Expatria · Third Culture Kids · Travel

What’s In A Name?

The name on my birth certificate reads Sezin Piotruszewicz Menekshe Rajandran.

I was named with the same initials as my grandfather on my father’s side, SPM Rajandran. He died just months before I was born, and in fact my mom was so upset at his funeral that her amniotic sack tore and she might have lost me all together.  Sezin and Menekshe are both Turkish names, although there’s no Turkish anywhere in my lineage.

Growing up, for reasons I still don’t understand, my parents called me by my third name, Menekshe, a name I always hated with a passion. It’s too long, it’s not pronounced how it looks, and it’s a strange one so I would always have to spell it out for people. Oh God. The frustration!

Before I went off to university, to Los Angeles on my own, I had bandied about the idea of starting to use Sezin. On my flight to LA I met a nice hippie fellow and we started chatting. He asked me my name and “Sezin” popped out. That was that. Thirteen years ago and I re-invented myself in my own image.

At first it was strange, there was a curious sense of doubling as I tried to merge my old self as “Menekshe” and the new “Sezin”. Awkward as my family had difficulties adjusting, my friends were uncomfortable in stretching themselves to include this “new” idea of me. It was years before I didn’t get super irritated at someone calling me “Menekshe” accidentally. Now I just get a teensy bit annoyed. 🙂

But that was the only negative of changing my name. Sezin means emotions, sensitivity, and I felt my spirit melding to the new name. “Sezin” also brought me the first nicknames I’d ever had in my life. Z, Zini, Zed, Zuzu, Sez, and more. Having nicknames made me feel wonderful, closer to people somehow, with an easy familiarity. Gone was the uncomfortable spelling out of “Menekshe”, Sezin is 5 letters, no big deal to spell that one.

Dialogue 2010 brought me in contact with Tara Agacayak, who kept her name in spite of converting to Islam. Tara mentioned that of all the things she’d left behind in search of a hybrid lifestyle, the one thing she kept was her name. Me, I’m the opposite. Changing my name was me claiming the rights to myself, deciding how I could make my hybrid life better and easier.

My name has changed once again as I’ve fallen out with my father, totally and completely. Now I’m known as Sezin Koehler and I’m bandying around the idea of keeping my mom’s maiden name (Piotruszewicz). I am also considering scrapping the Piotruszewicz and taking the name Billon in its stead, in honour of my dear friends Aimie and Kristine whose beloved sister was killed by a drunk driver. This would bring Sezin Version 20.10 a beautiful symbolism that I wholeheartedly support, especially since my annihilated relationship with dad has included my two younger sisters. Aimie, Kristine and I can all be three sisters again, even if the relation is in name and spirit only.

What’s in your name?


20 thoughts on “What’s In A Name?

  1. I think I met you in Istanbul in 1996. I was going through old papers, and found your former name on a ripped corner of paper with a phone number for “gramma” who you wrote, on the paper, you stayed with sometimes. I am sorry I didn’t call you back. I’m glad we had an adventure together. 🙂

  2. Your Sezin name could be a Muslim Sri Lankan connection? My name, Asli, is also in India, Pakistan, Indonesia, all over Africa, Middle East, and I think Sri Lanka, too! I love learning about names. It’s fascinating.

    1. Actually it was Turkish friends of my parents who gave them the name, so they could have been Muslim but I’m not sure. To my knowledge I don’t think we have any Muslims in my family…mostly Catholic and Buddhist, and then there’s me the pantheist. 🙂 I agree that names are fascinating!

  3. Hi! I liked your story that I came across when I googled my name:)
    I would like to add that Sezin is a very unique name in Turkey too,as I am 28 years old ,I have heard only 2-3 people named Sezin.
    When my mum gave birth to me,my dad was working as an expat in Libya or Russia(not sure),and all the family waited my father to arrive for choosing one of the names from already prepared list.When my dad came to the hospital,he lasted this great discussion of name by sayin “the birth happened caesaraen(sezeryan in turkish),it is better to name her Sezin! what a recall!
    However,I love my name esp.the meaning is deeper as you mentioned,it actaully means “to foresee and to feel things before it happens” in a verb condition,and usually as a nick they called it Sezo:)
    It is very nice to know someone with the same name who is living far away where I am within the fact of being not Turkish too.
    I wish you lots of luck with your name!

