Friday, October 7, 2011

What's in a name?

Alex and I were married about 25 years before he decided I ought to take on his last name. There were two reasons for this: first of all, we worked together and he didn't want people to think I got my job because of him. This made sense. Sometimes he'd go to a company and I'd follow him. Sometimes I'd be the first, and he'd follow me. We liked each other and have always enjoyed working together. Well, for the most part. When he phones me and says, "Come here," and hangs up, I'm not all that thrilled. Despite what he thinks, I am not sitting at my desk, staring off into space and contemplating the meaning of life. I'm not eagerly awaiting a call from him to say, "Come here," so I can obediently race right over to his office to find out whatever it is he wants.

More often than not, I'm dealing with some horrific time-sensitive issue -- like Amazon has just de-listed us because they think our photos have watermarks on them. They don't, but Amazon keeps thinking they do and they shut us down. More often than not it takes me three days to convince them that they're wrong. They apologize, of course, and turn us back on.

This has happened four times.

So, when I'm frantically trying to fix the problem with Amazon and Alex calls and says, "Come here," and hangs up, you can imagine what I'd like him to do with his telephone.

The second reason I don't use Alex's name is that no one can pronounce it. They look at it, get a quizzical expression on their face, and then begin to stumble.

"Nik...Niki...Nikif..." Invariably they'll decide the name is too long and that it's actually "Nicky Fortchuk" instead of "Nikifortchuk." I can't tell you how discomforting it is to be wheeled into surgery and the last thing you hear the doctor say as you start to go under is, "We'll take good care of you, Nicky."

I'm not Nicky! What if he has a "Nicky" patient who's going to have her nose bobbed or tummy tucked or boobs implanted? (Hmmm...maybe I shouldn't worry all that much.)

Oh! That reminds me of a third reason I don't use my husband's last name. I was once married to a fellow named "Knight" and if I ever turned out to be an ax murderess I figured it was better to disparage the name "Knight" than "Nikifortchuk." Any old "Knight" could deny being related to me. But a "Nikifortchuk"? Fat chance.

Oh, rats...that makes me think of a fourth reason why I've refused to use my husband's name. His father died while we were in the process of obtaining our US citizenship. When you become a citizen, you get to choose an entirely new name free of charge! Well, who could refuse an offer like that?

Alex's father had just died and we were all very sad about it. Once the old guy was gone, Alex's mother decided to tell us the truth: His father was Russian, not Ukrainian and his name was really "Nikifor." She said that his father had changed his name during the war because he'd gone MIA from the Russian army. Good story, eh?

Good enough that we swore to uphold the principles of the US Constitution with our brand new name, "Nikifor." I was transformed into "Deborah Knight-Nikifor" and I set about the task of changing my identity on credit cards, air miles cards, my driver's name it.

Just as I was finishing this lengthy and cumbersome process, I decided to do a little research. And guess what I found out? "Nikifor" is not a last name. It's a first name. Like "Bob." There was no way his father's name was "Sergei Bob."

When I thought about it, I felt like an idiot. Nobody, but nobody would escape from the Russian Army with the name "Nikifor" and then change it to "Nikifortchuk" and think, "Whew! Now they'll never find me."

So I asked Alex's mother, "What's our real name?"

She wouldn't tell me. I pressed. Surely to heaven she knew what the real name was. To this day, she refuses to tell me.

"I forget," she says. "I'm old. I forget things."

I can remember the name of the dog we had when I was four years old. I can remember the name of the guy who lived across the street when I was three. I really cannot believe that anyone, anywhere can actually forget their name. But she's tight lipped and I'm married to a guy whose name I don't even know. Could be "Stalin." Could be "Kruschev." Could be "Rimsky Korsakov." But seeing as how he shows no sign of musical genius, I figure it's more than likely "Stalin."

I sleep with one eye open...just in case.

Why am I writing this? Because a few weeks ago our niece, Sasha, gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. They named her "Tatiana Irenya." "Irenya" is the name that Alex's mother uses, but I haven't a clue if it's real.

Already, this little baby who is only a few weeks old is being referred to as, "Tatiana," "Tatya," "Tasha," and several other variations I cannot remember. Alex's sister, Lucy (Ludmilla) said that she didn't think it was odd because she was called by EIGHT different names as she grew up. EIGHT!!!

I've decided that this is a strange Russian thing where the instant you're born, you start accumulating aliases. Throughout your life you have so many names that nobody really knows who you are. That way they'll never find you.

Who? Who knows?! But they're out there and they're looking to find all these Russian people who have eight or ten different first names and last names they can't remember.

Well, I've tricked those cagey "Stalin-Nikifortchuks" because I got their DNA and I submitted it to National Geographic and FTDNA. There's a big database out there searching to match up my husband and mother-in-law's DNA with some other person on the planet. Someday I know I'll receive notification of a match and I'll finally know what my last name is.

And do you know what? I have more than a hunch my name isn't going to be "Romanov."


Robin said...

My grandparents all came from Russia. When they arrived in the US they changed their last names to something more "American" but they all used the same new name so that now anyone with that name is related to me. Hope the Russians don't come looking for us!

Deborah said...

I know they won't want me! I'm too old for the wheat fields and I talk too much to be a spy! Do you wonder what your REAL name is?

Judi said...

My father immigrated from Germany and he kept the name Helmut Abt. Yup, that's all there was to my maiden name and there were times I wished he had changed it! You cannot imagine what misspellings and comments could be thought up. When I married, I was glad to change my name to Arthur, not thinking McArthur and Arnold would be common "changes."
Sure hope the Russians never find you! :-)

Maureen said...

All kinds of name variations in my family too - they were born in Alsace Lorraine which was either French or German depending on the despots in charge. Became Canadian - and I don't have to tell you how a good name change is needed if you are Canadian, now do I??? Eh????

Deborah Knight said...

I'm so glad to read that Maureen, Judi and Robin share my problem! Not knowing my husband's real name drives me crazy because I have my own family history back to 843 AD. Oddly, my Mom's family (led by Cilmin-Troed-Dhu) lived in Ruthin, Wales and my Dad's family were just 31 miles away in Cheshire. It's astounding that they met and married over 1000 years later in Canada! I also have the DNA analysis of my mitochondrial DNA indicating where I was 10,000 years ago! (Haplogroup K). So I can't even fathom not knowing who your family was or where they lived only 70 years ago!

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