violet and barley

My mom was born in February 1952 in Timisoara Romania. They named her Iboyla (EE-boy-ya). Ibi for short. Which means violet. In that era in Romania, minorities like the large Hungarian one we were a part of, weren’t allowed to name their children in their own language. Why? So that when you looked at the names on the roster in a town or school, it looked like everyone was Romanian. Why? Because much of Romania was newly Romania, the borders were redrawn after ww1. Timisoara (or Temesvár in Hungarian), was right on the border and was Hungary until 1918. We didn’t cross the borders, the borders crossed us, as they say.

But back to my mom. So her Hungarian name is Ibi, but on her papers she had to be Viorica, a Romanian name. Which I always thought meant Veronica but I just looked it up and it does translate to Violet. Her whole life she was Ibi to friends and family and Viorica at school and work.

When we left Romania and she had to get new ids and papers she showed her old ones and was Viorica in new countries that didn’t know either of her names. Here she is holding up her Austrian papers showing her refugee status.

We came to Canada and again she showed the papers she already had. So in Toronto and Hamilton she dragged around this Viorica name that wasn’t really hers and people couldn’t pronounce. She was still Ibi to family and friends but she became Vicki to her new Canadian colleagues and classmates.

My dad was born in 1949 in Cluj Napoca (or Kolosvár in Hungarian) in northern Romania. He was named Árpád Toma. I don’t know why he got to have Arpad on his birth certificate. It’s a Hungarian name. But not a very popular one. (Sidenote, I’ve always seen it without the accents here in Canada. Sidenote part two, my mom often remarks that it’s funny that she’s surrounded by Arpads, it’s her dad’s name (officially the Romanian Arcadie on his papers) and her half-brother’s name.) Anyway. Toma is Romanian, so I’ll guess he went by Toma in school, but I’ll have to ask him.

When we came to Canada, he got a job on the assembly line at Ford and was dubbed Andy for a while, but he’s been Tom for as long as I can remember.

So what are my parent’s names? Tom and Vicki. Ibi and Arpi. Mom and dad. I often don’t know how to answer this question. I looked up the meaning of their names and found out Arpad means Barley. Violet and Barley. Don’t you just see the communist coat of arms with the sheaf of barley and flowers and the happy workers in that saccharine glow that my activist friends like to think of when they think of communism? I do.

My name. It’s Hungarian. My dad had to weasel the Hungarian spelling onto my papers in 1977 instead of the Romanian Cristina. They said they wanted a name that would be the same in most languages, so I wouldn’t have the translation problems. Unlike my cousin Csaba (CHA-ba), who had such trouble with his name he changed it to Rob when he was nine.

My sisters also have names that are the same in English and Hungarian. But I’m the only one with the silent z, which I often have to explain. Whenever people see the spelling they remark on it and I always say “It’s Hungarian”, wondering if they think I made it up to be original or my parents were hippies. My sister was born here and got the Canadian spelling of her name instead of the Hungarian version with a z. When I asked my mom why she didn’t spell it the Hungarian way she said “Oh! I forgot!”