Meet Mr. Tuthruse
LiquidLibrary Purchase photo reprints »
My whole life, each time I have filled out an application, I have heard the same question. “How do you pronounce your last name?” Or even worse, I get called Mr. Sloski or Mr. Sloskowitz. Where do people see those extra letters? When I was in basic training in the Army, my sergeant, a real character with a thick New York accent, called me Alphabet. I never complained about that, especially considering the choice epithets he had for some of the other guys in the platoon.
My last name has only seven letters but, of course, five of them are consonants and that “z” in the middle of the first three is the killer. It should surprise no one that I have often thought about changing my surname to something easier to pronounce, but I could never decide on a satisfactory replacement.
A YEAR AGO my wife and I were flying to Tucson on a flight that stopped in Chicago. We were supposed to fly all the way through to Tucson on the same plane and were waiting for the new passengers to come on board. Surprisingly, everyone else had deplaned and we were the only two left in the 737. Once before, returning from our honeymoon, we had a 727 almost to ourselves and maybe it was about to happen again. That thought had us smiling, but then an airline employee entered the cabin and said, “I’m looking for the two throughs.” That was us. There had been a change, and we had to leave the plane and quickly head for another gate that was, thankfully, nearby. At the new gate we said to the woman behind the counter, “Hi, we’re the two throughs.”
“Oh yes,” she said. “We were expecting you. You’ll be one of the first to board.”
We said to the man handling the boarding passes, “Hi, we’re the two throughs.”
“Right, I know about you,” he replied. “You’ll be getting on board in just a second.”
Wow, suddenly we had a whole new identity, and we were getting first-class treatment. We were no longer the Szloseks; we were the Two-Throughs. It was a new name and I liked it.
A few days later, when we were safely back home, I was still thinking about the new name. I decided to indulge my fantasy, and first I had to figure out how to spell it to forever end the curse of having my last name mispronounced. The last part of the name was easy and throughs became thruse. But the whole name couldn’t be spelled Toothruse because I knew from experience people would say tooth-ruse or toot-ruse. Similarly I rejected Tothruse to avoid being called tot-ruse. And Twothruse wouldn’t work either, for I was certain it would become twoth-ruse.
I SETTLED ON Tuthruse. I liked the way it looked. A few weeks earlier I had moderated a class on ancient Egyptian history for the Five College Learning in Retirement program, and this version of the name just looked princely to me. Perhaps I could find a friendly genealogist who would trace my family tree back to the famous Egyptian pharaoh, Thutmose, and say the present spelling was how the name had been changed over the centuries. Well, maybe that would be too much of a stretch.
I considered concocting a more recent ancestor. I could be a direct descendant of the Count of Tuthruse, the legendary defender of Andorra and the conqueror of Liechtensten, a man known as the scourge of Europe. But then I thought I should probably be more modest. Lots of folks in the area know that my family ran the Imperial Bakery in Northampton for decades. Maybe I could simply make my famous ancestor the originator of sliced bread.
My aging brain reeled with the possibilities but, at the same time, I knew such a change would never happen. My wife and kids would probably not like the idea, and think of all the documents that would need to be amended.
To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, Szlosek I am and am happy to always remain so. But it was fun to be a Tuthruse for a few hours and to sit up front in that plane. I just wonder how long it would have been before someone called me Mr. Tuthruski.
Richard Szlosek lives in Northampton.
First Person welcomes submissions from readers. Email columns of 800 words or less to Suzanne Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.