Monday, September 2, 2013

Being Tonja

Two weeks ago I read "Being Brians" by Brian Doyle.  It's one of the essays in In Fact: The Best of Creative Nonfiction.  It was an assignment for my creative nonfiction class that I ended up dropping due to feeling bad and being in a state of absolute chaos. 

The essay is about the author's attempt to contact everyone else in the US named Brian Doyle.  Yes, this is very random thing to do since people with your name don't really have anything to do with you, right?

But the essay was really an interesting piece where he shares what the other Brians told them about themselves and their ancestry.  And they did have a connection (some of them at least) due to the Irishness of the name, the circumstances of the immigration to the US, and the king some of the Brains were named after with intention. I had the feeling some of them were in fact very distant relatives, born of the same bloodline.  But even without the ancestral connection, they were united and connected by virtue of their name in a way that didn't seem logical to me until I read the essay.

The natural reaction I had, of course, was to use the same site Brian Doyle used to see how many people shared my maiden name. 

There's only one. Just me. 

There are 157 million women in the US according to the Census Bureau.  Of all of those women, not one of them was born with my name. That's kind of cool and also kind of freaks me out in a Twilight Zone kind of way.  I hear Rod Serling's voice in the corner of my mind.

Southwest Virginia is full of people with my last name.  There's even a town named after my maiden name.  But none of them were named Tonja except for me.  And I just learned this today. 

I've been annoyed my whole life that my parents gave me a name I had to spell and pronounce for every single person (and without the gift of a middle name or the potential of a nickname other than 'T').  People often ask the origin of my first name.  It's Russian.  And, no, I do not have a drop of Russian blood in me.  I have no explanation for the spelling but am often asked about it, mostly by strangers who seem to expect an interesting story.  Maybe I should tell people my family are Russian Mafia...except that isn't exactly a conversation ender.  And I usually want that conversation to end.

I get it.  It's an odd name. It wasn't my idea.

The beauty of being a woman in the US is we do have the option of changing our names without much of a hassle.  The first time I got married, I gave myself a middle name, which was very exciting since I had longed for one my whole life.  So I middle-named myself.  And I changed my last name to my first husband's very normal last name that doesn't require spelling (mostly) - you'd be surprised how many people can't spell normal, common names. 

When I got remarried, I didn't change my name to my husband's Greek name that has an excess of vowels and syllables.  I've often pondered how unique my name would be if I had changed it or ever decided to.  But the fact is it's as unique as the name I was born with.  By that I mean I would be the only one.

Apparently I'm inescapably unique and often require a bit of explanation.  So be it. 


  1. I think it's cool you are unique. I don't think your name is spelled that different. Of course, I've lived all over and encountered many different cultural names. Be proud of your uniqueness.
    And be glad your name isn't as long as mine when spelled out...

    1. My husband's name has less letters but more syllables than yours. And lots of vowels.

  2. - you'd be surprised how many people can't spell normal, common names.

    I've had people ask me over the phone to spell Smith. Seriously.

    My dad is a James Smith. Apparently it is the most common name. They used to have a convention of Jim Smiths in Las Vegas where hundreds showed up. Also, my dad used to get stopped at the airport every time he flew because there was another James Smith with his birthdate from Ireland who was a known bank robber. So there are good things to having a unique name. :D

  3. Hi, Tonja. Skimmed your blog.Sorry. Got my grandson. Wanted to say 'hi' and to see if I could follow you by way of email. I can always read blogs at work in between heads of hair.

    Hugs and chocolate,

  4. Oh, fun thing to do. I've googled me, of course. But never a thorough search. I was born Tamera Hart, and am now casual friends with Tamara Hart-Heiner--the spelling is different, but how many Tamara/Tameras are there? And the fact she writes--I'm glad I don't use my whole name or it could be very confusing. I love that I'm the only Tamera Hart-Johnson--if you google THAT it is all me. But I do like that funny bond with a common name.

  5. Being unique is just amazing. You should be happy about that and I guess it could be a little lonely too. I used to have a unique name as well, these days there are more and more people popping up with my name, but luckily, they don't have my surname, so I guess I am just a little bit unique.

  6. Oooh, I think it's cool that you're the only one with the name! Being unique is special in the best possible way. :)