Friday, July 13, 2012

our impossible names

Names like Dorte and Bjarni, are just not working well in American English, which became obvious quite fast when we first arrived to Los Angeles. When Bjarni’s name was called in class it was Beejarney, and my name, well that without fail always creates its own little stir. ‘Now how do you pronounce it?’, ‘Can you spell that please?’ I should probably be better to introduce myself as Dortaah, and then we can perhaps move on, but it just feels so wrong, although I in fact find it charming to be Dorti, Dorta, Dorotey, and all those other versions.

So, it’s totally fine and surely a good conversation starter, when we first need to discuss and settle that whole name issue. However, sometimes a name is just something that needs to communicated fast, so we can move on to what really matters; like ordering a coffee. When you order coffee at Starbucks in America they ask for a name, and in those cases we have become John and Dora. Smooth and easy. Always. Bjarni used to be a Will in LA (after his last name Vilhjalmsson), but has now changed to John (close to his middle name Johan). I stick to Dora, which also ended up being what I was called in two of the jobs I had in LA. It felt very strange in the beginning, but now I don't even think about it.
I guess it’s bit of a paradox then that although we ourselves are always confronted with our strange names we have chosen a last name for our daughter that is hard to pronounce in anywhere but Iceland. Her last name is Bjarnadottir (daughter of Bjarni), which is in accordance with the Icelandic naming tradition. In Vienna they always just called out Anna in the pediatrician’s office, and we would pass by giggling nurses, who apologized and said they just couldn’t figure out that last name. I can soon spell that last name both forwards and backwards, because I do it all the time over here. But in the end there is a lot more in a name than just to clarify spelling or pronunciation. And in the case of the impossible Bjarnadottir it has to do with tradition and about a concrete sign of some roots, which I think is valuable when growing with more than one point of cultural reference.  

What's your experience with impossible names?

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1 comment:

  1. My piano teacher in austria was from iceland and her last name was asgeirsdottir. I mastered it and now i can never ever forget it and immediately recognize icelandic last names. I think it's sweet, althiough obviously unpronouncable for most people.