On tentative little tiptoes I’m overjoyed to share that one of my weird short stories has been accepted for publication in a very cool (and meaningful) publication – but more to come about that later. It’s a precious ray of light in a year I keep euphemistically referring to as “challenging.”
As part of the process, I needed to supply a short bio, but I realised in the typing of my name that I had a flicker of hesitation.
Even in the bio on this page, I cite the pronunciation of it with self-deprecation and apology. I’ve met very few people outside of Eastern Europe who have been able to pronounce it the intended way. Strangers try, but there’s something about the four syllables of my surname that stump them all. In public, I tend to settle for a “close enough”. This is, by the way, no dig at those who make the attempt.
My own ease with the name has been hard won. Don’t get me started on the inane humiliations of kids droning “Dasher and Dancer”, or adults who respond to my name – “Oh, you mean like…” Still unresolved, I smile and nod, because disavowal is futile. And it shouldn’t matter so much, should it?
I attained a kind of comfort, even pride, in the name and its legacy through a long process of self-education. From shame and denial, the staple of much of the immigrant experience, creating art and commemorating the culture from which the name derived gave it meaning. The writing of Birch was hugely formative in this process.
There are still clunky elements in my name and its territory. In Russia I am asked why I use the diminutive ‘Dasha’ and not ‘Daria’ on official documentation. What follows is a messy explanation of how it was when we came to Australia over twenty years ago. I was a child, the documents were written for a child, and so it remained – a childhood variant of a name not entirely claimed in adulthood. (For the record, I am fine with Dash).
A similar oddness in the masculine ending of my surname as it was then. Arriving in Australia, all of us were given my father’s surname – Maiorov. Now it looks blunt, unformed. Russians feminise surnames for women, that’s why all of our tennis players’ names end in –a, –oya, –ova, I tell those who ask me. Do you know how hard it is to add an ‘a’ to the end of a surname with the BDM in Sydney? But it was worth it, so much so I find it difficult to recognise my name on documents from that stratified layer of my life.
Back to the submission and the bio. I know – Maiorova – it’s a cumbersome name for Australians to pronounce. And, maybe even (one day, hopefully), to market. Writers use pseudonyms for many reasons: anonymity, genre differentiation, even thoughtfully considered placement on a bookstore shelf. As Alison Potter/Ali Knight describes, a name change can serve a very practical purpose.
I sat down and tried to dabble with other names that might fit and still reflect the history behind me. Maiden names, patronymics. Then I wondered why. Actor Uzo Aduba, of Orange is the New Black fame, once described how her mother insisted that if people could learn to pronounce Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo and Dostoyevsky, they could damn well stretch themselves and learn to pronounce hers too.
Changing a name to suit the convenience and comfort of a certain palate is something that should be interrogated. I’m counting nothing out, but we’ve always been told names have power. When we dilute their meaning, we’re changing something of the person who stands behind the name.
On the other hand, would I make a deal with the devil and call myself ‘Smith’ in return for a deal?