Monday, December 3, 2012


The Hungarians could never pronounce my name or even write it. What sounded so obvious and plain to me - this is who I was, this is who I have always been- became some incredibly hard task that only few cared to master. On the list of children in my group during my years at the Peto Institute I was known simply as 'Rafael' a variant they've made up for me - and nothing else. I didn't have a last name. Strange concept in a country that puts last name first. It said 'Rafael' on my shower schedule and the cabinet they've given me for clothes and few personal belongings. Talk about your cultural immersion at the age of seven. From day one people were talking to me in a strange language and calling me a name nobody called me before. Soon I started calling myself that as well. And not having a last name in a way made me feel special. There were many Gabors in the building but only one Rafael. I didn't even need one. My last name as well as my first also became a problem when I moved to America. "ł" became transcribed into "l" and the second part had just too many letters coming together to build a sound. The " L with stroke" is simply not just a fancier version of "L"- it makes a sound similar to W in English. Also in Polish typically the stressed syllable is the second from last, yet all my professors called me 'Raffalle'. Trust me, you don't argue with a person who can change my name. It became annoying, because not only it wasn't my name as it sounds nothing like it, it's not what I wished to be called. I became Ralph in America, because this is how all my Polish friends with my name called themselves in English. The only person who has always ignored my wishes in that regard was my former boss. And he oddly found great joy in seeing my reaction to whatever he thought it sounded. The other issue is my last name. Americans, and English speakers with particularly soft accents and rounded vowels have the most problems with this, while my Australian friends grasp the concept pretty quickly. The S and T together trip the up, while they have a hard time understanding that r and z combined produce  an entirely different sound while they attempt to say it one by one. No, it's a sound expressed by two letters. It's a bit like "je" in French. I usually broke it up into syllables and have them repeated Strza-u-kovski. Putting it together is once again a problem. And I've noticed, if they look at my card and try to read off it they're lst again. It gets really difficult on the phone, although I do enjoy hearing an occasional telemarketer struggle. It gets in the way. I couldn't use my name in the branding of the proposed law firm because nobody would be able to say it. My attitude has since changed. I don't say to myself, I will teach the world how to do it and they will know my name! I don't give 15 minute lessons on how to say it properly. Once a friend came up to me very excited to tell me he practiced it for a few hours while  at the gym and still he got it wrong. My cousin changed his name from Barszczewski to Barski because the sh followed by tsch was too much for people to handle. I use a simplified version of mine Show- as in shower-w-kovsky. But who knows, if I give up on that I might end up as Starski. Or once again - Rafael just like Cher or Madonna.

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