No one rips the ass out of Vassiliki

This is an ego post.
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This post is about my name.

My first name is Vassiliki. In Greek it is spelt Βασιλική. My name is an adjective. It means royal or regal. So if you are speaking of the royal family you would say οι βασιλική οικογενια. It is the feminine of Basil meaning king or kingly. When I was born, my parents had to decide whether they translated my name or transliterated it. Anglo equivalents are Queenie, Regina, Reggie, Regan, Reagan or Royal. None of which my parents liked so they transliterated my name. My name is one of the most common Greek names you can have. It is up there with Maria and Katerini.

Greeks, like Australians, have a propensity for shortening names and as a young child I was given a variety of nicknames such as Vasoula, Vasilikoula and Vasilo all of which I refused to answer to. This did not change once I started school. My kindergarten teacher was one who believed every child should have an Anglo name. If your name was a “funny ethnic name” she would give you one that would make you fit right in. Except it didn’t work with me. She gave me Vicki (no thanks), Vi (why would you rip the ass and lik out of my name), Victoria (um still no thanks), Bessie (um…no), Veroinca (no x 2), Vasi (no, no, no, no, no), Sylvia (I kid you not) and Vivian. Exasperated she asked me what I would like to be called. To which I answered Vasiliki.

My father (who had Anglicised his name) laughed and called me obstreperous and and advised my teacher to accustom herself to my name. She kinda did. She did not pronounce it Vasili-ki but Vasi-liki (rhymes with my faux ‘rents Dr Leaky and Mary Leaky). Oddly enough, to this day I mispronounce my own name as I go by her pronounciation not the correct one.

When you have an unusual name there is no such thing as a simple introduction. I get a variety of reactions to my name.

Some are presumptive:

Them: Where is that from?
Me: It is a Greek name
Them: Oh! Greece. Have you been back to your country?
Me: (in my broad Australian accent) I go back to my country of Marrickville often however I have been to Greece for a holiday a few times

Some are rude:

Them: What a god awful name. Some parents are so cruel.

Some are well meaning:

Them: What a beautiful name? What does it mean?
Me: Thank you. It means royal. Now shall we start our meeting?

Some ignore me (I’ve had this one from a Smalls Group Communications tutor and from a cross-cultural training session):

Them: Good morning. Welcome to our training.
Hi Mary,
Hi John,
Hi Cheryl,
Hi [deathly silence…..clears throat] um…err…you…
Hi Suzanne etc.

Some make me feel like I’m on the set of Kath and Kim:

Them: Hmm…That’s noice. That’s unusual

I get that people have difficulties. I certainly have difficulties with other people’s names. I really don’t mind when people ask several times how to pronounce my name or if they stumble over it as they are really trying. I happily give them easy remembering hints to help out. But assumptions of where I am from anger me – as though only Anglo names can be born in Australia names, and rudeness – laughing, and dismissing my presence because you can’t deal with my name annoys me. And then it wearies me. I never again want to go to a work meeting where my name becomes a conversation piece. Agenda items have known to garner less discussion than my name’s origin.

Yesterday, one of the comments that I got on my post was this:

…The first thing I noticed as also being the owner of a often misspelt name was the misspelling of your name on your report card. You should have given it back to the teacher and told him/her, “That’s not how you spell my name.”…

In actual fact, the correct spelling of my name is Vasiliki with one ess, as it appears on my report card, not as I now spell it with 2 esses. I have been deliberately misspelling my name for the past 30 years. Why? Well…let me extrapolate on my name even more.

When I was in high school, one of my teachers took to enunciating my name as Vaziliki. She was particular about the Zed. And though I would correct her “That is Vassiliki with an s” she would clearly point out to me that grammar rules dictated that one S is pronounced with a Zed and two Esses made an ess sound. This exasperrated me. She outrightly refused to say Vasiliki. She kept up with Vaziliki. It started creeping into other teacher’s usage. One day when I again reminded her it was an ess not a zed she curtly told me that until the day she saw my name spelt with a double ess on the roll she would continue to say Vaziliki.

It was a red rag to a bull.

I went home. I told my dad that I was changing my name spelling and that he had to facilitate this as I was 13 and could not legally make the change myself. He had changed his own name by deed poll decades earlier, was amused by my story and was happy to comply though we decided against changing it by deed poll. The change was quick and uneventful and I can tell you that I relished pointing to the double ess in my name and saying “That would be VaSSSSSSSSiliki”.