    1. Hi Sezin!

      How interesting the way you came across my site as well as how you got your name! It’s really a small world with some funny connections, isn’t it? I didn’t realise the deeper meaning in the name and this makes me love it even more. I am quite proud to be a Sezin. 🙂

      Wishing you all the best and I hope you’ll come back and visit my site again soon!


  4. That’s a wonderful story. Thanks. Now I know more about you. It’s an act of personal sovereignty when you change your name and decide how to spell it. I wentto tribal court and rejected my slave name Ortiz and then went the whole 10 yards to get the state and federal government to accept it.


    1. Hi Petuuche!

      How wonderful to hear from you again after so long and thanks for reading. I didn’t know the reason behind your name until I met your brother Simon here in Prague, but it’s wonderful to hear it from you. I totally agree that deciding on one’s name is an act of personal sovereignty, but especially in your case. I’m so glad that in spite of the difficulties in getting your name officially recognised you did manage it. How has it since changed your experience of life?

  5. I actually came up with Vesper when I was researching names of birds, and there’s a little sparrow called the vesper sparrow. They are declining in numbers because of habitat loss, sadly. I have an affinity to sparrows for some reason, since I was very young.

    Everything thinks I got Vesper from the James Bond series, but I had no idea what that Vesper was until people told me. Vesper can also refer to the evening star…Venus. And I found out about vespers as evening prayers about a year after I named my blog. But the duality between the Vesper and the De Vil part just occurred to me when I read your comment! Ha! Also fits well with the “in limbo” aspect…between one and the other. Awesome. 🙂

    So happy to have met you, too.

  6. Ooooo names. I was born Kristen Michelle Hovet, then my middle and last names were changed when my mom remarried. In grade 9 I decided to change back to my birth name. I was married at age 19 so my last name changed again. I was divorced five years later and took my birth name again. Last year I researched my last name, which is Norwegian, and discovered that it had been anglicized. The correct spelling is Håvet…so I changed my last name again. It was a nice change, because this time it was completely my own doing. I will never, ever change my name again. The only alternative name I’m comfortable with is my online name, Vesper de Vil. My first blog was called Vesper’s Escape, which I started following the separation from my husband. I used the online name, Kiki, but my blog readers started calling me Vesper and it stuck. I read a blog by a girl who goes by Devil Mood, so one day I jokingly said that my new online last name was de vil….kind of like Devil, but also like Cruella de Vil from Disney’s 101 Dalmatians. The last name stuck. Then….I moved my blog to wordpress and changed the name of my blog to Vesper in Limbo. A couple months later I realized that the acronym of Vesper in Limbo is VIL…thus Vesper de Vil (vesper OF vil) is perfect! I love when things work out like that.

    1. I love this story! And how you are reclaiming your rights to yourself through your name. The paradox of Vesper de Vil makes my toes curl: Did you know that a vesper is a prayer? Such a juicy paradox to be Vesper de Vil. The synchronicity of your new blog’s name is wonderful too. I always believe it means you are on the right track. So happy to have met you!

  7. @Tara and Catherine – Thanks for clarifying, Tara, and I’m relieved I wasn’t the only one who heard that. And yes, I’m also happy it inspired this fantastic discussion! I agree 100% with both of you that it is important to defend our names and how they are pronounced, or shortened in the case of Catherine. A rose would not invoke the same feelings with a different name, and for me, I liken my former “Menekshe” to a skunk. Peee-ew!

    @Catherine – I feel for your husband. I can’t stand it when people don’t pronounce names correctly, and his is quite an easy one. Grrr! That gets my shackles right up!

