The Name Game
by Joan Gannij

“Ganny Fanny fo Fanny, Banana Fana Fo Fanny. Fe Fi Fo, Fanny.      Ganny!”
I always felt shame when it came to my last name,
and that silly sing along from back in the day, sealed the deal,
stirring up nicknames from the past,
variations on an unpleasant theme:
Ganny goose, Gander, Granny, guinea, ungainly, ad nauseam.
When teachers asked about the origins of my nondescript moniker,
too easily assumed to be Italian, I didn’t have a clue.
There was only one in the Hollywood telephone directory, no streets      boasted the name,
and you’d never spot it in the rolling credits of the movies, or as the      brand of some product.
My parents finally confessed that it was a shortened version of my      father’s Russian name.
After World War 2 and the epidemic of the McCarthy witch hunts,
he and two of his brothers (though not their sisters) decided to officially      shorten Ganaposki,
in what they thought was a shield from Cold War confusion and anti-     Semitism.
One of them thought it sounded Irish, but their noses were a giveaway.
The Red Scare was also the reason I wasn’t called Natasha, but      decreed to be Joan.
My mother said her favorite film star, Miss Crawford, was the inspiration,
but my father insisted that I was named for Joan of Arc,
whose statue (on a horse in full regalia) dominated the park at 96th and      Riverside, in our hood.
When I married much too young, I acquired someone else’s name ‘’til      death do you part,’’
which would piggy back on a reputation I’d work hard to earn as a      photojournalist and dj
I resented that name because it signed, sealed and delivered me to a      status I hadn’t aspired to,
became the excess baggage I wouldn’t need on my journey.
Decades later when I moved to the Netherlands, I learned that women’s      names
revert to their ‘’maiden names’’ when they are divorced.
One more affirmation of the expatriate life I had always dreamed of      leading.
Back to my roots took on a different meaning.
An LA numerologist once advised me to ‘’always keep six letters in your      last name.”
One late night I had a Eureka moment when I realised I could adapt the      Dutch ij (equivalent of Y)
without disturbing the cosmos.
I would be the only one on the planet who would have this name.
If only people could pronounce it.

PHOTOGRAPH: The author in one of her comfort zones (photo by Jocelyne Desforges).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I was born in New York City and raised in Los Angeles. I have Welsh-Russian ancestry, which has always made me feel like a creature of contradictions. I have been based in Amsterdam since 1987, and after migrating, I considered going back to my original Russian name (reclaiming Natasha), but it just seemed too complicated.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Joan Gannij is the author of three chapbooks, two acclaimed children’s books (Elusive Moose and Hidden Hippo), and many travel guides (Insight, Thomas Cook, Cadogan) about Finland, Iceland, and Norway. She is currently completing a memoir of migration, One Way Ticket. As a photojournalist, she has had the pleasure of documenting Mohammad Ali, Henry Miller, and Charles Bukowski, among many others. Her monograph, The Cruelty of Loveless Love, features 18 of her portraits of Charles Bukowski: The Man Behind the Myth, along with 18 of his unpublished poems. She teaches creative writing part-time at a private college in Amsterdam. For further information about her Miller and Bukowski portraits, visit joangannij.com.