ignore the mispronunciations. I've gotten used to nodding when people throw in those extra letters. I've even resorted to cutting off an extra syllable for ease of use. I don't dislike my name but sometimes I wish it was just a tad easier...on me and the people who have to use it.

I am apparently alone on that. Or so I learned with the arrival of news that we were having a boy.

One of the first things my paternal grandfather made clear to Beth after she and I got married was that she was to bring into this world a boy to carry on the family name. See, I'm an only child. I'm pretty much the last hope for this albatross of a name. So, gee, thanks grandpa. No pressure. I figured that pressure died along with him a couple of years ago. I was wrong. When I called my grandmother, she was absolutely thrilled beyond all reason. The first thing she did was call my great aunt to let her know that the dream hadn't died, that the name would live on.

And that got me thinking...

This name that I was saddled with completely and utterly against my will is something that I'm actually quite proud of. Sure, people have as much trouble pronouncing my name as they do with the capital of Cambodia and the lady I worked with a couple of jobs ago who put my name to shame because her name was, I swear, Probiskolipolibis. But that makes it unique. And while none of us actually did anything to earn the name, except get born, it's taken on the sum total of experiences that we, the unpronounceable clan has. We've struggled in foreign lands, emigrated from Germany, fought in the Pacific and European theaters in world wars, run corporations and, in my case, found a host of freaks in bathrooms across the greater Washington metropolitan area.

I feel a little bit guilty about passing this name off to my kids. They're going to have to suffer through the same jokes I did on the school playground and listen to the same lame attempts at pronouncing what really is a fairly easy name. But, behind that name, there's a long line of good people. And that's pretty cool.

Posted by Chris at September 26, 2007 6:30 AM

Like you, I am the sole male/namecarrier for my surname. Like you, my name is prone to mispronunciation and misspelling. However, the reasons for this involve an interesting story.

When my father immigrated to Canada from Italy, he was saddled with a less-than-ideal immigration official (read: idiot) who spelled his surname wrong. So, while his baptismal certificate (the only ID he has from Italy) has one surname spelling, the rest of his documentation has the other/wrong one. I have a host of relatives overseas... first cousins, aunts, uncles... all with a different last name than mine.

And to make it even more confusing, the misspelled version of my last name isn't Italian anymore. When you google it, you get a bunch of hits for Portuguese people (most in Brazil).

But I still love my last name, and even if it's going to be a source of torment on the playground and in government offices, I'd still like to pass it on to a son someday if we get the chance.

Posted by: SciFi Dad at September 26, 2007 7:05 AM

As a girl, that was something I was never concerned with. I have 2 brothers to carry on the family name (which is German, and, like yours, seemingly difficult to pronounce even though you just say it EXACTLY like it looks) so my job was to provide the boys for my husband's family. He is (well, was) the last of the males with their oh-so-common name. I did my job :-)

But still, even though I took my husband's name willingly, without a second thought, I was a little sad giving up my unique last name--the name that linked me with my family and generations past. That surprised me at the time, looking back it doesn't surprise me at all.

Posted by: Alissa at September 26, 2007 8:09 AM

orrr ... you could have an ultra-anglo noun-name like ... HILL and then marry someone with an EQUALLY ultra-anglo noun-name like ... COATES.

Which, when combined, sound like well ... like two REALLY ANGLO NOUNS duking it out at the end of my name.

Posted by: s@bd at September 26, 2007 8:29 AM

I like your thinking. My brother's middle name is Elis (pronounced eee-lis)and it is my father's middle name and was also HIS father's middle name. But my brother always hated it and said he didn't care that there was some family history - the name was dying with him. While he's certainly within his rights to do that, it makes me a little sad.
There is so much more sometimes that comes with a name than the name itself.

Posted by: Traci at September 26, 2007 9:05 AM

Well Cac-A-tus, I think being proud of a name is a good thing.

Posted by: William at September 26, 2007 9:08 AM

It's funny you should post this now, as I'm on the brink of changing my name back to what it was when I was born. I took my husband's name when I got married, and now that the marriage is over, I'm going back. It's like welcoming an old friend that I hadn't realized I'd missed until I saw them again.

My married name, while pronounced exactly as written, sure caused a lot of people a lot of problems in the pronunciation department. I can always tell a telemarketer on the phone by the way it takes them 2 or 3 tries to get the name out.

Posted by: alison at September 26, 2007 9:35 AM

My name is 5 letters and one syllable. Yet you would be surprised at how difficult it is for people. I used to hear my dad say his name and then he would spell our last name. It never made any sense to me until I got into the real world where I had to speak my name over the phone to others. So now I too spell out my last name after speaking it, and my oldest has started doing the same thing when she uses her first and last names.