    @Anastasia – Thank you! Now I say it properly in my head and it makes such a more lovely sound explosion. It suits you well. And going back to your earlier comment about the violet theme of my blog, I’m actually considering simply translating Menekshe back into English and being “Sezin Violet (Billon) Koehler”. Clearly the Menekshe will always be in my background and history, so why not make it more palatable? Thank you for continued inspiration. 🙂

  8. @Sezin My Twitter handle is an African girl’s name and pronounced tahn da lee kay… It was my first Internet handle (from 1995, and also the name of my Rhodesian Ridgehound) that I hadn’t fully divested from when I joined Twitter and became active in social media so now I probably never will. No one knows how to pronounce it and spelling it is also confusing, which is why I should have dropped it a while ago. However, I clearly identify my name with it in many places so it’s a way for people to find me, and I’ve never once found it “taken” when registering for a site. That’s appealing in itself (after my Stacy A and Stacy J experiences…) Thanks for asking!

  9. @Tara – I’d heard the same thing as Sezin, so thanks for the clarification since I too was wondering about your ‘conversion’ (or lack thereof!). No one in Turkey has ever asked me about converting or changing my name, but then, few can pronounce it correctly (there is no “th” in Turkish), which is why it’s become Ketri to my in-laws.

    I agree it’s very important what we let others call us, which is why I’m insistent on not answering to Cathy, though some people in my past think I’m odd that it matters. My husband Abit (not a tough name for a Turkish/Arabic one, but with the first syllable more strongly pronounced, most people do not say it right the first time) has long been called Albert by some of his Istanbul tourism business friends, from a time when it was easier for travelers than his given name. I’d never call him that since it does not suit him at all, and say so. Those friends laugh when I tell them it matters, but Abit thanks me – like me, he sees that it’s a matter of respect.

  10. Oh Sezin, it’s my fault for the misunderstanding. What I tried to explain in the podcast is that because I haven’t converted, and therefore haven’t changed my name, it brings up questions (like, why haven’t you taken a Turkish name and why haven’t you converted to Islam). And the answer to both is that if I ever feel compelled to, I will. I apologize for the confusion, but I’m glad the idea inspired a conversation!

    When I was in college an English professor asked us the question from Romeo & Juliet “Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet?” I was studying psychology and from my perception class I decided the answer was “no”. Because in hearing the word “rose” we are automatically prejudiced to smell something sweet. If someone said smell this skunk than stuck a rose in front of us I think something happens in our brain to affect our experience.

    So I think that what we call ourselves, and what we permit other people to call us really is relevant to our experience of who we are.

  11. @Lynne (or should I say Paul?) – Oh my goodness, your comment is wonderful! I’m so glad I’m not the only one with strange name issues. Your story about calling yourself Paul after your favorite Beatle reminds me of the episode of “Friends” where Phoebe changes her name to Princess Consuela Banana-Hammock. Awesome! Out of curiosity, what is your full given name? Now I’m really curious. 🙂 Thanks for your fantastic comment!

    @Tara – Seriously? I could have sworn you mentioned that when you were talking about the things you’ve kept in your hybrid life. Now we really need to hear the podcast; where ever did I get that from? And I wonder if anyone else heard the same. I’m sensing another Dialogue2010-inspired post percolating. “(Mis)Understanding”, possibly? I’ll edit the above, but regardless, you still inspired this post even if you didn’t say what I thought you said so, Thank You. 🙂

    @ Catherine – I’m glad I could cheer you up. My birth certificate enrages me, so it’s good that someone else can take something positive from it. (And BOO on your horrible day. Keep your chin up!) It is a bit old-fashioned to keep all of the men in your life’s names, but there is also something beautiful in that they have literally left their mark on who you are. You won’t forget them, you can’t. Sorta related but also sorta not is Tracey Emin’s art installation, “All The Men I’ve Slept With”, which was a tent with all the quilted names of her father, twin brother who died at birth, friends and lovers. A beautiful and intimate piece that was sadly destroyed in a fire last year. I don’t know why that reminds me of what you commented; if you check it out let me know what you think!

    @ Anastasia – Thanks for commenting! I had the same problem with “Menekshe” growing up and one day my mom made me sit down and write it over and over until I could spell it. 🙂 Anastasia is indeed a very grown-up and powerful name, but from seeing pictures of you the name is a perfect fit. Exotic without being unmanageable. I also love that you’re a Staci. I’ve not yet met a Stacey/Stacy/Staci I didn’t adore and two of my best friends are both Stacey. Love that! A name of yours I’m curious about is your online handle “Thandelike”. Where is that from?

