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From the archives: The burden of a name, by Jowita Bydlowska Add to ...

Sebastian Horsley wrote, "After my final naming, Father said to Mother, 'I hope that name doesn't give him any ideas.'"

Mr. Horsley grew up to be a bit of a pretentious shock artist. He blames all kinds of influences for that, his name being one of them.

I'm no Horsley but I understand the burden of a pretentious name.

Ever since I was little there was me ... and my name, that full-of-expectation, weird word that wasn't like a name but like a separate entity.

With that name I was surely destined to do great things, my mom said. I wasn't sure what those were but it was understood from the beginning that I had that name because I was special. Not every kid (or how about not any?) had that fantastic, magical name. "It sounds so proud, so special," I remember grownups saying when I was little.

My grandmother told me the first part was concocted after the name Jove, god of gods, so I would emit that info like a proud, special little burp whether someone asked where the name came from or not. I could be an insufferable little kid, so very well matched with my name.

When I grew up, the name was described as "interesting," "unusual," which I felt obligated to become as its unfortunate bearer. So I made sure I was plenty interesting and unusual, though I was never as unusual as the next unusual person.

I started to think of my name as rather pretentious, if not outright crass, something that only overambitious, social-climbing parents would bestow on their kids.

I learned the patience one has to learn when one bears a bizarre name. I sometimes dropped it or would lower my voice so it sounded like some kind of dark bomb, something that emits smoke the colour of African violets. Add to it the fact it rhymes with Lolita and people get all sorts of ideas.

In Poland, where I grew up, I often heard this was a pagan name (not true - there is a St. Jowita) and why wasn't I named something easier like Agata or Marta?

Moving to Canada, I had a chance to anglicize my name. Call myself Jane or Jennifer. Or I could spell it phonetically and not go through the short but painful tongue twisters with my new English-speaking acquaintances: "Joeita? Juanita? Lovita? How do you spell that?"

"Well, no, it's spelled differently."

"How?"

"J-o ¡K"

"Aha! Joeita!"

"No, the J is pronounced Y and the W is like V."

Eventually, I learned to spell it phonetically - especially if a name tag was involved.

Some people said I was being difficult and should go with short-and-sweet Jo instead. But after all those years with a weirdo name, I started fighting for it. I would correct people and spell it out and repeat it until they got it right. I would try not to look irritated when they continued to butcher it.

I was now a sometimes insufferable adult with my pseudo-patient corrections. And not having won a Nobel Prize by 30, I had grown twice as disappointed as my counterparts who, as children, declared they would become presidents or astronauts.

My special name was just a name and my expectations were ridiculous and self-harming.

And then I finally got a chance to even out the name score. Shortly after turning 31, I found out I was to become a mom. Once we passed into the second trimester, my partner and I started talking about names.

"What about Sebastian?" was the first name he came up with.

"No, no, please," I said.

He wanted to know why. I couldn't talk about it.

"Lionel?"

"As in Lionel Richie?" I said.

"Imovane?" my partner said.

"After the sleeping pill?"

"I've always liked that word."

"What about vodka?" I said, having always loved that word.

"Hipsterscum," he said.

"Bozo," I suggested, having been a long-time fan of anything clown.

And so off we went with our names from hell, growing more and more desperate with the difficulty of the task. We asked our families. Mine came up with another rare gem, probably so I could have someone else to suffer with. We read baby names online. We asked friends at parties.

Everyone said Jack was too popular and so was Chloe, and Brutus was just ridiculous. Lucy was great, but it's our cat's name so that's probably not a good idea.

Finally, after weeks of research we arrived at some names that sound nice in both languages - Polish and English. We made a short list. There are three names on it. Neither of them carries the burden of special or too-big expectations. They are just names. Not too ordinary, but nothing to give anyone any ideas.

Jowita Bydlowska lives in Toronto.

 

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