Every time I go abroad I face a problem. The same problem over and over again. I start to dislike my parents a bit every time someone asks me my name.
Of course I should be glad they didn’t call me Mścisława (mshchiswava), Grażyna (grajina) or Małgorzata (mawgojata) and certainly they didn’t want to make me unhappy but… well, my name is Joanna, that’s what’s written in my documents at least. It is a nice name and I like it but the problem is… nobody calls me that. In Poland we have this weird habit of having short, diminutive forms for almost all our names and they aren’t used just for children. So every Joanna in Poland is called Asia (pronounced somehow like usher but with a very soft sh), exactly like every Barbara is Basia, Katarzyna – Kasia, Aleksandra – Ola and many more. Some of the names including mine have even more than one short form, so you could call me Joasia, Asiunia, Asiunia, Aśka or Joaśka (beware, though, I hate the two last versions!). To make this whole process clearer I sometimes compare it to what happens to some (although really few) English names e.g. William – Bill, Robert – Bob, Richard – Dick.
So, there I am, somewhere abroad, asked for my name. A moment of hesitation, and yes! Remember to always go for one version, otherwise people will get completely disoriented and won’t memorize your name at all. So most of the time I say my name is Asia. So far so good. The nightmare strikes again when someone wants to write something to me or just put my name down in their mobile’s phone book. Why the heck am I a continent? Or when someone accidentally sees my passport. Why does it say ‘Joanna’ there? Here we go again. Even if there are some formal situations when I’m called Joanna in Poland, the way this name is pronounced in my native language varies significantly from the English, German etc. ways. First of all J is pronounced like English Y and apart from that the double n is really double and that’s how it should stay (and Germans aufgepasst! There is no h in my name ). So if someone tries to call me using the English Joanna chances are I simply won’t react. And I don’t mean to be rude, I just don’t perceive that version as my name. I would have to have some time to get used to that.
Polish is said to be one of the most difficult languages and after explaining all the complexities of the so simple name issues I could agree. One must also remember that all names in Polish are declined, so you could come across my name written like: Asi, Asią, Asiu etc. Even some last names must be declined and sometimes there are feminine and masculine versions of the same last name, so that the husband’s name is e.g. Pinkowski, Konieczny, and their wives are called Pinkowska, Konieczna. I heard of cases when it caused a lot of trouble in some abroad offices because, having different names, nobody believed they were really married. Well, I know it all sounds very strange but don’t get discouraged by that. Despite all these peculiarities Polish is a beautiful language, the French among the Slavic languages, I heard once. I just wanted to settle the matter with my name once and for all. Lots of love, Asia.