  12. Dear Sezin! Thanks for this. When I first heard you pronounce your name on the Dialogue2010 call I realized there is an extra vibrance to your Sezin. In Turkish it would be “seh-zin” yet you are “SAH-ZINE”!

    I also notice that Menekshe means violet in Turkish and this website has a deep, dark purple theme…so perhaps the Menekshe in you has found her best way to be present: in background hue and tone.

    I can identify with the urge to use a different part of your name.

    I have not changed my name legally even after marriage, but I was a little girl with a 9-letter name. If you can believe it, the school librarian would not let me check out books in first and second grade because I could only spell my nickname, which is what everyone called me: Stasi. By sixth grade, my class has two others with “Stacy/Stacey” names and I became “Stasi A.”, or rather too often “Stacy A” as if I was in danger of losing even the distinction of my spelling. I knew I had a name I wasn’t using, like a pedigreed puppy. So the first day of 7th grade, I presented myself at a different school with new classmates as the more mature “Anastasia”. Family and childhood friends still call me Stasi, I don’t mind, because that is who I am to them. My sisters have a nickname for me that no one else uses and I have lots of different variations of my name from other people and periods of my life — but nothing new in the last decade.

    I like your idea of becoming sisters with your friends through a name adoption!

  13. Wow, Sezin and Lynne, and I thought I had the right to be annoyed when someone shortened my name to Cathy from my given Catherine! I have to admit I laughed out loud Sezin, at the photo of your birth certificate and that amazingly long name there(thank you, I REALLY NEEDED that laugh; it’s been a horrible day). And thanks also for explaining, since I was intrigued that you have a Turkish name, so I assumed there was a little Turkish in you somewhere!

    I have acquired three surnames – one from my father, one from my first husband and my stepfather (same surname, long story – you’ll have to read my book, someday when I finish it), and one from my second husband. Very old-fashioned of me to link all those men’s names after my given two. I’m thinking I should just go by my initials CMCSB and leave it at that…

    Thanks for this wonderful work, and very glad I inspired you to post it!

  14. It’s funny, I just spent a few days with a friend who changed her name because she never identified with the name her parents had given her. When she told me her given name I understood why she had changed it, the one her parents had given her simply didn’t fit. And for me, I can’t imagine myself as anyone but Tara which is why I cringe when someone calls me Sarah or Lara or anything else. For the record, I didn’t convert to Islam, but if I ever do, I will be keeping my name and completely understand why you’ve changed yours.

  15. A great post, Sezin, and a topic very close to my heart as well!

    Here’s a glimpse into my name situation:

    My birth name is long and often mis-spelt(spelled?). Malay names are patronymic: my given name has two words, my father’s name is in three parts, and there’s a “binti” meaning ‘daughter of’ in between them. So depending how you look at it, it’s 5 or 6 words long. I hate it with a passion.

    In school I insisted on being called by the name of my favourite Beatle, so if you see/hear people calling me “Paul”, they are my schoolmates 🙂

    When I went to the US for college, my name was just too long for locals to wrap their heads around, and it was so painful to hear them try to pronounce it, so I took to calling myself “Lynne”, which is the second syllable of my second “given name”.

    In my online life I took on the “lynne naranek” moniker.

    In real life, I took advantage of my marriage to change my official name, in the US at least, to something a little bit simpler than what I was given at birth. What was previously the second part of my given name is now my first name. It’s only 6 letters long, but it still gets slaughtered.

    … I’ll be starting the trek to US Citizenship soon, and I’ll have the opportunity to change my name easily at the time of oath-taking… and I’m starting to consider what name I’d like to take on… Perhaps just go with “Lynne”? … but despite ‘being’ so many names, I don’t want to mess with my “offical” name more than necessary. Yet at the same time, if I myself cringe every time I need to give my name to anyone, that’s no good for me either, right?


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