I walk past two elephant skeletons at the entrance to the wing of the old medical school building in Edinburgh. I’m here to meet my director of studies at Edinburgh University. I take a seat opposite him, slightly nervous. I’m 19 years old and it’s my 3rd day in Scotland. He looks at my name written in his note.
“Mal…Mmm..- how do you say your name?”
“It’s Małgorzata, the equivalent of Margaret in Polish. But most people call me Gosia. Goh-shyah”, I repeat slowly.
“What a lovely name”, he says. I don’t hear much convinction.
“Thank you”, I want to believe him.
“Is your name ‘Russia’? – asks a girl in one of my first classes.
“No, but it’s close! It’s pronounced Goh-shyah. It’s a diminutive of Margaret, only in Polish.”
“Oh, ok. Please never mention to anyone that I thought your name was Russia!”
(We become very good friends and still laugh about this story. )
After finishing my first degree, I decide to move to Glasgow university to study medicine. I consider reinventing myself as Margaret. Surely it would be much easier.
I quickly learn it’s an old name, old-fashioned, not popular.
It’s true, there is not a single Margaret among the 300 first year medics in my year. I hear many calls for Sophies, Pauls, Rachels and other names, which carry a promise of social success. I decide to go for Gosia again, as I probably wouldn’t answer to Margaret anyway.
My degree is taught in small groups which change every 6 weeks. At the beginning of each class I dread the register call. The facilitator stops abruptly as soon as he reaches my name. “Yes, I’m here” I say quickly, a note of apology in my voice.
I feel slightly jealous of the other Polish girl in my year whose name is Joanna.
I make a promise to myself to give my children monosyllable international names.
“Before we make a start, I’d like to ask everybody to intruduce themselves to the rest of the group” – says a senior paramedic who’s running the resuscitation course for our small group of students in one of the biggest Glasgow hospitals.
“Knowing everyone’s names in the resuscitation team is very important. It makes communication much easier.”
When it’s my turn I decide to go for Maggie.
“I’ve got something else written down here. What’s your real name?” he asks in a broad Glaswegian accent.
“It’s Gosia”, I say. “A diminutive of Margaret, in Polish.”
He gets it right after the 3rd attempt. He keeps saying it right for the next 2h of the course and I finally feel like I’m worthy of being there. My name is no longer a burden.
A barista asks me for my name, he’s holding a sharpie in the air, a paper cup with a green mermaid in the other hand.
He smiles with relief, I can tell he was expecting a tongue-twister gauging by my accent.
I take my coffee and walk away dialing my mum’s number.
“What’s up Małgosiu” she asks. My name is familiar in her voice as though she was saying it for the past 26 years.