*Disclaimer: No offense, Dad.
Well, I’ve done it. I’ve given up my given name. I dove right into the name-change process, and I am now legally, officially, irrevocably (kinda) Nina Anne Pajak.
I like it. I’m getting used to it. It’s got a much more powerful punch than my old name. It’s got a P, which is snappy, and it ends in a K, which is strong. And in South America, the J is pronounced as an H, which is both adorable and fun to say. Paaaah-hak. In other countries, it’s pronounced as a Y, so you know, we’ve got a lot of options.
I’ve always envied those with consonant-driven names. Nina Schwartz always sounded sort of shapeless in my mouth — I used to have to take a drink of water and do facial muscle-warming exercises before enunciating it over the phone, and even then I often found myself slurring through it, mainly induced by the stress of worrying that I was about to slur through my own name.
Perhaps I’ve just opened your window into my neuroses a smidgen too wide…
And not to join the legion of self-hating Jews out there, but let’s be real. As much as so many of my sisters have eagerly paid (through the nose? Ha ha.) to lop off their well-endowed nasal birthrights, we Jewish girls also seldom shed tears at the thought of losing our old lady, easily ethnically identifiable last names. I don’t mean to sound overly critical, but just think about it in this context for a moment: before I was born, someone who shall remain anonymous suggested that I be named Frieda. Now picture Frieda Schwartz. It’s a pretty straightforward image, isn’t it?
But fine, I’ll admit it — my name was never so bad. It’s not like I was ever teased about it or anything (of course, there was much more obvious material to be mined by my peers, as evidenced in my previous post).
I never had any unflattering nicknames, and it didn’t rhyme with anything anatomical, sexual, or scatological. The worst anyone ever came up with was “FAO Schwartz” (different spelling, and, um, that would be awesome) or “Bermuda Schwartz,” which was really more stupid than annoying. And as a matter of fact, I voluntarily used it in my byline once, as I was writing about actual Bermuda shorts. I mean, how often does that happen? Now that I think about it, I kind of love the idea of Bermuda Schwartz as an alter ego. I’m a laid-back, tough-talking, jaded island cop who busts drug dealers and kidnappers each week and has been known to put ice cubes in her white wine. I’m totally unapologetic and I just won’t play by the rules, but my sidekick, Seersucker Jones, keeps me in line. Plus, I totally love smoked fish on a bagel (which is pretty impossible to find in the Caribbean) and he totally doesn’t get it, but it’s okay because it’s a cultural thing and you kind of have to grow up with it to appreciate it. Don’t even get him started on gefilte fish.
Really though, this whole name change thing is very trippy, and I’m having a little trouble getting used to it. It’s like a bureaucratic out-of-body experience. And since I’d always just assumed I’d ditch Schwartz one day, I didn’t really give it quite as much thought as it merits. That was my name for 27 years, and now it just isn’t. I meet people every week who will never even know that Nina Schwartz existed.
And who is this Nina Pajak, anyway? Who is this Semitic-looking girl with a Polish last name (which, evidently, also sounds Indian)? My background is not exactly a closely-guarded secret, regardless of my name, but I find it a little weird that other Jewish people can’t necessarily immediately identify me as one of the tribe. There’s something extremely nerdy in me that misses that obvious association, that understood (if ultimately tenuous) alliance. So, faced with a sort of cultural whitewashing, I think I’m finding myself playing up my Jewishness to strangers. Not in any religious sense, god no. But the New York Jew in me is cutting a pretty high profile lately. My Westchester accent comes out in full force (how tall is the wall in the mall? Is it very, very tall?), I make an excessive number of Jewish jokes, I’m way more anxious, paranoid and pessimistic than ever, I try and break out the few Yiddish words I know as often as possible, and I’ve been known to wax endlessly nostalgic about things like brisket and chopped liver. A dish I would never have dreamed of going near until very recently, because, I agree, ick. But also, omigod delish (that’s pronounced: duh-LISH).
If we’re going to get deep about it (and we are, because obviously I’ve found myself a standard-issue Jewish shrink with an office on the Upper West Side and a closet full of peasant skirts), it’s as though I’m completely exaggerating the identity which I so heedlessly abandoned in some sort of last-ditch effort to rescue her from deletion. So basically, this whole thing completely backfired. Instead of being cooler-than-before Nina Pajak, I am now the dorkiest version of Nina Schwartz who has ever existed. I’ve created a monster, and she genuinely worries that you could put your eye out playing baseball. Because you COULD.
I guess it’s no surprise, in retrospect, that I’d adapt by subconsciously exerting my heritage onto the Pajak name and my new wifey self. Especially knowing that one day we’ll have little Pajak children, and they’ll never know what it’s like to be automatically teamed up with every Jewish kid from the Northeast whether they like it or not. Plus, they’ve got a 50/50 shot at turning out to be athletic, in which case they may never truly understand the adversity from whence they came. Then again, I’m probably getting ahead of myself. We haven’t even gotten to the point where Matt will agree to get a dawg. Ahem, I’m sorry, I mean dog. Must run, I left the kishkes in the oven!