Thursday, January 12, 2006

It's All About the Name

My cousin-in-law, Thomas, has a rebuttal to a blog in which the writer complains about the travails of having a long, complicated, full-of-consonants Polish surname.

The gist of Thomas' post: We Szyszkiewicz's have this guy beat. And he's right. I'm not just saying that because he's my cousin-in-law either! Even though I have been a part of the Szyszkiewicz family for almost 15 years, I hadn't had the chance to meet Thomas before this summer. Yet it's pretty funny how similar MY response would have been. We even spell our name over the phone the same way...S as in Sam, Z as in Zebra....When Big Daddy and I were planning the wedding, the running joke was that he would take my name! Just like Thomas's father-in-law suggested! Must be an Irish thing...though I might dispute that part about being prone to exaggeration.

One big difference is the default nickname that has seemed to come our way. It started with my father-in-law, who as an ironworker was known as "Tony Alphabet." Big Brother didn't know about that the day he came home from a Boy Scout event telling us that his new nickname was "Alphabet Junior" because the Scouts were calling Big Daddy "Alphabet."

We're proud of our name, even the Zs, and we don't see the need to change it. I find that people who hear it before they see it don't have too much trouble, which may be why children can handle it just fine, unless they're at that "missing a front tooth or two" stage.

One year I had a job teaching Spanish at a middle school. The principal had a lot of trouble pronouncing my last name. As she introduced me to the rest of the staff on our first day of school, she made the assumption that my name would be shortened in some way when I worked with the kids. "And this is Barbara (last name unbelievably bungled)....and the children will be calling her...."

I cut in: "Senora Szyszkiewicz."

The fifth-graders managed it quite well, thanks. We even had a classroom game involving spelling my name using the Spanish alphabet letters.

We just think of our name as a really great ice-breaker, and keep a sense of humor about the whole thing. We will NOT be changing it. A name is a precious thing, even if we laugh about it. A few generations back, a member of my father's family changed his Irish surname by subtracting the O' so that he'd be able to get a job in the anti-Irish climate of the day. We have no such need, no such excuse. It's a good name, and besides, it's really convenient just to tell people who need your phone number that you're "the last S in the phone book."

5 comments:

Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz said...

Go cousin-in-law, go! I'd forgotten about the convenience of the last 'S' in the book. Interestingly, though, when we lived in St. Paul, there were two people who displaced me there -- they had S-z-y-z. No way I could beat that.

Kelly said...

Gee, Barb...it's pronounced just like it's spelled, isn't it? ;-)

martha said...

Your last name is awesome. Yes I too came from a Polish family in Milwaukee. So I too know the plight of having a last name that is phonically challenged...as in, "I'd like to buy a vowel please." My first name is plane Jane to make up for it...then I went and married a man with the most common last name in the country. So now you might as well call me PB&J. Many families in our neck of the woods changed their last name for the sake of being able to do business; funny how it was not that long ago that ethnic prejudices created the need for such action...but then maybe they still do in one way or another; maybe more subtily.

Der Tommissar said...

I checked with Coach Krzyzewski at Duke and he says your last name is the bee's knees.

Weird, I just posted about my polish side's surname, and it's nowhere near as intricate as your husband's. Heck, our's only had four letters.

Sarah Reinhard said...

So glad you sent me this link! :)

I wish I HAD heard your name first...can you give me the phonetic spelling? Then I will probably never misspell it again. (Yeah, right. I have a copy/paste thing set up just for your name, mwahaha)