On the long list of Things I Would Change About Myself If I Could, my last name has always been right at the top.
Before you get concerned that this blog is going to alienate my entire family, calm down: donâ€™t confuse a disdain for my name with a disdain for my family. Iâ€™m extremely proud of my ancestors, whatever their ethnicity. And thought I never enjoyed the name, I love the people I share it with.
And itâ€™s a perfectly good name, after all. Iâ€™ve done some research on it. According to Ancestry.com, there are over 1,000 immigrants in U.S. history bearing the name "Jurkiewicz," most of them settling in Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan.Â I once found information online that it was a surname belonging to szlachta (noble) families in the Kingdom of Poland, but Iâ€™ve never been able to verify that (if you search long enough on the Internet, youâ€™ll always find some website assuring you that your family is, in fact, European royalty).
Though Iâ€™m a Milwaukee native whoâ€™s always eaten oplatki on Christmas Eve, I have never really identified with my Polish heritage. My Irish genes completely hijacked my sense of self, as Irish genes are notorious for doing. With a mother who gave me a Gaelic first name, sang "Galway Bay" to me every night, and always assured me that I would have been an Irish princess if the English hadnâ€™t taken our land and castle (perhaps a bit overdramatic, in retrospect) I never gave much thought to my Polishness.
And so my last name has always been an awkward appendage, and Iâ€™ve never quite known what to do with it. Weâ€™re a very strange fit, the Jurkiewicz and me.
Itâ€™s meant confusion ("Whoa. How do you say that?"), teasing ("You must be a jerk!") and worst of all, unfulfilled expectations. Sometimes youâ€™ll meet someone who knows exactly how to pronounce it, and they will tell me what a "good Polish name" it is. I am always at a loss for words, feeling somehow undeserving of a good Polish name (what with all those Irish lullabies).
I always joked that I would get married as soon as anyone asked me, just to be rid of my last name. But now that I am getting married and facing a Jurkiewicz-less future, Iâ€™m surprisingly hesitant to let go.
One of the reasons could be that my grandfather, Thomas Jurkiewicz, died in March. He was a remarkable, hardworking man â€“ a truly decent human being. Since he died, I think of the name differently. Itâ€™s something he gave me, after all. Gifts mean so much more when the giver has vanished. As I grow up and witness the illnesses and deaths of an increasing number of people I love, I have learned to cherish all the small things that connect me to them â€“ even if they are things I never thought much of before.
I never thought I would say this, but I just canâ€™t live without the Jurkiewicz. Iâ€™ll legally take my husbandâ€™s name, because I admire the tradition in that and want to share a name with my future children. But professionally, Iâ€™ll keep my maiden name. I may not think itâ€™s particularly pretty, and it may not be very easy to pronounce. But like everything else on my list of Things I Would Change About Myself If I Could, itâ€™s an indispensable part of my identity.
And when push comes to shove, I might not change those other things on the list, either.
I hated, hated, HATED my birth name. It was misspelled on immigration, and it's pronunciation was changed as well so it wasn't as if I was carrying on a noble tradition. It made me the subject of jokes growing up, mostly stupid ones, and every so often I'd have a teacher who would decide it was Serbian, which it wasn't, and give it a Serbian pronunciation, which then made it sound obscene. I couldn't wait to change it upon marriage, and when I got divorced, there was not even a flicker of contemplation as to whether or not to resume my birth name. I remarried and took my current husband's name, and I was sorry to lose the previous name, because it was my professional name. If I had to change my name for whatever reason, my birth name would never be on the table.
Think I feel strongly about that? :D
2 comments about this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Colleen Jurkiewicz
Published Sept. 30, 2013
Everyone knows that Danny Gokey, Milwaukee's favorite idol, has faced his unfair share of adversity and loss. But some stories that Gokey shares in his new book, "Hope in Front of Me" (NavPress), will be new even to his biggest fans.
Published Sept. 24, 2013
October and September is high season for haunted houses, haunted corn mazes, haunted hikes...but if you prefer a little liquid courage while you get your spook on, check out Untapped Tours' Haunted Hops and Evil Spirits Pub Crawl.
Published Sept. 19, 2013
Waukesha author Kathie Giorgio is getting ready to debut her latest novel, a sequel to the award-winning "A Home for Wayward Clocks." She tells OnMilwaukee.com the secret to writing a good follow-up and shares her views on the publishing industry today.
Published Sept. 19, 2013
"I Left My Heart" is, as the title implies, a tribute to Tony Bennett's music. The young performers onstage didn't try to replicate anything else about 87-year-old Bennett. Instead, it was an evening of appreciation for the style of this unique performer whose career has essentially run laps on so many others.
Published Sept. 18, 2013
"Power Balladz" comes to the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts this weekend, hoping to re-introduce Milwaukee audiences to the decidedly awesome music of the 1970s, '80s and '90s.
Published Sept. 15, 2013
Award-winning choreographer Stephen Mear talks to OnMilwaukee.com about the logistical and emotional challenges of choreographing "Ragtime," the largest production ever to be staged on the Quadracci Powerhouse.
Published Sept. 12, 2013
Actors Bill Jackson and Marty McNamee, along with Boulevard Theatre's artistic director Mark Bucher, sat down with OnMilwaukee.com to talk about what has gone into staging and developing "Jerker," which premiered 1986 and follows the budding relationship between two men in the early years of the AIDS epidemic.
Published Sept. 12, 2013
In the midst of rebranding efforts for Water Street, Milwaukee artist Patrice Procopio opened the area's latest fashion anchor, Third Coast Style, this past weekend. A by-Milwaukee-for-Milwaukee one-stop fashion shop, the new boutique features the handiwork of over 30 Cream City artists.
Published Sept. 10, 2013
John Gurda makes a splash with his new lecture tour, a history of Lake Michigan and Milwaukee's waterways.
Published Sept. 9, 2013
Ryan Braun probably won't be calling me. But if he did, he would probably regret it instantly. Not because I'm mad mat him (we all screw up, dude), but because these are the questions I would probably ask him.