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PS I am not aware of any famous people with the name Vasiliki/Vassiliki. There is Tommy Lee’s mum. Vasiliki Scurfield in the UK is an aspiring romance author (please, please, please let her get published. I would love to see my name on a Mills and Boon cover). However there is Australian Darwin based singer Vassy (a name I never respond to) who recorded this kickass song about being called Vassiliki.

 

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22 thoughts on “No one rips the ass out of Vassiliki

  1. Royal is a male family name in my mother’s family and the guys were never called Roy always the full “Royal”. My name “Merrian” is always mispronounced usually some variation of Marion or Mary-Anne… I have to say it phonetically before people get it “merry-like in ‘merry Xmas’-un” but of course I am never asked where I am from or if my Mum made it up or have people not listen when I correct them, cos I look Anglo and my name is Anglo enough for everyone even if it is Welsh and my Mum sort of made it up by Anglicizing/feminising a traditional Welsh male name. She knew Aussies couldn’t handle Myfanwy which was her first thought for me.

    I am always surprised by people’s unwillingness to be open and try to speak a name strange to them but I get to slip through those social cracks. Through the not so subtle divides between them and us that matter sadly, in our not so welcoming culture. There is such a quintessential denial of someone’s selfhood in not engaging with the name they call themselves but the way it had been done to you is so much about who is in and who is not allowed in as well. Good on you for your passionate claiming of yourself.

    Also what a lovely Dad you had. I enjoy very much the great stories you tell about him.

  2. At least I don’t have to contend with the mispronounciation of my first name, only the spelling. Attempts to pronounce my surname are always proceeded by an uneasy silence. My sister has said that I am very anal about the correct spelling of my name. In primary school I returned an award, telling the award giver that my name was misspelt. And what does a parent do that has always had problems with her name, she gives her oldest the name Minalu that is often mispronounced and misspelt and her youngest the name Dominiek which is always misspelt.

  3. OK, so I know I don’t get people saying “Jo… how do I pronounce that name with the silent, and by extension redundant h” but I do get people always, always, spelling my surname with 1 t.

    There is a relatively famous John Elliott, and nobody drops his 2nd t off his name.

    Cue world’s tiniest violins…

  4. John, my last name also has two T’s. And people are forever mispronouncing it because (according to grammar rules) it should be Gar-NETT (correct spelling), not GAR-net like the stone (correct pronunciation).
    In my defence, I married into the name.
    Don’t get me started on people who call me JuliE instead of JuliA.

    Vassiliki, no wonder I heard so many people pronounce your name so many ways when I was first getting to know you! What a great Dad story, though.

  5. I feel your pain. My name is French with French pronunciation, but everyone always anglicises it. Or calls me Jackie which makes me want to punch them. Hard. My parents created my name and part of the reason was Jacques Cousteau. So, as he is a hero of mine, the pronunciation is -kinda- important!

    I’ve given up on people saying my name properly, and now I go by Zja (socially and online) or Jacq (work). Jacqs (or Jax?) is acceptable but Jackie really incites me to violence. Sadly you can’t hit your work colleagues… Zja is the first sound of my name when said correctly. If it didn’t look ridiculous I’d change my spelling too. My name is beautiful and I hate it when people strip the magic and add a twang.

    I love this post.

  6. It is frustrating. I don’t get why anyone would anglicise a name, and it is only being polite to get people’s names right. You can always ask them how they say it – and listen to what they say.

    I get mispronunciation of my first and last name – frequently. It amuses me that people think I am dropping a consonant off my first name. There is no ‘h’ in my first name. Nor is it spelled with an ‘a’ at the start. It generally amuses rather than irritates, but maybe that is because it happens a bit less often now. My surname also has endless options for mangling.

  7. Great post!

    My name is pretty safe from mispronunciation but I hate how my first name sounds so whingey when said with an Australian accent. This is one of the reasons why I prefer to be called “Fi”.

    I can really feel for your pain when English pronunciation “rules” are applied to non-English names and words generally. The Irish name “Caitlin” is a great example. Most non-Irish people would say it as “Kate-Lyn” but the correct pronunciation is “Kotch-Leen”. English rules only apply to English.

    My parents wanted to call me Siobhán but didn’t trust that Aussies would know how to pronounce it. So I’ve ended up with a name I don’t much like at all.

