I have a last name that’s quite uncommon in the US, and not so uncommon in Poland. My parents kept their last names when they got married, and since my dad has the nondescript name ‘Smith’ he encouraged my mom to give the kids her maiden name: Ratajczak. (Spell check still doesn’t believe that’s a real name.)
I’m the second of nine children, and it was after I was born and named that my parents had a nasty little fight, and decided that all their subsequent kids would have their hyphenated last names. And so seven Ratajczak-Smith children came into being.
People have always asked hesitantly why my older brother and I have one last name and the rest have another – it’s widely assumed that we’re children from a different marriage. But we’re not. We just have crazy parents.
I’ve always hated the last name Ratajczak for some reason. It could have started in the third grade when we were learning “library science.” The teacher chose me at random as an example of how to look up an author by their last name. As they explained that the first three letters of the last name are most commonly used, my heart sank. “So if Teresa wrote a book and we were looking it up in the library, what would we look it up by? R-A-T-!” The class erupted in giggles that didn’t end until we moved away a year later.
Before I was old enough to contemplate things like the pros and cons of marriage, I decided that when I grew up I was going to get married as soon as possible so I could change my last name. To literally anything. Obviously that hasn’t happened, though I can’t say that it’s not one of my primary reasons for interest in marriage. Ha, just kidding…
It’s also one of those names that people can’t pronounce if they see it first. If you just tell them and have them repeat it, they get it pretty quickly. But if by stroke of bad luck they see it first, it confuses them, and they’re stuck saying something that sounds like a sneeze for the rest of your life.
I’m not gonna lie. I’ve made up fake names when being introduced to people I know I won’t see ever again. Tessa Chesterton. Tessa Frost. Tessa Bukowski. Okay, maybe that’s all wishful thinking. I usually just adopt my dad’s last name and go with Smith.
Probably the weirdest part is that people who are not related to me but have the same last name frequently send me friend requests on facebook. That’s the only way I know that in Poland the name is fairly common. But who goes around adding people they don’t know and aren’t related to just because they have the same last name? That’s like my friend Mike Jones going around adding all the Joneses he can find on the internet. Weird.
So I don’t know that there’s much in a name. But I do know that names can be funny, and names can cause you grief, and names can be changed. What’s the saying? “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”?
Well, I’ll take it.
find me at www.facebook.com/nothingwassaid