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Location: Viljandi, Estonia

Monday, January 08, 2007


This is the dumbest post that I will ever write, but I feel it needs to be written so that I can share with you the tumult of having an intercontinental marriage.

We are having a second child. And so my mind has gone hard to work on what to call the small one. It's a frustrating process. Marta's came simply enough - it was on a headstone in a cemetery in Hiiumaa and I suggested it and it seemed like it fit. For a girl this time 'round we've settled on Anna. We both have many Annas in our families.

Epp's great-grandmother Anna seems to be the main inspiration though. My grandfather Jerry's grandmother was also called Anna. I could spend all day going through them there are so many. But the main reason I like this name is because it's so blank. It's an everyday name that you don't hear everyday anymore. It's up to the kid to define it for herself. That's a good one to have.

The real nightmare is finding a boy's name. We've agreed on a set of criteria that it seems prohibits us from finding a suitable moniker for a masculine child. The name must be the same or similar in Estonian and English AND go with an Italian last name AND be a family name. Christ, what a math equation.

At first I offered up Fred, but then nearly every person I know told me it was an awful name. Yikes, do I have such bad taste in sound? Fred was my great-grandfather. He was born in Canada and I know very little about him. I thought he had a smart name, but I guess I was wrong.

Then Epp offered up Martin, after her great grandfather. But I shot this one down because I didn't think I could cope with having a daughter named Marta and a son named Martin. Too confusing. Plus most of the Long Islandese can't pronounce Marta, either. They call her "Marda." What would they do to poor Martin? Mardy? Ugh.

Then we considered Saamuel - after the name my great grandfather Salvatore took when he lived in America. The only hitch is that Sammy is a name most frequently born by Estonian dogs. And neither of us were really "feeling" it, and feeling it is the most important.

Then Epp offered up Peeter, after her great grandfather Peeter Lenk, who was important enough that if you Google his name, it comes up. He was a school director in Järvamaa in Estonia. Peeter (pronounced Pay-ter) sounds better in Estonian than it does in English, where it is often shortened to just plain "Pete." In Estonia it is shortened to "Pets." This one I was OK with, but my folks don't like it one bit. And I can't say it's my favorite. So I am left with this icky feeling, and I should be feeling good, right? Right?

Then I played with the name "Leo" for a day or two because it doesn't sound bad and it's easy for a tot to spell and it is spelled the same way in both languages. That's nice. But I got weird looks when it came up and I decided to retire the idea.

So, standing on the subway platform at 8 pm one night I tried to think hard about what I could do and I decided that if I followed the "rules" of Italian naming patterns then the first son would be named after my grandfather - Jerry. But Jerry's real first name wasn't Jerry, it was Gennaro, after his grandfather. This Gennaro was an enterprising guy. He left Italy and worked many places from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Rochester, New York. In many ways, he is the archetypal Petrone male -- a guy who travels the world like Ulysses to make a living. From Gennaro to my father to me, we've always been traveling guys. Living out of a suitcase is in our gypsy blood.

"Ugh," I thought again. "I don't think Gennaro is translatable into Estonian." Instead I searched for an Estonian name that sort of sounds like Gennaro and I came up with Joonas.

Joonas (pronounced "Yonas" in Estonia, "Jonas" in English) in the United States seems sort of ideal at the moment. It is inherently Estonian, which is important to me. I want my kids to be fluent in their {literal) mother tongue. I don't want to do to my kids what happened up in my family decades ago where rich and beautiful languages that my family had spoken for hundreds, if not thousands, of years were abandoned just so people could fit in to the Anglo-American culture. I'd give anything to have known some Italian as a child, but instead I am true "homo americanus" -- a human without a past. I don't want my kids to feel that way. They should know where 50 percent of them comes from and be proud of it. I have decided that I really just don't give a shit what the "speak American" crew thinks. I don't sleep with the "speak American" crew, I don't live with them, and as a journalist, I don't work with them. In other words, they can kiss my ass, not the other way around.

Unfortunately, we don't appear to have any Joonases in the family. We've got Johns and Johanneses and Jooseps and Gennaros but no Joonases. Still, from Jerry to John to Justin, my paternal line has been stuck with "J" names. So maybe it's close enough.

Epp says it's a "pretty boy" name in Estonia, which it is here as well, but at the same time, don't "pretty boys" get all the girls? Don't "pretty boys" benefit from being pretty? Don't "pretty boys" get jobs? Or maybe it is bad and I just can't see it. Maybe Joonas is the new Fred in my life.

Anyway, I think it's a name that I am going to privately route for for a few weeks until I get bored with it and the next one comes along. For the time being I'll rest my weary head. I'm tired of banging it against the wall.


Blogger Martasmimi said...

Sounds like Yonnie Surlia's name.
I guess Samuel would be difficult if people call their dogs that name...
It would just be nice if it were a name that people here can say correctly..
....I am ready to tell people to call Marta, Martha (I like Martha too) because they just cannot say it. The best example was at a baby shower where someone intoduced me to a woman and said "she has the same unusual name as your granddaughter", "Marda".
She then introduced herself as Marda. I asked is your name Marta or Marda? She replied "it's Marta but in 30+ years no one has ever been able to say it correctly so I just use Marda."
Good Luck!

