Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

How my son got his name

Well I promised I'd tell the story of how my son got his name, and here it is. I wrote this shortly after the event and published it in Liberty magazine.

Since then I've noticed something about the reactions to this story. Americans tend to be incredulous and indignant - Poles laugh themselves sick.


Our baby now officially has a name. Of course he's had a name since before he was born but today we went down to the Wola (a part of Warsaw) district registry office to register his name officially and get his birth certificate so that he can get his Polish citizen's number and his American passport.

Monika had wanted to name him Jerzy (George) ever since we found out he would be a boy, because she has relatives she likes who bear that name. I suggested as a joke that he should be Jerzy Washington Browne, two in the eye for PC (she didn't want Robert E Lee Browne, maybe next time). However, Monika liked it. Then came the 9/11 attack on New York and Washington and it was no longer a joke. I vowed that my son would be named for a man of rigid honor and inflexible purpose who led his country through its greatest crises and to hell with historical revisionism and PC.

So we went down to the office; driver's licenses on the ground floor, kid licenses on the second. Well, there was a slight problem. It turns out that Polish law has an official list of approved names. Names must come from the list unless you are a foreigner. Well, I am but Monika isn't. Furthermore, they insisted that Washington is not a given name but a surname. The director of the bureau had to be called in.

So I held the baby while Monika did nice/stubborn - an accomplishment I mightily admire, I do hostile/stubborn. The director pointed out that Washington is a city, a state and a surname - not a given name. Monika mentioned George Washington Carver, whom the director had never heard of. I contributed that he invented peanut butter. (At this point I recalled that my sister Liz had predicted that even Poles would think he's Black with a name like Jerzy Washington Browne.) The director says, “Why if we let everybody pick just any name somebody might name their child “Srubka” (“Screw” – as in the tool.) Monika replies, “I’m not naming my child Screw, I’m naming him Washington.”

The director then discovers something wrong with my name: Stephen Wayne Browne. He said, “Wayne isn’t a first name, it’s a last name, like John Wayne.” Monika assures him it is a first name and anyway I’d been wearing it for fifty years and there is nothing he could do about it.

The director says that we are on the banks of the Vistula, not the Potomac, and that if he has a name like Washington he’ll have problems later in life. Monika replies that America will be his other home and there he may have problems with Jerzy. (BTW, that’s pronounced Yeh-zhay, not “Jersey”.) Furthermore, she says, who uses their second name anyway? It’s supposed to be symbolic.

Monika succeeded with the stubbornness without offending the director; something I would never have been able to - I was going to snatch the baby and head for the Embassy. We were allowed to register the name, subject to review by higher authorities who may yet try to overrule us. Diplomatic incident here we come! However the director had his way in one thing, the name is registered with the Polish spelling, Waszyngton. So of course, that's how it appears on his passport.

My sister in London tells me that she told the story to a Polish friend who has lived in England since before the fall of communism. She laughed herself sick. “Nothing has changed with the bureaucracy!” she said.

Monika tells me that she knows a family of actors; the mother's name is Oksana and she named her son Saniwoj and her daughter Juranda. She actually had to get historians from Jagiellonian University to testify that these names existed in Polish history before she was allowed to register them.

Epilogue: Jerzy Waszyngton Browne is now almost six years old and has a sister, Judyta Ilona Browne, the first Browne baby born in Oklahoma in many years. She was named for Jerzy's English godmother and a dear friend in Lithuania who died in the rash of mushroom poisonings across northern Europe and Russia a few years back.

My mother has finally learned to pronounce her grandson's name fairly well, as have a number of his friends. Most folks just make it "Jersey" though.


  • At 8:28 AM, Blogger Gilmoure said…

    That is a cool name! Would be cool if he got some celebrity status later on, to see all the people trying to deal with pronouncing first name and spell middle name. Would look great on a football jersey as well (no pun intended).

  • At 10:14 AM, Blogger gun-totin-wacko said…

    Great story!

    I wonder how my great-uncle Wayne would feel about the fact that his name isn't a name.

  • At 8:39 PM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    Well furthermore he actually has nicknames in both Polish and Lithuanian.

    In Polish a "jerz" ("yezh") is a hedgehog, "jerzik" is "little hedgehog". So the nickname his mother uses is "jerzik".

    Our friends in Lithuania call him "azhukas" - same meaning.

  • At 8:08 PM, Blogger Galt-In-Da-Box said…

    That's fresh, I'll say!
    10 out of 10 for originality, and the exposure of the bureaucrats is a nice bonus.


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