Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What's in a name?

When I was about 5 months pregnant or so with our first baby, Martin would come home from work and go straight to the baby, put his mouth real close to my belly and say "Hello, baby." Except that he said it using baby talk and when he got real close it was all muffled and it would come out sounding like he was saying, "Hejjo, baby." I joked one day that the baby was going to be born thinking it's name was "Hejjo." And, thanks to us, he did.

I tell you this story for two reasons. 1) No, "Hejjo" is not a Polish word. I have a lot of people smile and nod when I tell them that is his nickname and then ask me, with that twinkle of hope in their eyes, if it's Polish. Nope. It is completely made up by Martin and I, as weird as that may sound. You can rest easy that it is not actually written on any legal documents or tattooed anywhere on his skin. It's just a nickname. It was just too hard to call such a little person "Ignatius" so we stuck with Hejjo. And we like it.  2) Names are important.

Every time we become pregnant, the issue of the name comes up. Of course it does with every new life. The baby will be born and it will be called something. And YOU get to choose. It's kind of a big deal.

I believe very strongly that the name you are given is special. I don't care if your name is "Lollipop Vandoozle [insert surname here]," only because that was the first thing that popped into your mother's mind as soon as she saw your ginormous head on your little stick body (a baby's head is 1/3 their body weight at birth!). It's still important. In most cases, it was given to you by the person who gave you life, and these days, that, in and of itself, is a small miracle. It says something about who you are and where you're from, and sometimes, it may be all you have to link you to those people who helped create you.

Martin and I decided together that our children's names would be spelled in Polish. This was not a matter of him putting his foot down about "carrying on the family name." And it wasn't a matter of me not being proud of my American heritage or English language. We just decided. And it's fine.... if you want to live in Poland.

Marcin Franciszek   (pr. Marcheen Francheeshek)   Martin Francis
Olivia Mary
Ignacy Oliwier   (Eegnahtsy Oleevyehr)   Ignatius Oliver
Feliks Jan   (Fehleeks Yahn)   Felix John
Adelina Joanna   (Adelina Yoahnna)   Adelina Joan
Kacper Stanislaw   (Catspehr Staniswav)   Casper Stanislaus

But right now we live in America, and when someone calls our house and wants to speak to my husband, they call him "Marceen." At the doctor's office they call "Kackper" back to get his newborn shots. "Eegnaisy is a fine boy!" they say down at the passport office and later, "Fehlicks just has the prettiest eyes."

I don't care. So they don't get their names right. I don't really expect anyone to be able to pronounce them correctly on the first or even third try. I didn't even know how to correctly pronounce Martin's last name until shortly before we were married, and during our wedding vows, I attempted to say his first name correctly, and all of a sudden remembered that everyone was about to hear me pronounce it in Polish, and, out of a frozen stage fright moment, I totally said it wrong. None of our kids go by their given names anyway since Martin and I are prone to giving them cutesy/annoying-to-everyone-else nicknames ourselves. What I *do* get a little ansty about is something that goes like this...

Telemarketer: Hello, is Ms. Marceen Demcowitsy  there?
Me: Um, no, HE isn't.
Telemarketer: Oh, I'm sorry, is that a mans name, did I say that right?
Me: Um, yes, it's Marcin actually, it's just the Polish translation for the name Martin.
Telemarketer: Oh, ok, so is his name really Martin?
Me: Um, yeah, it's Martin in English, or Marcin in Polish.
Telemarketer: So what's his real name?
Me: (hitting head against wall) Martin, Martin is fine. That's fine.
Telemarketer: Ok, ma'am, well, today I'm calling MARTIN about...

Dude, seriously? Is it that hard to understand? "Pollo" is Chicken. "Chicken" is Pollo. Same thing, different language. Different language? Still the same.

And this happens in America, where we have so many different languages and cultures and spellings and accents, you would think it wouldn't be that big a deal.
 But get this. Once, when Martin was calling our credit card company to let them know we were leaving the country it went something like this:

Martin: Yes, I just wanted to inform you that we are going to be leaving the country and will be using our credit cards.
Lady: Alright sir, that's fine, what countries will you be visiting?
Martin: Poland.
Lady: Excuse me, sir. Where was that again?
Martin: POLAND.
Lady: Um, and what country is that in, sir?
Martin: Poland is a country.
Lady: Um, sir, where is that located?
Martin: Europe.
Lady: Um, ok, sir , I will make a note that you are going to ... Po-land. Thank you for calling sir, is there anything else I can help you with today?
Martin: Nnnnope.

So, you know, I guess if maybe someone doesn't even know it's a country, they can't very well understand the concept of a name being translated from that language.

But I will say this. If you have a name that is difficult to say, say it anyway. Ask others to try and pronounce it correctly. If you have a name that is a little odd or a little old fashioned, or completely made up...embrace it! Your mother gave you that name when she gave you life, she knew what she was doing, know what I mean?

And, if nothing else...

...  at least she didn't name you Lollipop Vandoozle [insert surname here].

(unless of course she did, in which case, you have an awesome name, and, I'm sorry for making fun of it...here, this winky should make it aaaaaaaallllllllll better...;) ) 


  1. You and I are kindred spirits! lol

    My husband is 100% Polish (1st generation American) and I am also Polish (maybe 25%) so when we had our son in 2009 I really wanted to give him a good strong Polish name - and spell it the traditionally Polish way. So now he's Lukasz, though we do call him "Lukas." If, when he gets older, he wants us to call him "Wukash" (which I do occasionally call him) I will be perfectly fine with that.

    Now however, I am pregnant with #2 and I would like to continue with traditional Polish names - and my husband is suddenly against it! He is afraid that as adults they will be prejudged based on their names. I'm with you and love the names you chose!

  2. Hey!
    Glad you found my blog! Yes, the only stipulations we have for names is that they are able to be translated into English, so, no outright slavic names here, much to Marcin's chagrin. But I like the Polish spellings and pronunciations of the "regular" names. They are a bit more romantic sounding, at least to me, the resident American.

    We thought about Lukasz seriously for a while. I really like that name!