3:05 PM  
Blogger Inga said...

Gennaro can be close to Gunnar or Janno or a newer name Janar in Estonian (pronounced as Yanno, Yanar). At the same time it has the feel of the name Henry (in Russian Genrich, in German Heinrich).
I would suggest to get a book "Eesti nimeraamat" and see what interesting it has got for any of the given "roots" either in Estonian or Italian.
One thing to remember - no matter what the name is, there is always ONE dork that will mispronounce it! (call it a Murphy's Law # xxx)

3:42 PM  
Blogger Inga said...

Also, there is Jorma (yorma) - might be Finnish name but that's where you two met, in Finland, right? Go wild and choose the name YOU both like!

3:58 PM  
Blogger Giustino said...

It would just be nice if it were a name that people here can say correctly..

I have decided I don't care what problems *some* Long Islanders have with peoples names. Most of the people that have that problem can't say other words the right way. Why should I care if they mispronounce another word?

Interestingly enough, I haven't run into the "Marda" problem in the city. I guess the city people have better ears from dealing with foreigners all the time.

8:27 AM  
Blogger Martasmimi said...

Interestingly enough, I haven't run into the "Marda" problem in the city. I guess the city people have better ears from dealing with foreigners all the time.

This "Marda" woman was born and raised in Westchester, just north of "the city"
She isn't from the Island....

10:44 AM  
Blogger Giustino said...

Oh well, Marta has her name and we know how to say it. Most of my friends and colleagues can as well. That's what is important to me.

11:26 AM  
Blogger Martasmimi said...

Her Mimi and Popa can say her name and most of her aunts and uncles can as well...
She will just have to correct people as she gets older.
My name is Christine and some people feel it necessary to call me Chris so I am always correcting them...

11:38 AM  
Blogger Eppppp said...

Yes, its seems that it would be easier to have a girl... Anna.
We have the name, and we have the clothes.

But I would be very happy for a boy, too.

Im bonded with Peeter in my heart, since my first pregnancy when I though Peeter Paul or Paul Peeter... Peeter was a well respected man in Estonia and yes, he is in history books. I think he was the first (highly) educated man in both of our families.

I dont like Joonas that much but I may get used to. Or Saamuel. I just dont "feel" them the way I feel "Peeter Petrone".

But! If we cant settle down, hecould be John Andres, after his grandfathers. In Estonia(n) we would go with Andres mostly because John is a foreign name, and in the US John is an ok simple name.
And it sounds good even together (three syllables). I can "feel" this name.

12:33 PM  
Blogger Eppppp said...

Oh, and for history records:
We also have had Robert in mind - after Justins greatgrandfather Robert Riedell. He was a church builder.

PS Inga, we have worked through the Estonian namebook already ;).

12:35 PM  
Blogger Giustino said...

And it sounds good even together (three syllables). I can "feel" this name.

I can't feel it though. Plus it's weird that a person will have two names.

I hope we have a daughter. I have run out of ideas and I am running out of enthusiasm. The worst though is when people keep suggesting things to you. I can barely think for myself on this topic, the suggestions just make me feel more alienated from the process.

12:38 PM  
Blogger Giustino said...

It gives me a headache.

12:39 PM  
Blogger Eppppp said...

If its a boy, we will write down different combination and take tokens ;)

12:46 PM  
Blogger Eppppp said...

sry for typos.. such an exciting topic.

12:47 PM  
Blogger Giustino said...

If its a boy, we will write down different combination and take tokens ;)ah?

It's a real dilemma isn't it. I'd like to just give up, but this kid is coming and if it's a he I've got to feel good about calling him something.

Joonas is still my pick, all the others sound like random combinations of consonants and vowels to me. The name reminds me of mine and I like it because it's not too masculine, as I am not too masculine either. I feel like I can hang out with a little person named Joonas. It's not the most inspiring name, but it's the best I can do right now.

I think I probably feel weird about it because I never was the little boy with the toy electric drill. And considering my colleagues got me a shirt last week that said "Princess Justine" on it (making fun of all the mail I get addressed to Justine) and the fact that I can't bring myself to watch organized sports, the whole "boy" question is in itself troubling.

But ultimately, I think it's really up to the mother. The last thing you want to do is stand between the special bonding process of a mother and her child. I know it's my child too, but it's not in my belly, and I am seldom nauseous. Now, hungover is a different story!

12:59 PM  
Blogger Martasmimi said...

I kind of like Joonas as well
I am thinking its like Jonah
with an "S"
Like Adams
I didn't name either of my sons ...Each was given the name that their father wanted ..
I named my nieces' Alana Grace & Krishtia but not my own son's..even after morning sickness and 35 hour labors...
Say's volumes...
You can't call someone by two different names...I guess you can
My grandmother spoke no English and called my uncle "jimmie"
his name was Vincent..
We will call him "Bean"
It solved Patrika's life long problem...

