Tuesday, March 14, 2006

No, No, It's L Before I, Not I before L...

A colleague tried to send me an e-mail yesterday but it bounced; apparently he tried to send it to the logical address (first initial+last name@my company), but my actual address is (first name@my company). I gave up on including the last name in anything other people need to type themselves a long time ago. It's not a complicated name, just five letters and two syllables, but it's a rather obscure Czech name that's one transposed vowel away from a rather common Spanish name.

Nobody gets it right on the first try unless they're Eastern Europeans in close touch with their roots, or a devotee of a vile Czech plum brandy that no one in the family can stomach, despite being named for the stuff.

After 38+ years, I've grown accustomed to answering to the Spanish version, patiently correcting the pronunciation, spelling it, re-spelling it, re-spelling the Czech version and watching the person write down the Spanish version anyway, gently correcting and re-spelling again. To make matters even more inconvenient, my parents decided to call me by my middle name because it would have sounded funny to have it and my first name switch places.

The first day of class in college was always a treat. The prof would call out (first name)(Spanish version), and I'd raise my hand and respond, "Actually, it's (middle name)(Czech version)." Of course they usually thought I was being a smartass.

It was never really an issue, beyond mild annoyance, until I went to see my doctor last year about getting some allergy meds. She walked into the exam room, plopped down a tray full of instruments designed for a much more invasive bit of poking and prodding than I was expecting, and asked me if I was still taking a near-unpronounceable drug I'd never heard of. She noted my bewildered look, checked her laptop, and confirmed that I did indeed have some weird disorder I wasn't aware of. I asked her to check the spelling of the last name. Turns out she has another patient my age with the same first name and the Spanish version of the last name.

She decided that yes, this might be a problem, and quickly switched all my records to my middle name. I still have to spell the last name a couple times and usually add, "...not (first name)(Spanish version)" and they say ohhhhhh right.

Sometimes I think I should just change it to the Spanish version. I knew several families back in South Bend that decided somewhere along the way that it would just be easier to go through life in America if they chopped the last three or four syllables from their Polish surnames. And so Zakriewicz became Zak, Buckowski became Buck, and Glonicki became Glon. The five Lewandowski brothers who came from Poland after the first War changed to five different surnames: Levan, Leven, Levin, LeeVan, and... Jones. The last guy figured if he was going to change, by God, he was gonna change to an American name. Of course, the families who kept their block-long monikers kinda looked down on the ones who capitulated to the Irish and Germans who had gotten there first and pretended they couldn't figure out that kr means sh and cz means ch. I wouldn't change mine, despite the hassle.

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