I once knew a girl in school named Susan Smith. While I didn’t envy her the ordinariness of her name, I did envy the fact that anyone could pronounce it.
Not mine. While I think Schnitzengruben is pronounced exactly like it’s spelled, not everyone can manage it.
And since I got married, I have tripled the confusion the public encounters with my name. People still struggle a bit with Schnitzengruben but living in Israel, I’ve found that Jews do better with Germanic last names than most white-bread Americans.
I have also kept my maiden name (though clearly Crunch is easier to pronounce) which confuses traditional people who believe every married woman carries her husband’s name, and stymies computer systems like that of the Benjamin Library in Beit Shemesh, where I used to live. Here was the conversation between me and the librarian who was registering my family’s membership in the computer’s system:
“The Cap’n. His last name’s Crunch.”
“My last name is Schnitzengruben. My husband’s is Crunch.”
“But you can’t do that.”
“I already did.”
“No, I mean that doesn’t work in our system. You have to have one last name per family.”
“Are you telling me I have to change my name legally in order to have a membership at the Benjamin Library?”
“I’ll tell you what. Put us all down as Schnitzengruben.”
The librarian’s eyes bugged out at this point.
“You heard me. Put my husband down as Cap’n Schnitzengruben. Your computer can handle THAT, can’t it?”
The librarian sucked her breath in through her teeth but did as she was told. (GOOD girl.)
So not only are people confused by my gorgeously mellifluous last name, they cock up the honorific too. While any woman chutzpahdik enough to keep her own last name after marriage should automatically be called “Ms.,” I understand that people meeting me for the first time don’t necessarily know that I’m going by my maiden name. So when they call me “Mrs. Schnitzengruben,” I sometimes smile sweetly and say, “That’s my mother. Call me Ms. Schnitzengruben.” Or when they REALLY don’t know me and call me “Mrs. Crunch,” I have to go back a generation and tell people that’s my husband’s grandmother. (His mother is a physician and didn’t go to medical school for four years to be called MRS. Crunch, thank you very much.)
But all this salad of names and honorifics quite frankly tires me out. Feminism made some inroads here and there, but where names are concerned, I think it has only served to confuse people. I know people are doing their best, and once they get to know me they USUALLY get it right. Because once they get to know me, they are allowed to call me Shimshonit, which simplifies things immeasurably.