Thursday, May 10, 2012

J K Rowlingová, or the hilarity of Czech names

Yes, the Czechs really do call her Rowlingová (sounds like Rolling Over).

For those of you who don't yet know, when I got married the name thing got complicated. After some thought, I decided to go, officially speaking, with British tradition, and took my husband's surname exactly. Or rather, without its Czech diacritics, since without them it quite conveniently turns into a very common British name, and this could be useful if we end up living in the UK again, or pretty much anywhere else for that matter. So that's what's on my passport.

However, we also decided to register the Czech version of the surname (female names all end in -ová) for me on our Czech marriage papers, so that if I want to use it while I'm here, I am (officially, even) allowed to do so. Fabulous. But the thing is, I have not yet done so, because on every occasion when I am required to state my name, I'm also required to present my ID to prove it. And my ID only matches the first version, not the second.

Because of this, some hilarious situations have arisen, since the Czechs fully believe that if you have not got -ová on the end of your name, you must be one of two things: a man, or a business.

So here are two examples of what happens when I go to collect something from the post office that is just addressed to "Barton":

PO: Are you Mr Barton's wife?
Me: Yes
PO: Do you have a blehblahblehblah
I hand over Czech marriage certificate, hoping this will be enough proof that I can collect parcel apparently for husband; have passport at the ready.
PO: No, a blehblahblehblah
I realise this means a legal authorisation to collect parcel on behalf of someone else. I also remember that the slip of paper just said "Barton" and that the parcel I expected is in fact for me.
Me: No, I don't, but my name is also Barton. 
PO: Oh! (very surprised post office lady) Oh well that's fine then! I'll just fetch your parcel. 

I wait, still with passport at the ready so that lady can hand it over. Lady hands parcel over straight away without bothering to check passport : if I say I have a weird name, it must be true. No one would pretend to have a man's name!

Me: I'd like to collect this parcel please.
PO: Barton. Is that a company?
Me: Eh? 
PO: Do you have a stamp? 
Me: Ummm... wondering why he is on about companies and stamps when I just handed him a parcel retrieval slip that clearly states who it's for and what it is...
Me, tentatively, hoping it might help: Barton is my name.
PO, looking surprised: Oh! Your ID then please. 
I hand over passport, which post office man checks, looks satisfied, hands it back and toddles off to fetch the parcel. He hands it over with a smile and wishes me a nice day. Ah, foreigners, what weird creatures they are, is probably what he is thinking. 

I've ordered a stamp now. So maybe next time I can cut out the hassle over names and genders and forms of official ID, and just tell them yes it's my company and yes I have a stamp. Though I think all the people in the post office know me now anyway. They probably just keep asking me these things for fun. 

The other hilarious thing about having a name that doesn't fit one's appearance is that the Czechs are completely unable to spell it. So when I arrive and a receptionist asks me for my name, and I say "Barton", they say sorry, could you spell that for me? That's because they can't make the connection between n and ň. So I try Bartoň, and sometimes that helps, but sometimes they look even more puzzled, because obviously I'm a girl and so I can't be called Bartoň. But when I say, you know, like Bartoňová, then it is all as easy as pie. I would just introduce myself as Bartoňová to start with and save them the confusion, except that then they'd probably ask for my ID and the explanation that would then be required isn't even worth contemplating until my Czech is much better than it is now!


Catherine Rowett said...

Hehe! What happens when I send something to you as Annie Bartonova?

Annie said...

Hm, good question. I think they would be mighty confused but I don't think they would refuse to give it to me ;-)