• Last modified 639 days ago (Nov. 12, 2020)


Another Day in the Country

What’s in a name?

© Another Day in the Country

The other evening while watching the Emmy Awards, one of the recipients with an obviously foreign last name said, “I’m accepting this Emmy on behalf of all the people with unpronounceable last names.”

I smiled and thought to myself, “I hope the Rziha family is watching, because they just got an award.”

Their name was a stumper for me when we came back to live in the country. Some names are trickier than others because the spelling does not even hint at the pronunciation. I first pronounced it like it’s written and then was told the correct sound was “She-ahh.”

Which reminds me that we’ve always had quite an assortment of well known last names in Kansas that are tongue twisters to pronounce and the dickens to spell correctly.

Ehrhardt was my family’s last name, and everywhere I went I always had to spell it out for folks because of the extra “h” at the beginning, and that pesky “t” at the end.

“It’s not Ear-hart, it’s “Air-hart,” I’d say, “like Amelia (Only Amelia’s name was spelled differently).”

So, you can imagine, it was with great gusto and a formal celebration that I abandoned my cumbersome last name and took my new husband’s name when we married. Wick, short and sweet; and most people knew how to spell it, but that wasn’t how it all began.

When Ted’s father came to America from Norway, the family name was Uglevik (at least that’s how it sounded, not positive about the spelling). Advice at the border, given to many immigrants, was to, “shorten that name for ease of use in English.” 

So Uglevik became Wick — which turned out to be a German spelling for a very Norwegian man. Ted always wished his father would have shortened his last name even more to Wik, which was a more Nordic spelling, like his uncle had done when he came to America later. 

“Short and sweet” is my motto for names, and then my daughter, Jana, names her only child, Dagfinnr. That name is a world-class original, as is the boy — becoming a man — who carries it.

We, as are most in America, are a composite of names and origins. Dagfinnr’s Korean grandfather changed the spelling of their last name when they came to America and ended up with Chang, which Richard tells me is a Chinese interpretation of his original Korean family name.

I think the spelling bothers him just a little because he’s very protective of his Korean roots, and while some of us have trouble discriminating between Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, you can bet those involved very much know the differences, and are rather proud of their own heritage.

It’s a tricky line we sometimes walk in choosing whom we identify with — what names we choose to carry with us. Discrimination is another name for those choices, as we pick one name over another and then the history of what we’ve chosen.

The history is a compilation of stories — some true, others jaded — made up of facts, beliefs, occurrences, and the story keep evolving as we each add our piece to either the label we are given or the name we have chosen.

It’s surprising, as I sit thinking about names, how many ideas rise to the surface with just one of those parts of speech. Names are nouns, right? Try it in your mind. Say a name and see what it conjures up.

Because you have the family name of Schubert, Ehrhardt, Bentz, Glantz, Wick, Chang, Hanschu, Hajek, Deines, Brunner, Abeldt, or Fike, there is a picture that comes to mind if the name is familiar of who those people are and what you’ve come think of them. The name alone might determine if they are your friend or whether you want your daughter to marry them.

And then we have names of organizations that people group within — like churches: Lutheran, Methodist, Catholic, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, and we know something of these people, we think, because of the name they’ve chosen.

Because it’s an election year, I immediately think of political parties and their names: Republican, Democratic, Independent and others like the Green Party, Liberals, Conservatives, the New Right, the Left, and the naming goes on and on.

The categorizing, the naming, the sorting is continuous, especially in this digital age where it’s become a business to compile data and they can tell how you vote by the town you live in, what news you watch, what you pull up for information on your computer.

And here we are in a puddle with all our discriminatory names, and categories and titles, thinking we know what those names stand for and looking for ways to live peacefully with each other on another day in the country.

Last modified Nov. 12, 2020