It's really not that hard. Try it with me. Rex Spell. S-P-E-L-L

Posted by: Rex at September 26, 2007 9:51 AM

I am also an only child, but a girl. Though my father has a brother, my uncle has no biological children so our family name has indeed ended. I have not used the name since elementary school (I was adopted by my step-father, long story), but it makes me really sad to know the end of the line is upon us.

Posted by: Shelly at September 26, 2007 10:08 AM

My last name is three letters long. That's '3' in number-speak. I'm not even Asian. Still, defying all concept of common sense, people have always found novel ways to mispronounce it. It used to annoy me, but now I just think it's adorable how people can rape such a short word.

Posted by: You can call me, 'Sir' at September 26, 2007 10:21 AM

I also grew up saddled with the longest name on the planet... that could also be difficult to pronounce (but why? It SO rhymes with machete and spaghetti?!?!?) My first name is Christina (no shortening of that - I am Christina, not Christy, Christie or Chris TY very much!) My middle name WAS Louise and my last WAS NINE letters long. I hated having such a long name when I was kid - no one could pronounce it and I always ALWAYS had to stand up in class to teach the teacher how to say my name (I was horribly shy and dreaded this day every year...) I got over the teasing and mispronunciations and LOVE my last name now.

When I married I gave up my last name that I loved in some ways. I changed that retched middle name to my last name and took my husband's name. I now struggle with the fact that my son will not carry on my family name that is really pretty darn cool. I have thought about making it the next child's middle name so it will be carried on. We shall see...

Now that I have a boring last name (think Smith in another language...), I miss being unique. I miss the fact that people knew I was Italian and they now think I am some other nationality. That when I google myself there are a million of me... SO with that said, unique last names rock!

Posted by: Christina at September 26, 2007 10:24 AM

I hated my maiden name. It's 2 syllables and 6 letters, and there's nothing tricky but no one got it right. It sounds vaguely like a city in the midwest, so that's what my dad always uses for anything where it doesn't really matter if they got your name right. My dad's brother had a son, so he can carry on the name. I'm glad to be done.

I love my 4 letter married name (and I didn't have to change my initials). My poor son has a great last name, but his first and middle names are a mouthful (we joke that he has 3 last names). But his nickname is cute and easy (Link), so he'll be ok.

Posted by: SarraJK at September 26, 2007 10:34 AM

I'm the last name carrier in my family too. Although I really just wanted any healthy kid for baby #2, I was glad to have a boy to carry on the name.

Posted by: Brad at September 26, 2007 10:35 AM

I too have a tricky last name--and a surprisingly tricky first name. Which means that years ago I gave up correcting people and now answer to anything even remotely close. When I got married, I had the opportunity to change my name to my husband's last name--which is simple and basic. But I decided to stick with my wacky name. Because it's memorable. Because it's unique. Because it is the living memorial of a family that's struggled in this country since the 1600s and is still around (we're poor and unlucky but persistent). And because the thought of giving it up felt wrong.

My husband's family name is equally important to him. So we've decided to give the kid both names, non-hyphenated. That way we preserve both histories but spare the necessity of our child going through life saying, like I have, "Well, actually, it's pronounced..." Of course, it also means that our kid will have four names. Whatever.

But if I were just going to pass down my name, I wouldn't feel the least bit worried about it. I am not permanently scarred from having to answer to the wrong name. Life is not a trouble-free affair, and on the trouble scale, this rates pretty low.

Posted by: Alias Mother at September 26, 2007 10:50 AM

I went from having a 6 letter, common name (Harris) to a 10 letter name that most people mispronounce the first time the try it.. it too is pronounced the way it is spelled. You would be amazed at the number of people who turn "witz" into "ski" :)

Posted by: Sue at September 26, 2007 10:51 AM

I don't like my last name either, but that's because I'm always congested and say it all nasaly like Fran Drescher. If my nose wasn't so boogery all of the time, it wouldn't be half so bad.

Posted by: GreenCanary at September 26, 2007 10:56 AM

My maiden name is short and simple and solid. I like it. However, I have two brothers and three nephews, so there are no worries about it.

However, my son is the last carrier of a very nice name that's not really French and not really Italian. Americans can't pronounce it, though. I do kind of hope that when he grows up, he has a boy to carry it on. It's a beautiful name, six letters long and three syllables, and I'm somewhat sorry to shed it.

