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What It's Like Having a Strange Last Name

“ do you say that?”


“That’s an usual last name!”

“Is it Ear-bear…?”

“What kind of name is that?”

“...I’m not even going to try to pronounce that!”

“No, seriously, how do you say it?”

Every time I got to a new doctor’s office or any sort of appointment where someone sees my last name on a form or my ID… it starts. The questions. My last name is only nine letters long but the particular combination of vowels and consonants confounds everyone. Maybe it’s because it starts with a Y (pretty unusual for a last name, unless your last name is Young) and no one can decide if you pronounce the Y like, well, Young, or as in sky, a long I. (Psst… it’s actually pronounced like a long E! But don’t tell anyone. It’s actually kind of fun confusing everyone. You know, when it isn’t really, really annoying.)

Or maybe it’s the length of the name. I never thought a nine lettered last name would be that intimidating. A nine lettered first name? Um, yeah, I’d be intimidated by that. By how impressive and elegant it sounds. Alexander. Madeleine. Gwendolyn. Sebastian. Angelique. That’s are some pretty freaking awesome nine lettered first names are. So what’s wrong with my last name?

I’ve been asking myself that for years now. Because I’ve always disliked my last name. No one could pronounce it, it wasn’t a cute and easy to pronounce last name like Smith or Adams, and in school, I was always the last one in line because guess what? We had to line up alphabetically. And guess where all of my friends were at? In the front of the line because their last names starts from A-M. Even as a kid I longed for the day I would get married and get to change my last name. Moving up in the was what every little girl dreamed of.

And my mom’s excuse for why the tooth fairy only left me a quarter under my pillow instead of the dollar my friends usually got for their teeth? Because by the time the tooth fairy went alphabetically through all the kids who had lost their teeth that night, by the time got to me, she was starting to run out of money and she only had quarters left. Curse the penultimate starting letter of my last name! I never win!

Most people I know can trace their heritage through their last name. From Irish to German, Spanish to Italian, people can tell exactly where their families came from. And I was so jealous. Not because I didn’t know where my last name was derived from, but because it wasn’t a cool culture. I wanted to be Irish, and celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, visit Ireland, and find long lost Irish relatives on the Green Isle. Or be Italian, thinking I was descended from the Romans, their culture and empire stretching the globe, leaving ancient ruins of the past as proof of their existence, and have an excuse to eat pasta and spaghetti with mia famiglia. And I thought my ancestry was anything but cool.

Have you ever heard of the Basque country? Most of you will probably say no. Because it’s not actually a country. It’s a section of land at the border of France (the northern part) and Spain (the southern part). While it’s not it’s own country, it has a long and complicated history, filled with upheaval and conflict, and even has its own language, appropriately called Basque.

My last name is Basque. I’ve known this my whole life. My dad’s side of the family, my last name, is Basque, Spanish Basque. (My dad’s mother was Czech, my mother’s father was Mexican, and my maternal grandmother was German and English. I’m a true American melting pot, people) My dad has always been really into his Basque heritage, and my sisters and I always teased him about it. We thought, what was so impressive about being Basque? Weren’t they just sheep farmers? Some strange folk who didn’t have their own country and yet had their own language filled with letters like x’s, z’s, and y’s, and hard to pronounce? (Hmm...sounds familiar.) Being Basque wasn’t as cool as flashy as being something like being Irish or Italian.

But as the years went on, something in me started to shift. It first started with my oldest sister spending the summer in Spain. And guess where in Spain she visited? Yep, the Spanish part of the Basque country. She told me that when she was paying for something with her credit card, the merchant looked at it, saw our last name and said, “Ah! You are Basque!” And you know what? I bet he knew how to pronounce it too.

There’s also a street in the Basque country with our last name on it. As in “My Last Name” St. And an even cooler fact that I found out from my sister’s trip? She stumbled across a memorial of people who had lost their lives because they had been accused of witches (you know, Spain, Catholicism, the Spanish Inquisition? It was not a good time to be alive in those days), and what do you know: an ancestor of ours was accused of being a witch. How random is that for an ancestor of mine to be a part of history that we learned about in school? (And I sincerely hope their ghost haunted whoever killed them as an act of bad-ass vengeance because that’s what I would have totally done.)