1:18 PM  
Blogger Eppppp said...

Ok, one word about John Andres.

I know many people who have two names and go with a) one, b) second, c) both at the same time - depends on the situation.

Like my old friend Maarja Liis. she is Maarja at home, Liis for most of the friends, Maarja Liis at schoool.
In England I knew Neville John who was Neville at home and John at work.

whatever. Im also getting frustrated. Discussion over. I will think about it when it really is a boy. Tokens maybe help.

We had the same problem first time! we settled with Marta already 5 months before delivery and had these constant discussions abut the boy name (I checked in the baby book, we have written down between Paul Peeter, Paul Martin, Marko Martin, Karlo Gennaro). Maybe history will repeat itself. No one seems to have a problem with Anna.

1:54 PM  
Blogger Giustino said...

whatever. Im also getting frustrated. Discussion over. I will think about it when it really is a boy. Tokens maybe help.

I agree. That's why this discussion is called "ugh" because it makes you want to say "ugh."

2:02 PM  
Blogger Martasmimi said...

Lou ! it's just a joke...

3:48 PM  
Blogger Inga said...

How about Joshua (Joosua)?
Josh Petrone sounds kinda fun?

4:07 PM  
Blogger Mari-Leen said...

Joosep is nice :)

4:51 PM  
Blogger Eppppp said...

Not Joshua!
I can imagine my grandmas face. What? What was that? I dont remember...
"Mis? Mingi Suss või midagi sellist oli, mul läks meelest ära..." ;)

Simply, its not a name in Estonia. I think so...

4:52 PM  
Blogger Mari-Leen said...

by the way, i am mainly Mari to my family, Leenu to my friends and in school i am Mari-Leen :) (or I dont know, why they say smth-s mariliin, if its writed leen!?)

4:56 PM  
Blogger Martasmimi said...

I can imagine my grandmas face. What? What was that? I dont remember...

This is a problem for all older grandmothers....
Justin has this great moment when my mother tried to remember one of her 8 grandsons names and called by him some completely different name..
He can tell this story better..
It is one of those family stories that we bring up over an over...
We all speak the same language here (I think)

6:40 AM  
Blogger Martasmimi said...

and called by him some completely
(called him by)

.......grammer is a big problem in this family as well..........

6:48 AM  
Blogger Giustino said...

All of these suggestions are nice, but I think it doesn't work that way. It's up to Epp and I to "feel" like one works.

2:55 PM  
Blogger Anna-Liisa said...

Abot that Martin ... I, although I don`t have any children yet and I´m not even expecting, have already thought about names :)
And my favourite ones are Madli, Madis and Marta. I think it´s fun when children in one family have names beginning with the same letter, it´s not confusing at all to me.

Now I only have to hope that one day I really have three kids, two daughters and a son, otherwise I´ll have to give some of those names to my dogs and cats :P

6:13 AM  
Blogger Kristiina said...

It seems to me that you're having a girl. There's no other explanation why you guys can't decide on the name.

I have a 6m old girl at home myself. The only names I could come up with during my pregnancy were girls' names - although I didn't know the gender until the baby was born. I spent hours and hours trying to find a boy's name that would be just perfect...and I failed miserably. So you can imagine how relieved I was when they told me "It's a girl".

It's a girl, believe me :)

6:03 AM  
Blogger stockholm slender said...

Joonas is a strong contender with us as well! We have quite a similar problem - but of course easier in the sense that Finnish and Estonian share (even identically) many names. Then there are exceptions like "Janne" which is a boy's name in Finland and girl's in Estonia...

Btw, what's going on with Itching for Eestimaa - the page has been offline for several days?

12:59 AM  
Blogger Mia said...

OK. I know the discussion is supposed to be over, but I just found it and the name Oliver came into my mind. What do you think about that? It sounds the same in English and Estonian. The only tricky thing is it's suitability with Italian heritage.

And if you don't like that... I am willing to borrow to you something I like and am planning to use when I get so far as you are right now. And it will be years from now.

So are you ready? Here it comes:
Steven and I like it pronounced the English way and even more the Estonian way (let Epp pronounce it) and even shortening it to Steve sounds good to my ears. In Estonin pronounciation it kind of has more energy and a boy's name needs it. After all - you want him to have a little more personality, don't you? This way he might turn up to be a really boyish boy with all it's pro's and cons.

But if it helps... I was taught that using the letter R is good in boys' names.

Anyway, good luck!

2:50 PM  
Blogger Giustino said...

But if it helps... I was taught that using the letter R is good in boys' names.

Aitäh, Mia. I have heard the 'r' rule too. I have a cousin Steven and an uncle Steve, so I think we are all set with Steves in our family.

I think we'll get a book of names from a store soon. I'm pretty sure Epp still likes Peeter and I still like Joonas. Maybe there is something out there to break the tie.

1:42 PM  

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