by Kathleen S. Kirk
From a young age, I was very used to responding to variations of my name. I was called Katherine and Katelyn, Kathy and Kate, and everything else in between, and I always took it in stride. It was never very difficult to weed out what I might be called or how someone might interpret my name.
Then I began a relationship with my Militantly Nerdy Boyfriend Alex, an odd hybrid of Russian strappings and vibrant American patriotism. He was born in the Soviet Union and immigrated with his parents at the age of three, becoming a naturalized American and even joining the military. When he’s not using terms of endearment for me, my name gets shortened to an affectionate “Kath.”
I suppose this was the warning sign I should’ve looked for, but everything else was going so well in our relationship that I hardly spent much time dwelling on it. However, by the time I met his grandparents, I knew I had fallen haplessly into a bottomless pit of foreign moniker confusion.
Alex had, at my request, told his whole family that they could call me Katya, since “Kathleen” has sounds that don’t exist in Russian, especially that difficult “th”. I don’t think I have ever been called Katya once, though.
When I first met Alex’s grandparents, his grandfather, beaming at us, announced that he would call me Kate. Alex explained later, amidst the broken English, that his grandfather felt he was being more respectful to me by translating Katya back into English again and calling me an English name, even if he couldn’t pronounce my actual name.
Eventually they became comfortable calling me “Ketlin”, which is essentially the Russian pronunciation of “Kathleen.” But that is when the floodgates opened, so to speak. I started thinking of it as a game, and in the beginning it actually was kind of funny, if not even fun.
I had always gone by “Kathleen,” or “Katie” around family, but now I also learned to prick my ears at the sound of a “Kath,” “Kate,” or “Ketlin.” Soon “Ketlin” bifurcated and I found I also had to listen for “Ketrin.”
Now, this may not seem too terrible, and it wasn’t, in English, but I usually was trying to listen for my name amidst a flurry of Russian, a language full of that hard K sound. My ears were constantly primed for anything that sounded similar. Continue reading