And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve actually started to embrace my weird last name. Instead of being embarrassed when someone asked me the origin of my last name, I just started embracing educating people on the Basque country. Most people have (obviously) never heard of it. I even had an optometrist ask me to spell it out (meaning Basque, not my last name) so she could look it up online, she was so fascinated by a place she had never heard of before. I even started to research the history of the Basques. Did you know that before they converted to Christianity (or, well probably were forced to convert to Christianity) they had their own gods? There’s a whole Basque mythology out there, filled with fairies and giants and other crazy legends. I mean, for all I know, the Brothers Grimm got some of their ideas from my ancestors. (It’s a stretch, but just give me this, okay?)

My last name isn’t even as uncommon as I thought. I’ve had people friend me on Facebook in other countries with the exact last name, same spelling and everything. There’s people out there just like me! Maybe we’re related, or maybe my last name has spread across the globe and expanded into different countries, cultures, and maybe even they have to explain their last name to other people too. And maybe like me they’re proud of it. I’ve even started to consider what I would do if I were to ever get married. Would I change my last name? Because I’m not so sure anymore. And if I wrote a book? Would I use an easy to pronounce pen name? Maybe if it sounded cool (Emily Ravenwood, has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?), but how could I turn my back on my last name, my family’s history, my history?

Kid Emily was desperate to get to the front of the alphabet, but now, I’m proud of my long nine lettered last name starting with a Y. It’s different and unusual, and so am I. I’ve worked so hard to embrace who I am, and I hadn’t even considered embracing my last name might include that too.

So go ahead, mispronounce my last name. Yeah, I know. It’s long. It’s complicated. It’s a few more syllables than most “normal” last names. It doesn’t sound like it looks. But it’s mine. It’s a part of me and who I am. And I hope that one day, I can go to the Basque country and explore my roots. And have people recognize my last name and actually know how to pronounce it. That’s the literal dream. One day I’ll get there, but for now, I’ll keep on teaching people how to say it and explain its history. Because it’s actually pretty darn cool.

Stay Weird,

Starting Over: That Weird Girl Life 2.0

Hi, did you miss me? (It’s totally okay if you didn’t.)

Welcome to That Weird Girl Life Version 2!

I know, I left. A while ago. But let me explain!

First of all, my laptop died (RIP). That puts a real wrench into blogging. (But I have a new one now! Yay!)

And to be honest, I fell into a pretty bad depression. As in, the last few years (yeah, that’s how long it’s been since I’ve been blogging!), and I had to go back to therapy to work through it (but that’s another story for another time). While I was depressed, my words just stopped flowing. I couldn’t write anything. Not a blog, not a short story, I could barely even read books. And I love reading books!

But I’m feeling so much better now after finding some help, and I think I’m ready to get back into the blogging game! But this time, it’s going to be different. Good different, don’t worry.

First, as much as I love books, I am no longer going to be posting book reviews. As much as I loved doing them, they just took the fun out of reading the books. Whether it was receiving a book from an author or publisher, I felt a lot of pressure (from myself, not the authors or publishers) to really put my heart and soul into the book review and it started to suck the joy out of reading and writing reviews. So for now, I’m reading books for me and only me. No more reviews.

Second, I’m no longer going to try to compete with other lifestyle/book/{insert other type of blogging niche here} bloggers. I’ve tried for so long, posting blog posts about my monthly favorite things, trying to take artsy shots of myself and everything in my life on social media, and basically just trying to be a blogging influencer I know that I’m not. I’ve had to come to the fact that I’m just me, and as much as I’d love to post a perfect life that everyone else seems to post on their blogs and social media, I can’t. It’s time for me to be honest. Which leads me to…

Third, I’m going to be really honest. I’ve touched on my mental health before here on this blog, but it’s always been really hard for me to talk about. But things are about to change. I’m ready to be honest and speak out about the struggles I’ve gone through. If Jenny Lawson, the literal Bloggess that she is, can be honest about mental health, I can too. (Not that I could ever be Jenny Lawson, she is just the weird, wonderful, strange, funny, and lovely person that I aspire to be). So be prepared for some real talk when it comes to mental health. Because it’s time to break some (societal and my own emotional) barriers and get real.

Fourth, this blog is going to be all over the place. My old posts are going to be archived (minus the mental health and travel), but you’ll still be able to read the old stuff. But I’m moving forward and so is this blog. So expect different, fun, and better. Just like everyone, we all change and hopefully it is for the better. I hope you’re along for the journey, because I can’t wait to begin.

Let me know in the comments what you think about this new direction of my blog! I can’t wait to hear from you!

Stay Weird,