Monday, 14 October 2013

It's Helene, actually

It's Helene, actually
14 October 2013

My wonderful folks, in their infinite wisdom, decided to bless me with a family name.  And to be honest, as a teenager, I thought that this was yet another testament to how lame and old fashioned they were.  Move with the times people!  Move with the times!  I mean, jeez!  Couldn’t they at least give me something modern?  Perhaps a combo of their names….  Nah, was never really keen on that idea either.  But had they given it just a little bit of thought, they could’ve given me a place names (just imagine it – Bloemfontein – perhaps I’m better off), nature names (Down-Wind, or Pebble), etc.  But no!!!  I had to be lumped with a family name.  Blegh!  Talk about being unoriginal!

Still eventually I outgrew my teenage horridness.  Thank heavens!  And have subsequently become rather fond of my name.  Especially as I happen to be named after my most amazing, inspiring, unique and super special grandmother.  As you can tell – I like her.  A LOT!  In addition she also didn’t just randomly get her name.  There’s a delightful story and history to it all.  My name wasn’t just plucked from a hat or a book.  It has meaning and sentimental value, which I absolutely appreciate.  And am so grateful for.

In addition, my name is rather uncommon.  Which is also a marvellous bonus.  Chances are people will remember your name if it’s just a little bit different.  When my darling eldest child was born, we were absolutely in love with the name Luke.  So different, we thought.  So unusual, we thought.  Not many of them around, we thought.

Clearly we thought wrong.  By the time he was four, in his little Playschool alone, there were five variations of Luke.  And there were only about twelve boys in this little school.  Some were spelt exactly the same.  Some slightly different.  Still the basic name remained.  And this trend has not varied much, his whole school career through.  And as such, he is most often known by the double-barrelled combination of his name and our surname all in one.  Put together, and said really fast, Luke Cloete is quite a tongue twister, and often comes out as Lukeloete.

However, there is a bit of a downside to my most fabulous name.  People have an inherent inability to pronounce it.  Maybe this is partly due to the fact that the name is rather uncommon and so people don’t hear it often.  Nor do they have a need to say it.  It’s also not like there are any famous people with the same name, or people in the public eye, where you would naturally become more familiar to the sound of it at least.  Personally, I don’t think it’s all that difficult.  But perhaps that is just because I am so accustomed to it. 

Perhaps a part of the problem, is the spelling.  And believe you me, I think I’ve seen them all.  People tend to overcomplicate my name when they have to write it down, adding accents, any which way you like, to any of the three “e’s” that they can.  Sometimes even to all of them.  In my time, I’ve seen Helen, Heleen, Helena, Elene, Elena, Helleen, Hélène, Héléna, Hellene, Elaine, Heléne, Helène, Helaina, etc.  I can actually go on and on.

Now nicknames are an entirely different matter altogether.  As they are not meant to sound like the actual name.  They are intended to be variations and are usually diminutive words.  Derivatives of sorts of the original name.  And as such, I have two.  Throughout most of my school career, everyone called me Lientjie.  Old school friends still call me this and some new friends do so too.  I don’t mind this at all.  Another nickname, born of an initial inability to pronounce my name, was “H”, as in the initial.  And this one I absolutely loved.  It was also a prevalent name for me, during a portion of my youth.  In between finishing varsity and starting with my first real job.  In my mind it remains a part of golden halcyon days.  When life was uncomplicated and not cluttered with responsibilities.  And as such, I happen to like both of my nicknames.  And I  don’t mind being called either.

However, upon meeting new people, I would always give them my proper name, Helene.  And usually within the time it takes them to hear my name from my lips and for them to repeat it back from theirs, they are quite often able to annihilate it all together.

And so I have thought of a little system of sorts:

It’s Helene.  As in “he” (man) –“leans” (against something).  But no there’s no “s” at the end.  Actually you know what, it rhymes with margarine.  Also Vaseline.

But it’s really okay, just call me whatever you feel like.  As long as you call me.

I also answer to “Beautiful” (he-he-he), “Skinny” (as if) and “Gawjus”.



  1. And then there's little cousins that called you Hien!
    I love your name too!

  2. Love your name and its history! I think it suits you perfectly and I am very happy we decided to stick to family names!
    My Helene friend in Tulbagh is delighted and surprised that I pronounce her name correctly!

    I love the expression on Daddy's face, holding you in that middle pic. He loved his little babies unusually much for a boy child!