I recently had a conversation about the way Americans and Bulgarians perceive family names and what impact they have on our life choices.
My American interlocutor said that he was once offended when someone tried to learn more about him by asking “What does your father do?” Instead, he though, they should’ve asked “What do you do?” Why should my father be a benchmark for me, he said.
I disagree. To me, my father and my family are a source of pride. I am honored when I am connected or compared to my father because to me this means that I have lived up to a great expectation.
But I don’t know if I’m thinking in such a way because I’m Bulgarian or because I’m me.
Maybe it’s because I’m Bulgarian: In the States, you middle name is randomly chosen, just as your first name. But in Bulgaria, my middle name is the first name of my father. We always carry our name first, then the name of our fathers, then the name of our family kin.
I can’t escape thinking that this concrete bondage creates a feeling of duty. My interlocutor agreed and said that Americans whose name ends in “Junior” usually belong to a rich and old elite where succession of businesses or careers is also typical (such families are the Bushes, the Kennedys)
But then, maybe it’s because I’m me: Speaking of family names, maybe my particular family name matters even more than the Bulgarian naming tradition. I know that my last name is unique; really, it’s very uncommon and you couldn’t even pronounce it. We are an old and large family, and I know that anybody who carries this last name is my relative.
Because our name makes our kin so distinctive, I feel that whatever I do, I have a last name to live up to. Otherwise, my failures will be traced back to my family and might hurt its reputation.
I wonder, if I had a more common name, if I were called Brown or Smith or Ivanova or Petrova, would I still have such strong emotions for my name? You tell me.