Posted by: Alison at September 26, 2007 11:15 AM

make sure you give him a pronouncable first name!!!! people tend to mess up my name all the time and it drives me batty. and most likely why i go by Ali.

Posted by: ali at September 26, 2007 11:52 AM

I'm Thai. So both my first and last (now maiden) name are long. Sure, mine is probably not the longest Thai last names out there, but when you're the only international student attending a high school full of white bread snobs, that wasn't much fun. Sure, it was difficult and embarrassing years, but I had more things to worry about other than my name being different or constantly mispronounced. Oh, I don't know, like wishing that the boy I liked knew of my existence and getting into college?

I have been taught the legacy that came with both names since I was little. I am proud of them. It doesn't matter how hard the time was. I may be embarrassed about my name getting butchered and teased, but I'm not embarrassed about having those names.

Although, I did have the saving grace of a unique "American" name given to me that I can go without a last name and they still know who I Madonna. Hehee.

Posted by: oakley at September 26, 2007 12:06 PM

My last name is often used as a first name. At least once a week, somebody calls me by my last name, thinking they are using my first name.

Just to get even with the world, I gave my son a first name that is actually a last name.

Posted by: Lefty at September 26, 2007 12:24 PM

My last name is incredibly common, and therefore never mispronounced (although occasionally misspelled), but it is likely going to end with my generation. (At least, our line of the name from my grandparents down... there will still be thousands or millions out there with it, though.) My mom's very unusual, often mispronounced but just like it's spelled maiden name is also likely ending with her generation, unless her brother get married and starts having children in his late 40s, which is not unheard of but unlikely in this case as he is quite happy as a permanent bachelor.

For some reason, I recently have had some self-imposed feeling of responsibility for passing these names to the next generation, but it's really not MY fault that the guys in my parents' families didn't meet their name-passing obligations, now is it?

Posted by: Stephanie at September 26, 2007 12:29 PM

When I got married I took my husband's name. When we divorced, I went back to my maiden name (even though my entire career had been as my husband's name). I did it largely because my family's last name HAS died out - my parents died, I am an only female child, and my dad only had a sister, so all cousins have a different last name. It made me proud to make sure my original family names lives on for a little while longer.

Posted by: Heather at September 26, 2007 1:00 PM

Chris, I think it is wonderful that you have learned to love your name. I know that Mia and "Wally" will learn to love it too!

I am also a person who's maiden name is commonly used for a first name. I got called that more times than I can count. I am the end of the genetic line too, so I had planned to name a daughter that name. I don't have kids and I'm sad to see it go. Oh and when I got married, I haven't been called by my last name not one single time. No mistaking it is a LAST name. :)

Posted by: Anna at September 26, 2007 1:12 PM

My name has no extra letters and people still mispronounce it almost daily.

But I always feel better when thinking about one of my friends. You see, his last name is Dubowyk. Pronounced doo-bow-vik. Fairly easy. However, it has been endlessly butchered and transformed and made into various nicknames, including into the ingenious "Doubledick."

So it could always be worse?

Posted by: Jenn at September 26, 2007 1:27 PM

When my father took the mic at my wedding reception, we all thought he was going to gush about losing his daughter,etc. But what he said was that I just received what all (maiden name here)'s wish for: I became a Smith. Because my last name was just like that: people couldn't pronounce it, we got made fun of, and it was not ordinary. I'm glad your son will be able to carry on the tradition for you.

Posted by: Claire at September 26, 2007 1:30 PM

Ah, names. My family name is common and Welsh.

I built my professional reputation with the surname of my first (practice) husband. Champion. Is that a great name or what? I mean, I win! Every time!

With the love of my life I'm back to common and probably Irish. Which is funny, since the love of my life is native American. And even funnier, since it's also a first name, and strangers rarely remember my entirely common first name.

Anyway, I struggled with this whole name thing some years ago, realizing I was in no way attached to any appellation whatsoever. I figured I could name myself, and was prepared to go to court to do so. Bottom line is it doesn't matter, doesn't change who I am inside or how I behave in the world. It's as arbitrary as can be, and doesn't matter in the greater scheme of things.

Sorry for the rambling.

Posted by: bhd at September 26, 2007 1:32 PM

I can't believe there are people in these United States that can't pronounce Cactus. ;)

Posted by: Nanette at September 26, 2007 1:46 PM

When I got married, I traded a pretty regular last name (which never was spelled right) for a last name that there is no hope of spelling right. And I just got used to it. I got used to the new name much easier than my old name. I don't really care if someone says it wrong or spells it wrong. I patiently pronounce it and spell it as many times as necessary. But something happens to my maiden name? I take great offense. I'm proud of it. I'm proud of my family. And I think there's something to be said for that.

