So many Johns

This is a belated postscript to Ripping the Ass out of Vassiliki

I had an great reaction to my post about my name with lots of comments and people posting their name stories on their own blogs which made for interesting reading. Something I did pick up on was that many people seemed to think that the habit of changing names was an exclusively “Anglo” thing. I don’t agree. This happens across all cultures. People have a predilection to adapt names, traditions, behaviours to fit within their own comfort zones.

There is a wonderful book called “So Many Henrys” by Letta Schatz with trippy seventies illustrations by John Kuzich.

So Many Henrys

In this book Henry Emory Demery discovers that he is not the only person with the name Henry. From realising that he shares the same name with his grandfather, Henry then travels the world to discover all the many variations to his name. I loved reading this book to my sons as we would replace Henry’s name with either Peter or Paul and we would continue the journey discovering the many variants of their names and to this day I will call out to them choosing the country of the day from Boutros to Ferris and Pablo to Pol.

My husband’s name is John. Yes John – with a silent “h” not a silent “athan”. He is of an English background, named for his grandfather and great-Uncle who used to tell his mum “Every child should have an uncle John”. As an aside – I have 5 uncle Johns, many of my cousins, friends and even a nephew are called John and many friends and relatives are married to Johns often necessitating me to say “My John” which can somewhat be misconstrued. My uncle John, who is married to my Aunt Vassiliki (I kid you not), would say

Σπιτι χωρις Γιαννη, προκοπη δεν κανει – A house with out a John, makes no progress

John is such a great and flexible name yet it seems to be out of fashion with the current generation. Whether that is because all their father’s are already called John and we will have a new wave in the next generation remains to be seen.

When my John met my mum she told him that his name in Greek is “Yianni”. My mum calls him both John and Yianni, which my husband tells me he loves.

John, Vassiliki, Vassiliki and John - my husband and I with my uncle and aunt namesakes :)

He has no issue with my many Greek relatives that have Hellenised his name. And I am sure that had I been Italian he would have been Giovanni, or French to Jean or Russian to Ivan and Sean or Ian or Zane or Ewan or Juan, Hansel, Jack, Johan, Jan, Vanya and so on…

I don’t think that changing names to fit within a cultural norm is the domain, nor an act of oppression deliberately brought on by Anglos. Every culture does it. The change can be a comfort, a diminutive of sorts. How we feel about having our name changed is unique to all of us. Some of us balk at it and others love it and in no way can it be predicted by our cultural background.

Thanks to Sandra Antonelli for her assistance with this post. She too has her own John.