Say My Name (correctly?)

Warshaw. Easy to pronounce, right? I grew up learning it’s pronunciation as “war’-shaw”. No silent “h”. I’ve fought against countless teachers, classmates, administrators, and strangers who don’t even try to get it right and pronounce my name, instead, like the capital of Poland.

The surname is Ashkenazi Jewish. It’s the tiniest part of my heritage, but it gave me my name. I remember my older brother telling me once that it was actually derived from “Warshawsky”, which caught my attention. Warshawsky looks like so many names around the world that append a suffix to a place name, indicating that a family hails from a certain location. Knowing that this branch of my family came through Ellis Island, it’s certain that the surname was modified and Anglicized. If Warshawsky looks like “from Warshaw”, I could work from there.

As it happens, Warshawsky is the Anglicized spelling of Warszawski. See, in Polish, sz is pronnounced like sh in English (the leading and trailing w’s are pronnounced like v and f respectively, but that’s another story). And Warszawski indeed means, “from Warszawa”, or in English, Warsaw.

You ever see a war movie where members of a platoon call each other by their place of origin? “Hey Houston!” “Hey Tennessee!” I suppose everybody has been saying my last name correctly all along without me realizing it. “Hey you, whose paternal bloodline stretches back to central Poland!”