It's not a secret. I've got a weird name.
My name is actually so complicated I can only remember one person ever getting it right straight off the bat. Except in India. In India they don't seem to have a problem with it. Geire, Geire, Geire. It's like water off a duck's back to them. When I ask, how do you know how to say my name? They say...but it's just Geire, and that's that. It easily accounts for half the reason I love India so much I think. I'm suddenly a normal person, who isn't intimidating just by the mere virtue of 5 small letters which look like they fell into the grid of a boggle cube.
People ask me, did you make it up, or were you born with it? (It might look like one, but it's not a condition).
Come on. Don't be dumb. Who would give themselves a name like that?
No, I was actually given that name at birth. And it's not a made up name. When I was in Norway I saw the alphabet-soup-named town that Geire derives from. I've even seen it in a Baby Names book. It means "Queenie" or "The little queen"...a zillion years ago some little girl named Geire ascended to the throne...something, something? Think dead relatives, or the plague, some tragedy befell the family...(I could be making this up)...In any event...it sounds confusing. I note: the legacy continues.
But I'm not Norwegian. I'm the same sort of bitsa that makes up most of the population of Australia. Bit of this, bit of that. Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Spanish, some pilgrim who went to the US. I can't find any trace of Norwegian which would let me even sightly off the hook.
My mum knew a Geire, and liked the name.
An absolutely acceptable name.
While listening to reel to reel Russian language courses, lounging around in bean bags and kaftans, in the light of fibre-optic fairy light lamps, yapping to professors on acid, piping Beethoven through a horn pressed to her growing belly, my mum was probably dreaming that I would have an artistic life and she would give me a name to go with. But fuck me, did it have to be this artistic? There I was, curled up, no idea what was waiting for me. The only promise that could be said to have remained was that of the cacophony of unintelligible sounds (now taking the form of the failed attempts at a name which would get stuck in the craw of any normal person whom attempted it).
I am in contact with she-for-whom-I-am-named: the acquaintance of my mother from her bohemian days trotting around Sydney's Lavender Bay. When we were first in contact the other Geire told me she was still annoyed with my mum for taking her name, and abandoning it's pronunciation.
Well, I can pretty much tell you right away I am more annoyed than the other Geire ever was or will be. How about letting my mum know the aggravation it was going to be for me to have a name no one can speak, or spell, as well? What about being annoyed some innocent child was just about to get lumbered with a name your parents gave you...that's probably been the bane of your existence too? Gah! And no, I didn't just say your name wrong...although, yes, it has been pronounced a bit like gah many times!
In the other Geire's defence, (her name is pronounced GAY-ra...there but for the grace of god go I), she may never have had an issue with being named after a small dead Norwegian queen. Maybe no one mispronounces her name? My mum, not only did she put the kibosh on my dad who wanted to call me something civilised like Freya or Ashley, she went and found an already planetary name, and then decided to make the pronunciation up entirely. That is an actual mathematical equation which ends with the parenthesis (impossible)².
So for most of my life people have pronounced my name GEAR-ah. I would say it's like Sarah with a 'g'. Gair-ah. But that didn't help. Even the Sarahs I've known have said Gear-ah. But hang on...I can say Sarah. It would be pretty mental if I started saying SEAR-ah. I mean, I know its kinda difficult. It's very unusual, okay, yes. There are only three of us (not counting the dead Norwegian one) that I know of in the world...but it certainly isn't impossible. If you can say a word like onomatopoeia, then you can put two simple sounds together. It's only one third as hard! Man alive!
But there is something more here at play. How often have you heard someone say they have to protect their name? A name is directly linked to other people's perception of you. Your character Your integrity. People think if you have a weird name...you are probably also weird. What came first, the chicken or the egg? In evolutionary terms, yes the chicken, but for the sake of the argument, and in the spirit of this analogy, it's hard to pin down. One probably does end up a little weird after being treated like one is weird, because one has a weird name (or a parent with a weird brain), and on and on, ad infinitum. Weird names make people nervous, because they don't want to insult you by getting it really wrong. I know because I too get intimidated by other ridiculous names. I think poor you...now goodbye (weirdo).
If I ever hear anyone talking about giving their child a craaaa-zy name, I have to interject. Stop! Words...they're ok. Call him Fridge if you want, fine fine. But don't call him Fdlmer. Or Pchwvban. Please. Think of 80 or so years of suffrage. Are you thinking of that? Okay, now double it, cos you actually wont be able to imagine it at all...now double it again cos it's far worse than that even...and, please, go with...Terry.
I dated someone once and I'm not even making this up (if only I was). After about three months of solid dating (I'm talking weekends, week nights, sleep overs) we ran into a friend of his, and in that moment of awkward introduction I realised...oh my god...he doesn't know my name. On reflection I realised he' d never said it. He'd only said hi when he called, referred to me as "cutie" or "gorgeous" and things like that. Even if he had have tried to find my name in a clandestine attack on my ID, it wouldn't have helped. Geire? How the fuck do you say that, cutie? The horror. We didn't have any mutual friends whom he could ask! And let's face it, even after a few dates, it's far too late to inquire in the afterglow of a passionate kiss (or worse) what's your name again? LET ALONE THREE MONTHS. This is not a sitcom outline. This happened.
At one stage even my mum gave up on the name she'd given me. Her nickname for me was Gigi, and she started using it in earnest. You know that suited me fine. There's the issue of Zjee-Zjee, Gee-Gee - but I can deal. Lots of people called me Gigi, and it was okay. If they could remember my name started with a G...that was all they needed. Things were going along alright, and then suddenly, without any warning, my mum would have none of it! As soon as I had built up a good amount of people who knew me as Gigi, she withdrew her support of the moniker and started calling me Geire again. Gigi is NOT your NAME, she announced grandly. When someone called me Gigi she sighed loudly. She made an extra effort to use my real name in every sentence, just to show everyone, and me, she did not approve of the gratuitous use of a nickname she herself had given me. Even down to using my name when talking to total strangers. "Excuse me shopkeeper (we've never met before), how much are the oranges? GEIRE and I think they are lovely at this time of the year" People were confused. Who's Gair-ah? Who's she talking about?
For anyone who suffers under the curse of a name which could bifurcate the tongue of the uninitiated, I really do feel for you...I'd love to give you some words of advice, but I probably couldn't make it personal, for fear of insulting you, and besides, get over it, I've got troubles of my own...gorgeous.
Vladimir Nobokov told Herbert Gold in the Paris Review in 1977 "I am an obscure, double obscure, novelist with an unpronounceable name". I was only three at the time, but with my liberal childhood, limited womb-learnt Russian, and artistic bent, I think my feelings would have been the same back then: give me a goddamn break guy! Vladimir? What's so hard about that?
You know I'm not making it up when I tell you there are actually support groups for people with unpronounceable names.
The only reason I haven't joined one is I really don't want to meet those freaks with names I'll never remember that make me choke on my own tongue. It's like eating rocks. Brrr. I've got enough on my plate.
Vladimir Nabokov: knock it off!
© Geire Kami. All Rights Reserved. Australia 2017.