Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer What's In A Name?

It's not easy being Przybyszewski.

By Chris Przybyszewski

AUGUST 28, 2000:  Przybyszewski. Go ahead, say it out loud. Let the consonants flow off your tongue. Roll the vowels and savor the Slavic goodness that is my name. Just doesn't seem to work, does it? You hardly know where to begin.

Now, ask me about my name. Ask how long it took for me to learn that name in grade school. Ask me how to pronounce it. Don't believe me when I first give you the pronunciation, but ask me to say it over and over again until you try it yourself. Now -- and this is critical -- try to say the name. Butcher it. Next, ask me how a word spelled P-r-z-y-b-y-s-z-e-w-s-k-i can be pronounced "Shub-er-shef-ski." Finally, make up a nickname for me so you don't have to use my name. Be creative. Come up with something like, say, "Alphabet."

You now have experienced every single friggin' introduction I have ever had. Meet the person, say the name, laugh politely at the stupid jokes, patiently explain the correct pronunciation. Perform on command when asked to spell it and then say it and then spell it again like some spelling bee gone horribly wrong. Finally, give a small, sad smile as the person gives out yet another nickname.

You might think I am going to go off on a tirade about how awful my name is. That couldn't be further from the truth. I am actually quite fond of my name. I don't care that it's unique. I don't care if it's identifying. It's my name and since it's my name, I like it. Simple enough. You would imagine, in a civilized world, that others would realize that my name is my name and not a third butt cheek nailed to the center of my forehead (read: not a reason to treat me like a freak).

But no one ever does. There is always shock, there are always jokes and cute comments that are as well used -- and reused -- as a Trojan in the White House. Worse, there never seems to be a consideration that my first name, Chris, is perfectly serviceable. Chris is easy, right? Lots of people are named after the demoted saint of travelers.

Unfortunately, the obtuseness of my surname far outweighs how ordinary and safe my first name is. Instead of noticing that my driver's license actually has two names, a first and last, most people will instead dig into their sack of incredibly witty nicknames, ignore my suggestion that they call me, "Chris, just Chris," and in an instant, I am not Chris Przybyszewski, proud owner of a third-generation Polish name that tells a story. Instead, I have a nickname.

And nicknames, in my opinion, suck. I am sure it has to do with my personal experience. In high school, it was Shoobie. That rhymes with Scooby, but without the intelligence and sophistication. How's that for dignity, especially when teachers begin to call you that as well? In college, it was Shiva. You know, Shiva, the eight-armed Hindu god of creation and destruction. Shiva also happens to be the Hebrew word for a seven-day mourning period for the recently deceased. To be fair, the Gentiles that gave me that name had no idea of the multicultural implications. I didn't either. To be even more fair, they didn't stop calling me that after they (or I) found out. But let me tell you, there is nothing like offending two entire races of people every time you are introduced to someone new.

But it's not really about how silly the names are (and they are silly). It has a lot more to do with the substitution of some nonsensical phoneme that somehow makes me more easily identifiable. These simpler identities are easier for people to deal with than Przybyszewski; simpler to say and simpler to wrap one's mind around. But that simplicity also carries a dark side.

A name is an identification, a way people think about you, a way to get around socially. A simpler moniker means a simpler identity in the eyes of the real world. Instead of who I really am, I am a Shoobie, a Shiva -- a one-dimensional character with no real presence, a lexical curiosity.

Words are powerful things. And unique words, like someone's name, can forever change the way a person thinks or feels. Jesus is Jesus and Elvis is Elvis. Sure there are others who share those names, but their identification is inevitably referenced back to the original. In my case, I'm not a Shoobie (whatever that is) and I am certainly not a Hindu deity and I would at least like to think that I am not a mourning period. What I am, who I am is my name. So, if you plan on addressing me, please figure out my name. Even if you can't get Przybyszewski (which is understandable), you can just call me Chris. I won't mind.


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