by Sjoekje Sasabone

Dedicated to Sjoekje Wisman Bunt and Frederika Sasabone

My parents decided to name me after their mothers. When my mom called her mother to tell her that she was naming me after her, my Oma cried with joy that her first granddaughter would be named Sjoekje. I’m the third Sjoekje in my family. Oma and I were going through old photos, and we found one whom we referred to as ‘the first Sjoekje’.  It’s not just a Dutch name; the spelling is specific to Friesland, a part of Holland with its own language. The name Sjoekje is filled with history and legacy. 

Unfortunately, when it came to my name, my American childhood was filled with being bullied through disrespectful ridicule because the letter combinations were unusual in the English language. Instead of others feeling ‘stupid’ when mispronouncing my name, I was made to feel stupid for having a ‘strange name’. Some teachers (not all) would avoid calling on me because they didn’t know how to pronounce it. Somehow I got the nickname ‘Suki’, with the primary intention of making my name easier for those who were too insecure or lazy to put in the effort to try. 

As I grew older, when people saw my name, they’d either be respectfully curious or take the ‘challenge’ with determination to pronounce it correctly. But the majority would say: “I’m not even going to try it. I don’t want to mess it up,” or “So the ‘Js’ are silent, right?” or “Don’t you have a nickname to make it easier for everyone?” Often, I’d be overlooked because they think I don’t speak English. 

I specifically remember that by age six I began to get frustrated with my name. Even though I was bullied for various reasons, I wished for an ‘easy’ American name to alleviate the teasing. It wasn’t until I was older that I truly appreciated my name. It was a  conversation piece to teach people about my Indo Culture and the war in the Pacific during WWII. It was an opportunity to talk about my Oma and her bravery and my rich family history. 

I stopped bailing people out when I could see them getting to my name during a transaction. I would invite them to try the pronunciation. 

That was met with: “I don’t want to try and mess it up.

I started to say: “What do you think will happen to me when you mispronounce it? I blow up? I drop dead? The only thing that would happen is that you’ll mispronounce it, but it’s important and meaningful if you try it. That means a lot to me.” 

For those who’ve tried, some have gotten impressively close and tried to guess the origin. 

Before my Oma died, she told me: “Make sure everyone remembers our name.

She died ten years ago, just shy of her 105th birthday on June 2, 2013. I keep her words in mind in everything I do. 

Rest in peace Oma. I miss you every day. I’m doing my best to make sure our name is heard, known, and met with the respect it deserves.

The author and publisher disclaim any liability in connection with the use of the information and content of this article.

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Have you faced challenges when others try to pronounce your name which originated from a different country?

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