What's In A Name?

"Lever-zen-chi? Lever-ren-zee?". Nope, "Lever-zen-see." I've heard just about every pronunciation there is of my surname, Leverzencie, and I'm not even sure if my way of pronouncing it is the right one. I know, I know, what kind of 20-year-old doesn't know how to pronounce their own surname? Well, lemme tell you a story.

My name is Jessie Leverzencie. From the minute I was born, my name has been a topic of interest for those I meet. I know that when I introduce myself to someone for the first time, the questions regarding my surname will be the first to flow. Those dreaded first tutorials at the start of every semester are an example. I'll arrive and sit in my seat like everyone else, waiting for my name to be read off the register. I'll know the moment before mine is next even before the tutor opens their mouth. There will be the look of confusion as their brain tries to figure out how to articulate the surname they are reading. It's very rare that the pronunciation is correct, which will then mean I have to pronounce it the 'right' way. After this, follows the never-failing questions about its genealogy, "where does your surname come from? Are you French, Italian, Portuguese? Is that Scandinavian?". I will then need to explain the history of it, one I myself am not even certain of, and at the end of all of this, I'll end up coming across as an even bigger mystery than when I first arrived. Yay. Don't get me wrong, I love my surname and the fact that it is not a common one. At least I can always count on it to be a good conversation starter.

My family's attempts to find out where our surname comes from have led us in the direction of France, which means that it is in fact pronounced: "Loo-vergh-zon-see" (trust me I checked with my French tutor last year). However, to throw a spanner in the works, an Italian friend of my dad's firmly believes that our surname is, in fact, "definitely Italian" and is actually pronounced "Lever-zen-chi”. So as you can tell, there has been some definite confusion about my surname and consequently, my history and heritage too.

Being a coloured person from South Africa, my family's gene pool is quite mixed, as most coloured families are. My mother's family has links to India and Germany, whilst my dad's is, as you can gather by now, a bit of a mystery. I guess one of the biggest inherited scars from colonisation and Apartheid (amongst a multitude of other crimes committed against us) is the erasure of the histories of Coloured South Africans (I cannot speak for another racial group). You see, this large mix of people with links to the KhoiSan, other parts of Africa, the Dutch, British and other countries in Europe, and even India, were all put under one umbrella term: Coloured or Kleurling. This assigned identity had no history, but contained a box in which a massive gene pool of people was expected to fit into and form one generic home. So, I ask you this: how can one even begin to create a heritage from that or find one's personal heritage from a history that 'never existed'?

I guess that in the digital age we live, everyone is free to recreate themselves as they see fit. But, when you strip away all of that how much history actually remains? Those bare facts about where your bloodline comes from, that led you to where you are today. I still sometimes think that some of us who've had our histories and heritages stripped away may one day travel to a foreign land and find a doppelgänger there with the same surname and some massive shared inheritance from an ancestor who has long passed. I mean, you never know... a girl can dream. Despite a lack of heritage or whether you can trace your ancestral line back 1000 years, or whether you're like me and can only trace it back the last 4 generations, we are who we choose to be, and our heritages can be an amalgamation of the histories we have inherited or lived through ourselves. I guess, despite my confusing surname and my general lack of family history, I am, well, just me and a mix of the multitude of lived experiences, memories and knowledge I have acquired along my journey thus far. I guess it holds true to the saying: "all that you know is all that you are”, so can one not form an ever-evolving heritage from that?