Sunday, February 12, 2006

Note: This is a true story. Although I've screwed up a few of the minor details, I've been telling this story this way long enough that I'm no longer interested in nailing down the tiny errors.

I have a great last name. I won't write it here in this blog, but I can tell you that it's meaningful to me because my father chose it. This is the story of my name.

Long ago, in Hungary, my great grandfather was born under the name of Spiegel. Due to a falling out with his family over an inheritance, he decided he no longer wanted to carry the family name. Instead, he adopted the nickname he had been given as a child due to the color of his hair. He chose the last name Szöeke, which was a Hungarian word for "blondie".

Flash forward about 50 years, and my father is a child being raised in France. His name is Jules Szöeke. Jules, as it turns out, is an unfortunate name to have in France. For example, here in the U.S., you could have the name "Dick", but you'd hate it because although it's a perfectly valid name, it's also a commonly utilized synonym for penis. Similarly, in France, "Jules" means pimp.

As you might imagine, growing up as the "blond pimp" wasn't always pleasant. Pimpin' ain't easy, my friends, not even in France. He endured this nickname throughout his childhood but brought the teasing to an end by moving to Israel when he was 18 years.

The language spoke in Israel, of course, is Hebrew, which has its own alphabet and set of sounds. My father translated his name, Jules Szöeke, into Hebrew phonetically, so that the end result would still sound somewhat like his old name, but without all those troublesome whoring connotations.

The Hebrew alphabet, however, has a few quirks. One of those quirks is that none of the 22 letters in Hebrew are vowels. Although vowel sounds can be indicated by placing some dots beneath the letters, typically Hebrew is not written this way. Instead, fluent readers recognize the words just fine without any of the vowel sounds being explicitly indicated.

So, my father's name, like all Hebrew words, was frequently written without the vowels. The problem was that since his name was completely uncommon in Israel, people would read the words incorrectly. Instead of seeing the letters as the unfamiliar phrase, "Jules Szöeke", they would instead interpret them as better known words. The end result was that folks would read his name as "Rest in peace, chamberpot". This was entirely incorrect.

After all those years being tormented as the blond pimp, now my father was a dead piss pot. This was neither a welcome change, nor an improvement. He decided to take matters into his own hands. It was time to change names.

He dropped his first name in favor of a common Israeli name, but choosing a last name was more difficult. After scouring the dictionary for a while, he eventually came across a word that appealed to him. The definition said something like this:

Found in ancient texts, scholars do not know what this word means.

Hazzah! After a lifetime of having names that meant something unfortunate, this name meant nothing. It was unteasable! Not only did the name not mean anything, but it was documented in the dictionary as such! It was the perfect name. No one could ever make fun of his name's meaning again. He made a small spelling change to it and it's been our family name ever since.

Despite a family history of changing names, I'll be keeping this one. Thanks, Dad.


Tasty said...

Now, *that* is a good name story. There are a wad of people in my family who ended up with a chosen last name, but none of said people had Dead Piss Pot prior to chosing the new one. :-)

Mike said...

Most stories don't contain references to dead piss pots. That's what's wrong with America today.