Can You Spell Your Name, Please?
Back in the sixties I was a mere 10 years of age in primary school.
The school had a fair share of Greeks, Italians and a token or two of other nationalities, but, primarily, most students were “fair dinkum” Aussies.
I was burdened with a very non Anglo-Saxon surname that, in class, I sheepishly avoided saying out loud. This was in contrast to students who had no qualms in answering “Smith”, “Roberts” and “Black” when asked their name.
But please, don’t misunderstand. They were good friends of mine and we had some great times. However, I was miffed when I was often asked, “How do you spell your surname?”
And then, one day, it dawned on me. Why not just Anglicise my name?
I knew that if I broach the subject with my parents, a burning sensation of a well boxed ear would undoubtedly follow. This I knew was certain because my parents were proud owners of traditional Greek names. Any thought of changing them was heresy. I witnessed this first hand when my father was asked his name by his new employer.
“Mihali,” my father replied.
“Oh,” the boss began in a friendly way. “we have a few new Australians with that name, but they use the English equivalent, which is Michael.”
My father’s English at the time was, at best, primitive and colourful, but he understood enough to become agitated.
“No, me Mihali”, he repeated, looking the boss directly in the eye.
The employer smiled. “Okay, Mihali it is.”
So it was up to me to alleviate my discomfiture in having ownership of a foreign appellation. But where do I start? What’s a good name to be proud of?
Andrews, Granger, Smythe, Fields and many other contenders came to mind.
Now, one of the weekly activities in class was for each of us to peruse magazines, find something of interest and send polite requests for more information. It was perceived by educators that by doing so our research skills will be enhanced and it will afford us the opportunity to demonstrate initiative. In the past, I had sent off requests to quite interesting businesses, organisations and individuals. In return, I received an eclectic assortment of literature that included citrus fruit from the Sunraysia district, sheep diseases in the Mallee and the life cycle of the mango tree in Queensland. In addition, I was the recipient of unsolicited samples of seedlings, fleece, minerals and insect specimens carefully preserved.
For the next few weeks I dutifully sent off requests, making sure that the return address section listed “Jones” as my surname.
And voila! Not long after, I received an envelope addressed to “Master G. Jones”. The contents of the envelope were unimportant, something concerning mineral wealth in Western Australia. No, what was of interest to me was “Master G. Jones”. For some time I stared at it, thinking.
The humorous aspect of this charade was that when my friends and the teacher saw this appellation they unreservedly accepted my cover-up story that my parents officially changed their name.
For the remainder of that year the masquerade continued, until my parents found out from official school documents mailed home referring to a G. Jones.
And then I really did feel the burning sensation of a well-deserved boxed ear.