Posted by: Emily at September 26, 2007 2:18 PM

I know all the pain of a nice long last name. Our's is Italian, 10 letters and 5 sylables, everyone cuts out or adds letters to it. I practically hand out a business card (or m checkbook) everytime someone says "can you spell that" On the phone though, I'm just plain screwed.

Posted by: Sabrina at September 26, 2007 2:45 PM

I'm an only child with no cousins and a I'm a girl to boot, so my last name ends with me. That's partly why I kept it when I got married, but I also kept it because it's my name; it didn't feel right for me to take on someone else's. My last name is our kid's middle name and I'm glad that it's getting carried on in some capacity for at least another generation. I do get bummed out about it sometimes, though.

Also, I'm a few posts late, but, congratulations! A boy!

Posted by: Jenn at September 26, 2007 3:08 PM

Our family's last name, courtesy of the Jellyman, is 13 letters, and it's Indian.

Not only do we get to correct pronunciation, but also the frequent misunderstanding that by "Indian," we mean "Native American." I just wish the Jellyman would let me reply, "Dots, not feathers!" But he doesn't find that very funny....

Posted by: julie at September 26, 2007 3:12 PM

My maiden name was pretty long and complicated and I grew up hearing my family spell it to everyone they ever said it to. When I married I figured I was getting off easy, but I am constantly amazed at how they can murder it! My husband told me how he'd had to fight it, but I didn't believe him until I started having the same thing. Now I just automatically have started spelling it, too... and they still screw itup. They're always transposing letters so it isn't even how it sounds. Geez, people. It isn't that hard!

I like that we all have different names. It makes us unique.

Posted by: sue at September 26, 2007 3:42 PM

My (married) last name is also apparently unpronounceable. I think it's because it ends in "vic" and that throws people off. Most people look at it and don't even try to say it. I usually don't even try to say it, either, I just spell it. "My name is Leah with an 'h', and my last name is spelled..."

Posted by: Leah at September 26, 2007 4:40 PM

I have the worlds easiest (yet long-ish) last name but people constantly screw up my first name which is only 6 letters long. I can live with a buggered up last name since people do not use it all the time but my first name gets butchered at least 6 times a day.

Danita...... how hard is that?
Blah. At least my parents didn't name me Polyester (yeah after grandmas Polly and Esther, a true child of the 70's) like they were going to.

Posted by: SleepyNita at September 26, 2007 5:56 PM

I have the worlds easiest (yet long-ish) last name but people constantly screw up my first name which is only 6 letters long. I can live with a buggered up last name since people do not use it all the time but my first name gets butchered at least 6 times a day.

Danita...... how hard is that?
Blah. At least my parents didn't name me Polyester (yeah after grandmas Polly and Esther, a true child of the 70's) like they were going to.

Posted by: SleepyNita at September 26, 2007 5:57 PM

I have a thing about names. My maiden name was not too long, and I didn't think it was too hard to pronounce, but since it was Italian, everyone made fun of it and said it wrong. When I married my first husband, I didn't take his name, even though it was very short and easy to pronounce, because my name sounded awful with it. AWFUL..seriously, it was bad. (I guess it was an omen).

After he left me and I am remarried, I took my husband's name, and it is also a "foreign" name, as he's from France. People do not know how to pronounce this name, and worse yet, it's supposed to have an accent on one of the letters. However, since we don't use accents here, it doesn't show up on anything that's not been hand-written.

His name is facing doom. My two SILs have five boys, combined, but with their married names. His brother has no kids, and we have one girl. So, the pressure is on for sure.

Posted by: Dawn at September 26, 2007 6:11 PM

Such a cool post Chris.

My name was changed when my family immigrated here in 1938. I guess it sounded more American to them and that meant safety, which I understand. But it's in the top 10 last names, which can get annoying.

Posted by: Phoenix at September 26, 2007 6:38 PM

I'm an only child, and, my maiden name ends with me.

I married into an "always have to spell it" last name, and, despite that, I'm glad we have 2 sons so they'll have to spell it the rest of their lives, too.

Posted by: Busy Mom at September 26, 2007 6:56 PM

So true about names. Hubby's last name is a tough one and people screw it up royally all the time. Put my unusual first name with it and I end up spelling a lot. But my Hubby is a good man, as was his father before him, etc. So I feel honored to share it with him.
BTW. I am back home! Yay!!! I really missed my own bed and pillow!!!

