What’s in a Name?
Being born of foreign parents, for the longest time, I had no idea I would have a problem with my name. Latvian was spoken in my home exclusively since my father, already sixty-three at my birth, never learned English. Both my brother and I gathered up English off the street.
My family called me Irmite (3 syllables, short “i’s”) or Irmi which are diminutives for Irmgarde. Before hitting the neighborhood and other American environments, I didn’t know how foreign-sounding and difficult my name would be for people. I didn’t know kids wouldn’t be able to say it or that I would need a short explanation or “pronunciation” lesson every time I met someone new. (This is true even today.)
Of course, I’m not the only kid in the world who has suffered the slings and arrows of a difficult moniker. We should probably create an online club, perhaps a 12-step program to accept our need for a “higher power” to deal with it. I have always marveled at modern parents who strap children with oddball spellings and sounds. What are they thinking?
Anyway, by the time I reached middle school, most of my schoolmates and neighbors had settled into calling me Irm, pronounced Erm, along with all of its rhyming sequences. It was not until college or maybe even later that I decided to insist people try saying the more Germanic “i” which is shorter and closer to the “e” in ear than anything else. I’ll never forget one woman who discarded my correction and said, “my mouth can’t make that sound.” Nice.
As I entered adulthood and lived away from childhood friends and family, I began looking for new names. I would give myself a new name and a new identity. But, it’s an odd thing to “rename” oneself. Secretly, I had hoped for some little catchy nickname that would catch on with the crowd. Never happened. Never. No cute little “cricket” or “bubbles” or “Bam-bam.”
Two of my erstwhile attempts at renaming myself were Zoe (the playwright years) and Shiloh (the cocktail waitress years), neither of which fit me particularly or stuck. I even tried initials, my middle name (Inese – 3 syllables, short vowels), and different spellings. Nada.
Today, nothing much has changed in the name department. I have changed my last name by marriage twice, but I have made peace with my first name and given up all other aliases. It’s a rough peace, but acceptance all the same. I discovered my name means “guardian of a small enclosure” and so I imagine myself as a shield for those beloved few who have stayed close over the years: my deep friends, my family, and my inner self, who will always be Irmite. It’s enough. It will do.
Posted on July 7, 2011, in Meanderings, Memory and tagged childhood, family, foreign, identity, memories, naming. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.
Fantastic Tante Irmi! I still have people who insist on saying Kris or Kristoffer, and I have to tell them no, it’s Kristoff. I always respect people who insist that they should be called a certain way. It always irritates me when people say call me whatever I don’t care. It’s your name! Own it! Love it! Be proud of it!
Thanks for reading and commenting.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless Phone
I would love to hear the story of your parents coming to the States and your early years. Sounds very interesting!
I’m sure this part of my story will show its head too. If I ever get through my current manuscript, my mother’s story will be the basis for the next one. ib
Well, I never! When we first met I called you by the correct pronunciation (Earmgard) and you told me to call you what other people call you (Ermgard). Then I found you on FB, where you’re Irm (Erm), not Irmi (Earme) as I would have expected. As the Captain used to ask the Katzenjammer kids, vot giffs?
Our memories differ on that one.
As to IrmBrown on FB, that was a fleeting plan to go by Irm. Irm is still pronounced with the “ear” sound and is a nickname as well.
Thanks in support of sharing such a fastidious idea, article
is fastidious, thats why i have read it fully