Maria’s 8th Blog – How do you say your name?

A friend of mine’s brother is changing his Polish name to a shorter English version now that his wife is pregnant with their first child. His parents are devastated that their grandchild will not have their name. Don’t even get me started on why the young wife has already given up her own name and why in the 21st century women still take a man’s name in the first place.

For years my partner thought her family name was Scottish and always looked for ‘their’ tartan on any trip only to learn one day that their original name had been Jewish, changed to fit in better and not from a Scottish clan at all.

My grandparents were known by more than one name which confused me as a child – they’d been on the run first from the Gestapo then the Communists.

You probably know more stories like these? It has crossed my mind that I might be more successful as an artist if people in this country knew how to say my surname. I’m not about to change it. But you can now learn how to say it by clicking on the soundfile below.

Stakes differ for those crossing borders. Many people still lose their lives, livelihoods, languages, names and identities and are faced with life and death choices about where to remain. Once they leave they can’t go back, for fear of political reprisals,imprisonment or because they simply can’t afford their passage back and forth.

Whereas for others the sea we cross represents adventure, a way forward to the exploration of new ideas. And for some of us it’s a mixture of both, genuine choice and pressure – a release from feeling stifled or a loss of the communities we grew up in – bringing ordinary moments of awkwardness, excitement.

In the Spring issue of Poetry Wales Ágnes Lehóczky writes about ‘impromptu intersections’ and that ‘third’ ‘hybrid’ dialect arising from them between her native Hungarian and her second language, English, which she now writes in. I could really identify with her piece, though my Polish is a younger self’s language as I grew up over here. I’ve always believed poetry creates language of its own and, at best, transcends social boundaries. In a sense all the art we create is hybrid, a movement between then and now as so many of you have expressed in the beautiful, inspiring answers you have been sending in to my 3 questions. Keep them coming!

There is still some time left (said without a trace of panic in her voice) in my residency which has become like a giant creative writing workshop itself that you are all taking part in. Soon you will be able to see the materials from the fantastic Allsorts youth workshop last night – currently being uploaded as I write and tonight it’s the Queer Writers Show and Tell evening at Fabrica! Dot dash dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dash dot dot dash! or just: …!

13 thoughts on “Maria’s 8th Blog – How do you say your name?

  1. I loved this post, and took the title as an invitation: How do you say yor name.

    I wrote about how I say my name/s and then lost my comment post because I didn’t put the correct ‘name’ into the WordPress system! Here, I am ‘selfportraitwithoutbreasts’.

    So I have rewritten (more concisely) about how I say my name/s.

    I say my first name, Clare, with pride. It has connotations of light and clarity, which I identify with.

    Best is a different matter. Short yes. Easy to say and spell yes. Challenging yes, when I was growing up. And it rhymes with too many words that became incorporated into nicknames: vest, pest, gone west, breast. It goes on!

    When I married I kept my ‘maiden name’ for my working identity, took my husband’s surname for the law, taxes, passport, parental role. This becomes more confusing as time goes on, in some ways. I feel I lead two parallel lives.

    My middle name comes from my mother’s mother. Phyllis. As a teenager I said it with embarrassment, then later came to love the association with her – she was a wonderful feisty woman, who had trained as a singer under Garcia before the first world war, and told exotic stories of the tea gardens in India where she lived with my grandfather.

  2. I loved this post too – very evocative. I found myself feeling quite sad which was interesting… there are so many ‘family’ stories tied up in the question and I am sure that is true for many people. Your post has been prompt for me trying to tell some of them in my own writing. Thank you for filling my head with ideas.

      • A surname was inherited firstly from my Dad, secondly from a husband and then finally, a group of lesbian feminist women created a label and made it our own. The small clan bearing it has since expanded and now there are others with the ‘new’ surname. Some of them don’t know how those particular letters came to be a name – each letter of the name has a significance. One day a family tree may track its path. I should write the story of the name down.

        At the time it was created it fit me better than anything ever had and certainly over the years I occupied it, made it fit me, absorbed it into the fabric of me, but now with age it feels as if it belongs to a different time. I am sad about the lack of care for the family name I left behind. I have fierce feelings of loyalty and love for my near and far ancestors and have a sense of apology for walking away from that name when I rejected patriarchy and adopted feminism and new worlds. But I feel that I can’t go back because the old name belongs to a different time too.

        And I can’t go forward. Now, in a civil partnership I have toyed with the idea of taking my partners name. It’s a good name with lovely rolling syllables and full of character. I would like to share it with her. I would like it to be our name. She would like that too.

        I also wear a clumsy name. No-one every knows how to spell it, or how to pronounce it. People always ask me where it is from (I often say Norway – its easier than the whole lesbian feminism story – but I don’t know why I chose Norway).

        But having shed names once, I feel a responsibility to the created name, to its history and I cannot leave it behind.

        So I say my name loudly with a lot of pride for the women who created it and gave it a future and in recognition of the radical lesbian feminism of the 80’s which spawned it. I also say it quietly, and with a bit of regret for the burden it carries.

  3. I love these stories of yours. Interesting about the parrallel lives – I bet a lot of women feel this. I’m so glad you accepted my invitation! Yes! I did mean the title as an invitation! very much so. (More literally it’s the politest version of what people constantly say to me.)
    Names, where they come from, what they mean – all the associations, connections and memories – they are true treasure.
    Any more out there?

  4. In my family, everyone has multiple names used in different relationships. This was a real tangle for my partner when she first met them all. I never questioned why my father and uncle called each other Claude, why I was Wol to one parent and Allie to the other, why my brother was Finjis. Only later did I realise that not all families do this! My children have continued the pattern – re-christening my father as Mouscha – a name he loves and has adopted wholeheartedly.

  5. Thanks again for a great workshop last week. I can so identify with what you say, Maria! There are people I’ve known for years who still stumble over my surname and the spelling of it. However I hated my first name Louise when I grew up (in Sweden) because it rhymed with “fis” the Swedish word for fart :=). When I moved to England where my name is pronounced in a slighlty different way I started to love my name, thinking it sounded romatntic, epic. Ironically, since I started performing poetry I now prefer the short gender ambigous Lou even though it sounds like loo :=)
    No wonder I’m obsessed about toilets in general! You can find out more on my blog Swenglish my project about Swedish and English culture)

  6. Pingback: eMigrating Landscapes Interview / Maria Jastrzebska « emigrating landscapes project

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