Well, well, well…
The subject of “names” is a rather touchy one in some factions of the family…around here anyway. I was named “Kathryn” as a political move. I had enough Grandmothers on all sides with that name, in various spellings, and at various positions (first, middle, patron saint, baptismal) to make most of them happy. I was not the first grandchild on either side of my family, but I was the first granddaughter on both sides! Another of my illustrious firsts.
When I went to school, there were 7 little girls in 1st grade at Perry Elementary named Kathryn in some form or another. So, probably, their families had the same sort of “thing” going on. If this had been a big school, then Cathy, Kathy, Kathryn, Cathleen, Katherine, Katy, and other Kathryn would have been insignificant. However, this was a farming community. The schools were small. The 4 feeder grade schools that lead to my high school produced a grand total of 265 in my senior class. By the time we all converged in the spiffy new Middle School, I had lost count (and interest) in how many other girls had “my” name.
My brother though, had it a bit rougher with family names. Ours is a long line of “traditional” men’s names. The first born pretty much was going to be a Junior, and if not a Junior (or 3rd, or 4th) then perhaps would be named after the other Grandpa, or a middle name. My brother didn’t get a chance at something modernish…like Scott or Brian… point of his birth, the options available were Frank, George, Earl, Henry/Harry or the scandal of picking a meaningless name out of the air…like Bobby. They did not choose Bobby.
Darling Gramcracker, ever sensitive to my needs as an individual in this sea of Kathryns, gave me a unique and extended name to claim as my own. Or, possibly, she told me this was my full name because she also had a wicked sense of humor and loved having me say it and seeing the reaction of strangers.
She crowned me: Kathryn Elaine Martha Elizabeth Gladiolus Rose Mousy Get-Along Johnson. Gramcracker always called me Goldie for short.
Until I got in trouble for “fibbing” in Kindergarten I was convinced and unquestioning of my full name. As a matter of fact, I wondered why the other kids had such common and plain middle names. Being “cut down” to the reality of Kathryn Elaine was a real bummer.
Surnames though, can be a whole different matter. My Balkan grandparents brought their old country name along when they crossed the pond. Those who I refer to as the Urbanski clan, are actually owners of an unspeakable (literally, no one can pronounce it) name which when translated from Slovene to English means “putrid smell.” With hopes that this was just another example of the family sense of humor, I quietly wondered if this wasn’t a joke. I had visions of my “huddled masses” Granddad standing before the man at Ellis Island and when asked for his name…making a smart- assed remark back at him in Slovene~ only to be countered in hilarity by the immigrations agent who made it official. No such luck. The international white pages online lists a handful of families both here in the US and back in the Balkans living with the exact same surname…spelling and all. No denying it. Sigh (or would a “sniff” be a more accurate expression here?).
Sadly, they buckled to the mounting pressures of anti-German and anti-immigrant sentiments that swept our area around WWI and “Americanized” their name ~ neutralized it actually. I see myself writing “sadly” but under my breath I am saying “thank God they changed it!” I can’t imagine writing that 5th grade report for school about my heraldry, and revealing to my prepubescent peer group that I was not the glamorous K.E.M.E.G.R.M.G. Johnson, but in fact Miss Kathryn Elaine Pukesmell.
Ask around your family, are there any naming patterns, revisions, or scandalous translations out there? Maybe take a few minutes and run down one or two nicknames of relatives. These can be as commonly used as Kassie for Kathryn, or as ornery as a brother who called a sister “Twin Piggies” for an entire lifetime…that’s another story :)