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That Puzzling Grandfather's Name


When I went to Friesland the first time, I visited the church at Achlum, where my grandfather was born (yes, it really is that tiny a place. I have not confused the name.). There, I took some pictures of grave markers. They went into the travel binder for the trip and when I was moving from Seattle to New Hampshire the second time, the travel binders went into a box, from which they have only recently (about 6 years later) been extracted.

Looking at the pictures with genealogist eyes, I realized I had some of these people in my tree. One, in particular, is the uncle of my grandfather and they share first and last names (but not patronymics). I grew up believing my grandfather was named "Sam", but he was not. When I was sixteen, I heard a story from my father that it was Simon, but pronounced in the Dutch manner, it sounded like seaman (or its homonym). That, plus Simon's brother Hein's opinion that Simon wasn't a very American name resulted in Simon becoming Sam (and Hein becoming Harry).

At least that's what my father told me, and there's really no one he was likely to get that story from other than his father, possibly with his mother as an intermediary [ETA: altho now that I think about it, this story could have been near pure invention on the part of my grandmother. Or, for that matter, either of her parents, all of whom were Dutch. *sigh*].

Here's the thing. Sam's uncle was born "Symon" and died "Sijmon", which is about as comprehensive proof anyone could need that the way Sam's uncle pronounced his name was _exactly_ the way we would pronounce it today. Remember: these people didn't speak Dutch when they could avoid it; they spoke Frys.

So how did that turn into a it-sounds-bad-pronounced-Dutch story? Well, "Simon" pronounced in Dutch _does_ sound like seaman, which is probably why "Symon" died "Sijmon" in 1957 -- he had his name genormaliseerd, or whatever the term is, to preserve the correct pronunciation in the mandatory Dutch spelling (there was some minority language oppression going on. Now that they've stamped it out, it's become sort of a chic thing to keep around, but never mind that now.).

Bringing me back, once again, to the question I continually gnaw on: what language(s) did my grandfather speak growing up? When he told that story about the name sounding bad in Dutch, what was he trying to communicate?

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