How you should read me.

Okay, I’ve just head an epiphany, a satori, a moment of truth. This blog’s title says „Peterlin’s weblog” and you all probably pronounce it wrong!

As it is my webname of choice, let me set this straight: ‘peterlin’ is not pronounced like ‘Peter’, no-no, never. Both ‘e’s in it have a nice sound of an ‘e’ in ‘get’ (actually it’s a more open sound, but nevermind) and ‘r’ is trilled. Good.

As every superhero needs to have an origin story behind his monicker, here’s mine. It’s a bit bland, but hey, who told you I was a superhero?

The name ‘Peterlin’ comes from a book, or rather a trilogy, set in the XVth century Silesia written by Andrzej Sapkowski. By the way, go read it, it’s good, except for the third book which makes you curse the author for betraying his talent. But I digress, let’s get back to Peterlin. So here we are – he’s one of the characters in those books and he spends the whole 1800 or so pages of them being fondly remembered, because he dies in the very beginning. A very bright and decent chap he was, we’re told. How fitting, said I – I’m a bright and decent chap myself and – should I be killed by the midday demons (like him) I’d surely want to be remembered fondly (like him) and avenged (like him). So that’s why I chose that name. No, wait! I chose it, because it sounds nice (see above for how it sounds).

While we are at it (we really aren’t, but I had to start this paragraph somehow), my true given name is, indeed, a cognate of English ‘Peter’, but I would never want to be called ‘Peter’, really. Okay, so sometimes I am called ‘Peter’ by people who don’t know better and I don’t bite their heads off. Well,  at least, I haven’t done it yet. I’m a polite chap and I mind my manners. But something deep inside me boils with anger (no, it doesn’t, it’s just a hyperbole).

For the life of me I can’t understand those Poles who when speaking English suddenly become „Kate” or „Tom”. I mean, I sort of understand them on a certain pragmatic level – Polish names are not easy for Anglophone ears, and it can be annoying to be constantly asked to repeat what your name was, blah, blah, blah. But screw them – what’s wrong with going by your own name, expecting people to make a minimal effort and try to pronounce it just approximately the way it should be pronounced or to kindly type the five characters in my name in the same order I did when I signed the letter they’re replying to. Of course everyone has their beliefs and attitudes and approaches these things differently. My approach (and it is as good as yours) is that „Kate”ification of names is a way of selling out, a betreyal of your identity.

Now, am I obsessed or something? ‘Peter’ and ‘Piotr’ are just two versions of one word, they’re equivalent, right? Well, wrong!
First, ‘Peter’ is not what my mom & dad and everybody else have been calling me all my life.
Second, Polish names have a range of different established diminuitive and ‘pet-name’ forms, plus Polish morphology is ready to create new ones practically at a whim. Those forms express something barely palpable – emotions, attitudes, affection. It’s really a different thing to be called ‘Piotr’ than ‘Piotrek’ or ‘Piotruś’ (as an aside, I might add than in certain circumstances the ‘pet-name’ forms can be used by people with whom you’re not on first name terms). Of course, English has ‘Pete’ and ‘Petey’ and probably some more but a) the choice is more limited and b) those don’t map well to Polish forms.
Third, there’s also some semantic connotations you grow up with, like, in my case, the parsley connection. The Polish word for parsley is for us sounds like it has something to do with my first name. It doesn’t really matter if it’s the truth or not, I’m to lazy to research the etymology of parsley. It’s just an association, and not a very meaningful one at that. But what do you build your memories with if not with such not very meaningful associations? So that’s why I am a Piotr but not a Peter.

With this we arrive at the station „The recurring motif of this blog”:

The same words in different languages are not really the same, because you do all sorts of different things to them and with them. A word is not a dictionary entry all alone, all by itself. It is a composition of ideas, images, impressions, reminescences you have when you see, hear or say it.

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  • kasia89  On March 9, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    What a nice post! As for „Kate”ification I can poke my nose here: there’s nothing more pleasing to the ear than to hear one’s name in their own language and, what’s the most important, correctly pronounced.
    Last holidays I went to Belgium to work as an au-pair in a family there, and when I heard my name pronounced by the Belgians for the first time, I didn’t grasp it at first. It was something like “Ka (like in “calcium”) – sia (pronounced like “ze” in “zero” and “a” like the first one)”. After a while of thinking “what on earth are they talking about? I should understand them, it’s French, oh, come on!” the penny dropped. It was my lovely polish name but… in their pronunciation (they knew the spelling from the emails we sent before as I signed them always “Kasia”, not “Catherine”). So, I started a stay there by teaching my holiday-family how to pronounce my name. The effect was miraculous! After a while they repeated it in a perfectly correct way! The rest of holidays they named me just as they should: “Ka (as above) sia (just “sh” [∫] and ”a” like the first one)”. Easy, isn’t it? But the nicest thing was only then going to happen. This year I found another family from Switzerland to go to for the summer time. And they firstly asked me for the references from the previous family. They called them by phone and – when I talked to them (those from Switzerland) for the first time (also by phone) – I heard on the very beginning “Bonjour Kasia” with my name pronounced as correctly as we can imagine in the foreigner’s mouth!
    And, actually, it didn’t cost me a packet! So, I share your view – I don’t understand how some Poles let people from abroad changing their names in such a grating way…

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