“S as in Sam, I, E, C as in Charlie, Z as in zebra, K, O, W, S as in Sam, K, I.”
“A, O, W?”
“No. K, as in kite. K, O, W.”
“Is that your married name?”
“Nope. This is my maiden name. I kept it.”
“What is that? Polish?”
“Yes. Yes, it is.”
“Wow! I definitely wouldn’t have gotten that one right!” Chuckle.
Sigh. Then move on to my next task knowing that this interaction will be repeated over and over during my shift as the triage hospitalist. Everyone needs the spelling of my last name for their forms since I am the accepting physician, and EMTALA demands such details.
I could have gone with my husband’s last name: Aguilar. I still would have had to spell it over and over, possibly have had discussions about the origin of this name, the Spanish word for “lair of the eagle” or something to that effect. But I was 29 when I married, finished with medical school and just barely with my residency, and somewhat reluctant to take on a name that might cause others to assume I speak Spanish (which I don’t).
More than that, though, I kept that 11-letter-long Polish moniker because it had been mine for 29 years. I had learned to spell it by listening to my mom spell it over the phone when I was in preschool. I had written it and typed it and entered into the bubbles on standardized tests for decades. Luckily, my first name – Lisa – is relatively short. I maxed out the bubbles every time but never went over.
My “with highest honors” diplomas from undergraduate are calligraphied with Sieczkowski. My medical school diploma boldly states, “Lisa Michelle Sieczkowski, MD.” The certificate of completion from my pediatric residency is emblazoned with the same.
Once I had children, I became known as “Claire’s Mom” or “Charlie’s Mom” or “Molly Moo’s Mom” when I dropped off or picked up from daycare. Now that my children have transitioned to elementary school, I am usually called “Mrs. Aguilar” by their friends. I smile and acknowledge the question or statement that follows. I do not correct these youngsters and tell them to call me Dr. Sieczkowski.
My own children know how to spell my last name even though it differs from their own. There is no way I would have saddled them with a hyphenated Sieczkowski-Aguilar disaster. The two older kids have at times written my last name on their schoolwork or expressed desire to use it as their own, but generally, it’s not much of an issue.
I started life as a Sieczkowski through no choice of my own. I became an adult and a doctor as a Sieczkowski and then consciously chose to maintain that name when I married 16 years ago. I will continue life and eventually die as a Sieczkowski. I just can’t imagine having any other name.
So when I am asked, “Can you spell your last name for me?”, I resist the urge to say, “Of course I can! I have been spelling this name for 40+ years!” I take a deep breath and put on my slow and deliberate annunciation voice. Knowing that most likely, I will still have to repeat myself twice or three times and that I still might be referred to as “Dr. Slutski” or some other aberration on the transfer paperwork. And that’s OK. Having my name “butchered” on a daily basis is just part of the job and a choice I made and would make again every time.
Lisa Sieczkowski is a pediatrician.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com