Backstory: (How to) Say My Name
It's Easier than it Sounds
Nothing beats a good mnemonic device. In 1998 when David Fincher was shooting the film Fight Club his partner — now wife, Cean Chaffin — introduced herself. “It’s chafe-in,” she said, “like jock itch.” And I’ve never forgotten that. Similarly in Barcelona in a taxi, Michael Chabon introduced me to his wife, Ayelet Waldman. Doing so he said, “I never say my wife’s name… I yell it.” As a testament to the power of those devices I recall not just the names but the circumstances of the introductions.
I am Ukrainian, hear me roar. Or maybe Polish.
My father’s parents died when he was seven so I never knew them, not even their first names. Not until a family vacation when we drove to Idaho and visited their graves. To my surprise their names were Nick and Polly. Thus their names are an almost-mnemonic device for Palahniuk. Or as we pronounce it “PAH-la-nik.”
My grandfather, Nick, and his father, my great-grandfather, George, emigrated from the Galicia region of Eastern Europe in 1911. At different times, the area was claimed by either Ukraine or Poland so the family is divided about our national heritage.
Those original Palahniuks sailed from Bremen aboard the S.S. Saturnia, arriving in Quebec. They received their U.S. citizenship in Ukrainia, North Dakota in 1916. Born in 1939, my father tried to shed some letters from the family name, shortening it to “Palanik,”but when he enlisted in the Navy in the late 50s the government dug up his history and made him change the spelling back to match immigration records.
My dad’s small victory was that his first name, Frederick, was originally spelled “Frydryck.” We take our wins where we can.
A distant cousin of mine, the actor Jack Palance, was originally named Volodymyr Palahniuk. Not a name I’d like to have to hang on a theater marquee.
How many times do you get asked how to pronounce it? Came to see you do a reading/q and a here in England once and there was a very irritating, loud woman who put her hand up and asked "the one question everyone in this room wants to ask is how the hell you pronounce your name?"I wanted to throttle her - ask a question and THAT'S what you choose?! I gave you a gift at the end, then felt stupid about it on the walk home as I felt like a 'fan-boy'! She probably went home feeling full of confidence!
My grandfather's Polish family added Pol to Castro when they immigrated. Apparently their reaction to all of the anti-Polish sentiment at the time was to go big and shout their ethnicity from the rooftops like a big middle finger. (At least that's the reasoning I'm telling myself since they're all dead too.)