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 [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”.
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.