During my 70 plus years, I have had many names. Not just nicknames – really different names. It never bothered me and I did not go through any identity crises because of it. Let us just say that I do know who I am, most of the time.
It started at birth. My parents had agreed to call me Marek (Mark or Marc in English – there is only one version in Polish) which was a very popular name at the time and still is. My dad wanted me to be named after his father: Isaac Mayer, a nice Jewish name. In 1946 in Poland after the Second World War, and married to a blonde, green-eyed catholic woman, he compromised and changed the names to a loosely translated Polish version: Izydor Marian. He rushed to the town hall in Lodz, while my mother was still recovering in the hospital after my birth, and Izydor Marian appeared on my birth certificate. My mother simply ignored the official document, and my father’s unilateral decision, and always called Marek. My father, of course, gave in. Marek was my name while living in Poland until 1957. I was Marek to my family, my friends, and my schoolmates. I actually never knew my real names until 1959.
We left for Israel on May Day in 1957. We were some of the lucky ones, allowed to leave Communist Poland. We travelled in a large passenger ship from Szczecin, in northern Poland to Le Havre, France; then by train and bus to Montpellier in the south of France, and from the nearby port of Marseille to Haifa. We did stay for about two months in an immigrant camp near Montpellier, waiting for a ship to be available. When we finally arrived, about three months later, in the port of Haifa in northern Israel, the nice Israeli family, my dad’s cousins, brother and his sons, and especially their wives, wanted me to have a nice Hebrew name; this was a very common practice in Israel and still is. A good way to integrate the newly arrived immigrants into the host society. I became Meir (pronounced Meh-eer) which means “shines” in Hebrew. At school, at the playground, in the neighborhood, and to my Israeli extended family and friends – I was Meir. My parents continued to call me Marek out of force of habit. Funny that my cousin Edni, 10 years older than me Israeli paratrooper, always called me Marek; he just liked the sound of it.
Around 1959 my parents decided to send me to a private boarding school in Jaffa. The school was run by the French LaSalle Brothers, a catholic order dedicated to education. They have schools all over the world and had three in Israel and many other in the Middle East. The children were catholic, protestant, Greek-orthodox, Jewish, and Muslim from Israel, Europe, and the Middle East. The French Brothers wanted to see my birth and baptismal certificates and after some debate accepted me under the name of MOTYL Marian. In France, especially in official documents, the last name comes first, capitalized, followed by the first name. My classmates called me Motyl and still do (sounds like Moteel, while the Polish pronunciation is more like Mobile, Ala. With the “i” sounding like the “i” in “is”). My Israeli girlfriends called me Motty, a diminutive in Hebrew from “matok”, which means “sweet”, and comes from a very common name in Yiddish: Motke. My French girlfriends and colleagues called me Mariàn or Motyl(e), with a strong French accent; the extra “e” is the silent French “e” that is not really silent when you hear Parisians talk.
I arrived in Paris, France in 1966 and after an interesting week, I joined the French Foreign Legion. My official name, on the travel papers was Mr. MOTYL-SZARY Marian Izydor (more on the SZARY part later in the story. The FFL recruiter decided that all my different names were simply not enough and I became Légionnaire Engagé Volontaire MORONY Thomas. That did take a bit of time to get used to but because you had to announce yourself to any superior as you approached them, six paces away, yelling your name, rank, and section at the top of your lungs, it did sunk in quickly. I became Legionnaire Morony.
Since I arrived in the United States, for the first time in February 1971, my name remained unchanged officially. One problem is that, in the US, Marian is not a man’s name; it probably is a contraction of Marianne and is typically feminine. It is a male name in most of Europe, especially in the North, Center, and East of Europe. Except in the Anglo-Saxon Great Britain. Most people, who do not know me, often address me as Miss or Missus on the phone or in writing. Others correct the apparent spelling mistake and write Marion or Myron. Most of the time I do not bother correcting them. What is the point? Most of them do not know the difference between Poland and Holland, or Tahiti and Haiti anyway!
For a few years, I was married to my Jaffa school girlfriend Nava; she calls me Motyle, again, and so do her French and Tahitian friends. When I started playing pickleball early in 2020, I decided to be called Mariano, the Spanish and Italian version of Marian – that eliminated any confusion about my sex.
So, what is my name? As my story develops, the names will change. Read on…