Istanbul Stories and Tips

What's in a name?

My name is Paul. It was bequeathed to me as much in compromise as anything. This is, at least, what I am told, as I have no great recollection of the name actually being bestowed upon me. Apparently, my father wanted to name me after my grandfather and call me Douglas. My mother, on the other hand, wanted something more modern. Paul, was the compromise they agreed upon.

In hindsight, I think they actually did a pretty good job. As, even though Paul is a little bland, it earned me very few taunts at school, the way Douglas probably could have and the way my family name 'Bacon' certainly did. And, it has not really dated like something peculiarly modern might have. For the majority of my life, in fact, everything concerning my name has been relatively plain sailing.

However, as I began to travel to increasingly diverse areas of the world with different languages and different scripts, I began to encounter a few problems. The first of these came in Mongolia. Most Mongolian is written in Cyrillic script and has no vowel sound comparable to the combination of "au". So, on my visa I visa and in all official documents, they used the closest approximation. The problem with this was that when any Mongolians read it, the called me "Poll". No matter how hard I tried, I could not get my colleagues at the newspaper for which I worked or the family with whom I stayed to say it correctly. By the time I left, the one thing I was looking forward to most was not seeing friends or family, but having my name pronounced correctly – this may actually be a slight exaggeration, but after a while the loss of identity really did begin to send me a little crazy.

A couple of years later, when I moved to China, the problem surfaced again, albeit on a far more diluted level, as with a little practice most people got it at the first or second time of asking. However, again, there was no exact character match between my name and Chinese symbols. Therefore, I tended to get a few interesting variants. For instance, a colleague referred to me as "Paw" for almost the entire two years we worked together. There was, though, one mistake that occurred pretty regularly and always caused plenty of mirth. My name was often mistook for the character "Pao", most commonly heard in the name of the dish 'Kung Pao Chicken' (Gong Bao ji ding in Chinese). Every time I had dinner with certain friends the dish was ordered just for humour value.

This brings me to my time in Turkey, where I presumed I would have no problems at all. After all, English is relatively prevalent in Istanbul and the script for the Turkish language is not a million miles away from the one we use for English. However, it has actually proved to be quite a problem. I have encountered it most commonly in Starbucks, where the baristas ask for my name to write on my cup. Thus far we have had "Pal", "Pol", "Pull", "Poll" "Pul" and "Pool" (on three separate occasions). These mistakes would not have got to me so much were in not for two factors. First, on three different occasions, I actually spelled it out for them. And, second, the guys at my local branch know exactly what I order – if it is the morning a Grande Cafe Latte and if it is the evening a Tall Earl Grey Tea. They can get my order, just not my name.

Starbucks' spelling of my name has even become a major event in my office. On the day I was first baptised Pool, I showed my colleagues the cup. The following day, when I had become Pol, again they found it hilarious. Therefore, every morning when I enter the office with my latte, everyone rushes to the cup to see if they have got it right. We are all waiting for the day intently.

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