My name is Kjersten, pronounced sure-sten. It’s weird, I know. How “Kj” makes a “sh” sound is beyond me. It’s old Swedish, but such old Swedish that the one time I was in Sweden I got funny looks. Minnesotans, however, find it to be the most normal thing in the world. Best I can tell Kjersten was a common, or at least known, name during the height of Swedish immigration in the 1800s. The Swedish language in Sweden continued to evolve, while the Swedish of the immigrants was frozen in time. Thus you get someone like me, a third generation American, a second generation Californian, with a name that looks like I just got off the boat clutching an armload of lutefisk, sure ya bet’cha.
I’ve always been fairly sensitive about my name. Because it is such a mouthful, I value people who actually take the time to learn it. While I’ll respond to pretty much anything, it grates on me a bit when people repeatedly pronounce it wrong. I had a co-worker once who recommended I go by Kristen, “because it would be easier for customers.” I was offended. Kristen is a fine name, it’s a lovely name, I know many wonderful Kristens, but it’s not my name.
I’ve been reflecting on this because it turns out I’m horrible with names. This is becoming a problem six months into my internship. It is as if my brain shuts off when a name is said. I can remember detailed facts about the person, but the name itself is gone. Especially if the name is not one I’m used to. One of the youth I keep accidentally calling a roofing material, because that word is more familiar to me than his name.
So I am learning to be more gracious with people who stumble over my name. Maybe they are trying. Maybe it’s not that they don’t care, but that they’ve never seen a silent j before (because really, unless you’re blessed with my parents’ creative spelling efforts, who has), and they just can’t get their mouth around it. It's a mouthful, but it's mine, and I'm proud of it.