Many people across various ethnic communities across Australia may have at one point or another had their name butchered by someone who could not quite wrap their head around the spelling.
Pronunciation of names has long been a sore spot for many migrants and the generations that have come after them. On the other hand, our names can be a source of great pride, passed down from our families like heirlooms.
This week NUGAS Vice-President Eleni Nzifas and president of the RMIT United Society of Hellenes Alexandra Andrianopoulos share their thoughts and experiences on having a Greek name.
My name is Eleni, but I have been known as ‘Eleeeni’, ‘elainy’, ‘Ellen-I’ to name a few. In Australia, my name is, “exotic,” “so different,” “so woggy,” and I had spent most of my life accepting that it would be mispronounced.
Considering the level of complexity within most Greek names, one would think that ‘Eleni,’ would pose very few issues but that is completely incorrect. I had attended a school which ran from Prep to Year 12. As a young girl, starting Prep I was confronted by the difficulties of others in their pronunciation of my name but my five-year-old self struggled to find the courage to correct anyone.
As the years went on it was only my friends at school whom really knew how to pronounce my name until I hit year nine. That year, 10 years after starting at that school, one in which had barely any Greek students, a teacher joined the staff with my name.
I remember the day distinctly, the beginning of maths class where one of the more serious teachers at the school, began the class by asking me, “Have I been pronouncing your name incorrectly for 10 years?”
Apparently, the majority of the staff assumed they had been pronouncing the name correctly so they addressed the new teacher with confidence only to be let down by her shock at their butchered pronunciation.
It was in that moment where I felt more seen and I made the effort to find this new primary school teacher and to thank her for setting the record straight. I know that majority of the time, no one is intending to be disrespectful or deliberately mispronounce but what I learnt is that your name is yours and should you prefer a certain pronunciation, stand up, teach others, express your identity and don’t be ashamed of it, ever.
My name is Alexandra Andrianopoulos and I was named after my late grandmother. Although I never had the opportunity to meet my grandmother, to be able to share her name is an honour. She was a strong, hospitable, hard-working and beautiful woman and I am proud to be able to have her a part of me every day and share her name.
My name originates from the Greek root name Alexander and means ‘defender of men’. When I think of my name I think of the hard-working and determination that my grandparents and family had to face to be able to migrate to Australia and begin a new journey.
Both my paternal grandparents were born in Pikerni, a small village located north of Tripoli, Peloponnese. My grandfather came from a poor but hard-working family and strongly valued protecting his roots and his family. He was the protector of his family and his brother Andreas was fortunate to give him the opportunity to migrate to Australia with his family to start a better life. My grandfather invited many of his close relatives and friends to join him and migrate to Australia. He was a proud man from Pikerni and strongly believed in protecting one another and with his determination he united them together in Melbourne.
When I think of my name I think of how both my grandparents were a hard-working family and strongly protected the people they loved and brought them together. My grandfather always used to tell me “work hard now and you’ll find it in front of you”.
To this day, I have my grandfather’s message with me when I face any challenge or task. When I think of my name, I think of my how hard my family fought to be where they are now and the determination and bravery they accomplished throughout their journey. I am proud to be called Alexandra Andrianopoulos as I am able to preserve the rich history and willingness of my family to my descendants.