Translating names

When I came to this county, one of the most pressing issues I faced, was how I would handle my name. Although Dariusz Galasiński is nothing in comparison with one of my friends’ surname: Chrabąszcz, believe me it’s a problem.

I was reminded of this, because of a blog by Marta Wróblewska, who wrote about strategies of handling one’ first names (I’m afraid the blog is in Polish). She says there are three options: ‘translating’ it, retaining it, and changing it completely. And so, in the first option I become Darius, the second, I am still Dariusz, in the third I become, well, for example, Peter. The third option is not so strange, as you might think – Chinese students do it all the time.

And it all seems done and dusted, except that it is not. Before I declare my hand, let me tell you how I got on with my name. I was quite astonished how much negotiation it required.


My first name is Dariusz. I already mentioned earlier that my local council tried to change it into ‘Darius Z.’. I didn’t mention that I became ‘Davina’ (I did think it was funny) in a memo. Or that my business cards came with ‘Darius’ because ‘Glenys said…’ – seriously. But then I have always used the diminutive ‘Darek’ (standard diminutive as in ‘William’ and ‘Bill’) – all my friends, acquaintances know me as ‘Darek’.


I thought ‘Darek’ would be easier – pronounced as ‘Dah-reck’, it’s relatively easy to handle for an Anglophone, but…. Well, American Sage had the wonderful idea of recording my name as ‘Dariusz ‘Darek’ Galasinski’, making my name into a nickname, something like ‘Dariusz ‘Shorty’ Galasinski’, or other names – let your imagination run wild!

My favourite story comes from a woman called Lisa, though. I introduced myself as Darek, she as Lisa and then she asked whether she could call me….Derek. I responded saying, sure, and I will call you Barbara. Dariusz and Derek are as far as Iran and Germany. Yes, my name in Persian (king Darius, remember?), Derek is Germanic and comes from Theodoric. There is no reason that Lisa should have known this, still, why would you think that you can change my name, for goodness sake!

But my decision never to change to ‘Darius’ (although, I admit, I do pronounce my name like that at times – I sell my soul for expediency when I call my bank for example) came at a meeting, very soon after coming to the UK. It was run by an EOpps person who asked everybody to introduce themselves. It went something like that:

  • John Smith.
  • Hello John.
  • Betty Davis
  • Hello Betty.
  • Darek Galasinski
  • What shall I call YOU?!


That was really quite an equal opportunity, wasn’t it? Bloody hell, I thought. If this is the way, I will never ever become Darius, let alone Paul. Just to spite you all…

And finally, after this long-winded introduction, I come to what Marta wrote.  Let me start with a question. Have you actually met a John or a Maggie who became Jan or Gosia in Poland, or Juan and Greta? No? Me neither. And if this is so, there is more to name translation than meets the eye. Translating names mostly goes one way. Somehow ‘we’ must translate our names into English, and ‘you’ don’t have to translate yours into Polish, Estonian, Romanian or Slovak.  And that makes the translation much more political than linguistic. And if it is political, I go against!

And this is why on my webpage, on Twitter, and on my publications I retain the little thing over the ‘n’. No, it’s not an ‘accent’, it’s a palatalisation diacritic, akin to the Spanish tilde, so Polish ‘ń’ is pronounced similarly to the Spanish ‘ñ’. I do it, because this is my name, even though, again for expediency, I often pronounce it as ‘n’. And yes, I lost many battles of having it recorded properly. But you win some, you lose some.

But I am determined to remain Dariusz or Darek (to people who know me). I no longer make a fuss, when my name is pronounced as ‘darius’, that just confirms that I am foreign. And it’s fine – I know it anyway.

And here is the main point of this post – it’s not linguistic, I’m afraid. Names are political. And I think it’s important to keep them. Michał, Agnieszka, Małgorzata, Paweł, Justyna…these are your names, don’t change them to Michael, Agnes, Margaret, Paul or Justine. If they care, they will learn, if they don’t – it’s their loss.


  1. Amen. My name is very ethnic, most people from my country can tell you where I m from within about 30km because of my name. I like that, ALOT. Anyhoo I bilocate between Ireland and France. The french absolutely refuse to use my name on any official documents I share with my husband…whose surname is Smith (ethnic shiver). I have absolutely no ID (passport or drivers licence) which identify my surname as Smith. The bank keep sending me cheque books as M. John et M Smith. I tell them I need ID to write a cheque and have none in that name. We bought a house and the deeds are assigned to John Smith +Mrs Smith. When we get utility bills they cant put both our names on them as they do in Ireland. Its not just me being a pedantic feminist I need these bills to prove residency etc. Mary Smith doesnt exist legally.
    In summary this shit doesnt just go down in Anglophone countries. Loads more examples but above are the most legally and financially frustrating. Liberte EGALITE Fraternite my @ss.

    1. Dariusz Galasinski

      Yes, of course, this goes on in other countries. For example, I have met Ukrainian students in my native Poland who use Polish versions of their names.

      Genderisation of names is yet another very interesting issue. For a Pole my name suggests that I am a man (my surname is an adjective, in fact). The feminine form would end in ‘a’. Rocket science – piece of cake, understanding the change of ‘i’ into ‘a’ is literally impossible for most of the population here. This is, in fact, why a lot of women of Polish descent carry names with the masculine form. Of course, it is impossible for the man to carry the feminine version of his name. The world would collapse, obviously

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