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What’s in a name?

November 9, 2012

We’re all attached to our name, it’s our unique identifier, which together with our ethnicity, defines us for our entire lives.  This article on the BBC website highlights that many immigrants change their name, potentially dislocating the individual from their community (and even family) history, in order to assimilate.  Apparently we still have a way to go before we can accept people the way they are.

My father was one such person who changed his name, for reasons I understand but can’t fully appreciate.  His father was a refugee from eastern Europe dislocated from his homeland following the Communist Revolution in 1917 who fled to Paris where he met a young hairdresser from Sweden (I have no idea what their common language was), they fell in love and later married.  That’s Paris for you.  My father was born in 1936, Gunnar Rurik Alexander Dragomiretsky, and his childhood was defined by war, refugees pushed and pulled across a war-torn continent, until a new life was available in Stockholm, Sweden.  My father later took Swedish nationality, shortening his name to Drago to help him assimilate into his new culture, Sweden and Russia have a troubled history and it was the Cold War after all.

My mother was born in Kenya and her parents were the last vestiges of British and Dutch colonial stock, and while I was born in England and have a British passport, my sisters were born in Germany and have Swedish passports.  My mother certainly feels British, but it’s not so easy for us Drago kids, we’re all a bit confused about what nationality actually means and where we belong.  For years I’ve agonised over whether nationality is really important at all, no doubt a reflection of not feeling British.

But back to the name which has elicited some unusual responses from folk over the years.  A child of the 80s, I was labelled a communist when Rocky defeated Ivan Drago in Rocky IV to symbolically win the Cold War, which led to playground scuffles as temperatures frayed and I sought to protect my honour.  I couldn’t win, even when I did.  How life imitates art.  Some of my less enlightened teachers found my name amusing, well any non-English name was open season for their peculiar brand of humour, but because I’m white there was never any possibility of raising the issue of racism.  Apparently that was acceptable in the 80s.  By the 90s I had a succession of interactions with people who insisted that I couldn’t possibly be of eastern european stock and that I was actually Maltese, thanks to the marginal success of the snooker player Tony Drago.  Nowadays, comments are generally limited to conversations in semi-drunken revelry about who has the most suitable name for a Bond villain.  It’s always good to be the butt of a joke.  Times have changed, sort of, I’m still different these days, I’m just a more acceptable sort of different.

My name comes with a history I don’t really understand, it echoes epic events of the last century that I can’t unpick (and never will as my father passed away in 2002).  And of course, I acknowledge there are millions of people across the globe who are in a similar situation.  In a network called Silence Memory Empathy it’s good to recognise that historic events have an impact on the personal and intimate, and raise uncomfortable issues about the relationship between identity and belonging that need to be explored.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Kyoko Murakami permalink
    November 9, 2012 10:04 am

    A remarkable story, Alex!!!

  2. Kyoko Murakami permalink
    November 9, 2012 11:33 am
    The above link to the Radio 4 programme called “What’s in a name?” shows how timely Alex’s post is.

  3. November 9, 2012 12:11 pm

    Like it a lot.

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