Posted by: Maribeth at September 26, 2007 6:58 PM

I had a maiden name that I thought was the hardest to spell, but easiest to pronounce! Kinda like Kimball, but not. Very German, as all my decendents were. So I was used to having my name mis-spelled all the time.

Then I married. I thought my married name was easy to spell, and to pronounce. Yet, Nordic spellings and names escape the normal person's spelling capabilities! But, as my two boys are carrying on the name, I will try to teach them how being proud of a name that the Telemarketer calling at dinnertime will never be able to pronounce is great!

Posted by: Katie at September 26, 2007 7:08 PM

Everyone in my family has been divorced and re-married so many times the "carrying on the family name" thing is incredibly diluted. So in a way, I envy you just a bit.

Ironically, I recently decided to change my last name back to that of my Austrian ancestors. My kids don't have it, but at lease someone in our family will. For a couple more decades anyway.

Posted by: krystyn at September 26, 2007 7:20 PM

My maiden name is very German and had 14 letters. It is now my middle name. If my brother doesn't have a child, and a boy at that, soon our name will die with him. And that makes me very sad.

Posted by: Krush at September 26, 2007 11:55 PM

My maiden name, while uncommon, is pronouncable. My married name is VERY pronouncable. Butt. You would be surprized at the number of people who mis-pronounce it. They just don't want to admit the word butt. On our wedding night my husband whispered to me, "How does it feel to be married, HAPPY ASS?" Can you figure out the word play?

Posted by: joss is boss at September 27, 2007 12:22 AM

I hated my maiden name. Couldn't wait to get rid of it. Now, Aimee + my married name sounds like a sneeze.

But you're right, it is kind of cool that now we can pass the handkerchief to Declan.

Posted by: aimee/greeblemonkey at September 27, 2007 12:43 AM

I didn't know your last name was assclowns.

What an awesome name! ;)

Posted by: Jeff A at September 27, 2007 1:12 AM

I'm am the only daughter out of four kids, so I've not had the same pressure as you. However, I am the oldest and the first one to give them grandkids. My dad's name is Delbert Herman, and grandpa's name Herman Delbert. I did apologize to my dad and say, "That's gonna have to fall on the boys to carry on that one."

Posted by: kristen at September 27, 2007 8:21 AM

I never like my maiden name. It was constantly mispronounced and the only other people with my last name were all related to me. I longed for a simple name. When I married my husband, I thought I got my wish. My married name is short (4 letters)and unbelievably simple (as in a word we all use everyday)and people still manage to mispronounce it.

Posted by: Bibi at September 27, 2007 9:16 AM

With my maiden name, my initials were LSE (LOSE) I couldn't wait to get married and have my initials be something else. I married a man whose last name began with R so yep, now my initals are LSR (LOSER).

Not sure what this has to do with your post...I guess you were discussing last names so this kinda goes with it??

Posted by: Leilani at September 27, 2007 12:49 PM

There was a lot of drama when I didn't have my grandfather's name passed to me. It was like the end of everything. And like Lefty above, I have the first/last name switcheroo problem.

Good luck with childrens!

Posted by: Signalite at September 27, 2007 1:21 PM

Oh shut up. I don't even want to hear it. My last name has 11 letters and as many doubles in it as Mississippi, and because Hoop is a pussy I'm probably stuck with it for the rest of my life.

Posted by: Tink at September 27, 2007 5:28 PM

I guess I'm on the other end of the spectrum. My name is very very common. As in there were five other people with the same last name in my graduating class (unrelated). I felt bad giving my daughter such a boring last name.

Posted by: betty at September 27, 2007 10:34 PM

What's so hard about "Cactus" to pronounce?

Seriously though, my last name is often given a soft "g" sound at the start rather than the hard German "g" it calls for. You'd think that getting married might solve that problem but instead, my husband took my name and now gets to correct people on a regular basis (and his last name before was so easy it's ridiculous... of course, it also happened to mean "to sweep" in another language so we all still feel he made an improvement).

All told, funky names build character. And I can already see that you and yours have NO shortage of that!

Posted by: Elaine at September 28, 2007 5:55 PM

That's great that you've learned to love your name. When I got married, I dropped my maiden name like a hot potato. It was good for screening phone calls, but that's about all. It looks weird and sounds weird, and doesn't even have a great history since it was actually created from a typo when my ancestors immigrated from Scotland. So it's not even a real name. I was always glad to be a girl so I could rid myself of it eventually.

Posted by: Amy at October 1, 2007 10:23 PM

I'm with you. That's why I kept my name when I got married. It'll stay with me to the end :) It's who I am, and where I came from, and I am proud of it.

Posted by: amy at October 3, 2007 2:30 PM