  8. I love this post.
    When I decided to move to Australia some years ago, the first thing that I thought was: ‘Yay! Finally, I’m going to live in a country where people will know how to pronounce and spell my name!’ Yes, everyone can pronounce and spell my name here, but I’ve encountered another problem. People here ask me what my real name is. To which I have to respond: ‘I look Asian but my real name is Karen’. Some people think I’m not telling the truth. Sad.
    You are very lucky to have such a lovely dad.

  9. I love this post!
    I once had an English teacher struggle over saying my maiden name (Hillier), no matter how hard he tried he always pronounced it “Hell-ya”. I often asked him if he was sure he was meant to be an English teacher given he had so much trouble with the language :/ I ended up explaining to him that it was said the same way as “the hills are hillier over there”
    Love the song 🙂

  10. Hahaha fantastic post!

    I’m Jacqueline on my birth certificate, but have never been known by family and friends as anything other than Jack/Jackie. Apparently my Mum thought that Jackie didn’t look “proper” enough for an official document.

    But OMG the different spellings. Back in the day it was school reports, now its people who are sending an email to an adress with JACKIE in it and starting with “Hi Jacqui…”

    And as much as being called by my full first name pisses me right off, it makes me absolutely furious when it’s mispronounced as “Jack-eh-lyn”

  11. Great post! Interesting too with my family history.

    Regarding Anglicising names, I know my mother legally changed her name to drop the “-ina” off hers (and for a lengthy time while I’ve been an adult swapped her “C” for a “K” but has reverted).

    For her and my family it was a time to not be known as “other” (my mum refused to tell my dad her surname for 8wks). We were refused by my Nana to learn her native tongues on account of no accent was “better for you”. Interestingly, due to a series of events, she, ended up with a French name.

    My French brother-in-law since moving to Aust has been trying to have his name pronounced the Eng way rather than the French (stating it really is more an English style name).

    It’s interesting the baggage a family and individuals carry that passes through their very identity – their name.

    As a result of my own and my family’s experiences, I always worked hard to make sure I got pronunciation as close as I could with all my students (given my speech & hearing issues, sometimes it just doesn’t happen).

    I give up my nickname being spelt correctly (especially since I discovered I’d taken on at thirteen unwittingly, a “masculine” version). Was handy when at one point in my life there was me, my step-sister (Nikki) & best friend (Nicci). Three spellings helped identify us lol.

    However, I am actually a Nicole and had a teacher in primary school who refused to call me anything but Nicola for the entire year (ergo, taking on my nickname lol). Aside (as I do lol), I ended up working alongside the same woman when I became a teacher (we both cracked up and she called me Nicole lol).

    Well, that was a ramble.

  12. This IS a great post and also great comments.

    Our library had a visitor from Israel yesterday and I checked the pronunciation of his name with him because I wasn’t sure, and I was going to be introducing him and it would have been terrible for him to hear me mispronouncing his name to everyone. I must get annoying though, even when people are well meaning.

    My official first name is Anthony but all through my childhood I hated it and as soon as I got to university I took it as an opportunity for a clean break and became Tony. Now I quite like Anthony, but it’s too late now to go back.When I went to the optometrist last week he called me “Tone” which felt a bit too familiar for someone I’d barely met, I wouldn’t mind it from a friend though.

    My mother was always annoyed that people in Australia would mispronounce our name Davies (day-veez) because it should be pronounced Davis. Davis is the anglicized spelling, but even Davies must be an earlier anglicized form because there’s no letter V in Welsh. I think I must pronounce my surname somewhere between the two because people often write down my name as Davis and if I’m on the phone I always spell it otherwise they look up Davis and can’t find me.

    Anyway, thanks for your post and thanks to all the commenters!

  13. Love your post! My mom may she rest in peace was named Vasiliki Gevares Lakos from Polidrosos, Parnassus. Coming to America in the late 1920’s her named was promptly changed to “Bess” which is an approximation or anglicization from the Greek letter and it’s English counterpart.
    Sadly her name Vasiliki was lost for 80 years until she died…. I instructed the stone cutter to inscribe her headstone with her true name Vasiliki, so she could finally reclaim her name and rest in peace.
    My Greek is very rusty, but I recall the birthday wishes… na ta ekato stisis… may you live to be one hundred…. and wear your exceptional and beautiful name well!

    • Thank you very much for your lovely comment. My great aunt Vasiliki who went to the US in 1918 had her name Anglicised to Bessie. I think the new wave of Greek migrants (at least in Australia) though are either showing a lot more resistance or the migration officers are no longer allowed to change people’s names.

      Wishing you a good 2017!

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