No, I didn’t get married on a spontaneous Vegas trip or anything. I’m just taking a new name. …Why?
If you don’t know, I’m a little ex-Soviet Jewish lady. And yet, Volynets is very much a Ukrainian last name. My having this name is as deceptive as my tiny nose and round, slavic cheeks.
The name Volynets also has the secondary draw-back of being utterly unpronounceable by English speakers. When I ask people not to try to pronounce it, they tend to take it as a challenge. Then I have to listen to ten minutes of them brutalizing my name with incorrect consonants and misplaced vowels. To be perfectly honest, there is even disagreement about its pronunciation between different Russian-speaking members of my family. Frankly, I’m quite sick of all the confusion.
Volynets was never supposed to be my last name anyway. When my parents got married, my mother was worried about taking a Jewish last name (an ill-advised move in the anti-semitic climate of the USSR). My parents compromised, and both changed their names to my paternal grandmother’s maiden name. I’m undecided as to whether or not that was progressive of them.
At some family gathering, my paternal grandfather approached me and asked me if I hadn’t considered changing my name to Evenbach? And in truth, I hadn’t and haven’t and won’t. I’ve always been a Volynets, felt like a Volynets, and identify more with that branch of my family tree, but…
Volynets is not a real name either. It’s really not the last name my grandmother should’ve had. The family myth of how that last name came to be is thus: three brothers came to Ukraine from… somewhere abroad. They had a fairly Jewish last name and were worried about the 19th century version of Ukrainian anti-semitism. One brother changed his last name to Volynetsky, the second changed it to Volynets, and the third one didn’t change his last name. The third brother was killed in a pogrom. Or so the story goes.
“Volynets,” to me, represents centuries of Jewish fear and oppression. The day I heard the tale of the three brothers, I knew I would someday change my name to their original name.
So it’s time for me to reclaim my heritage. It’s time to simplify things. It’s time to be Sasha Willins.