What’s in a name?

Odd, I couldn’t resist a look at my referrer stats, and found that someone had googled “yule” and “female names.” That will not have been a productive search, I’m sure. My name comes from the time of year I was born (same day of the month as Marlene Dietrich), and I often think it came as a “eureka” moment for my parents, who had already named six daughters prior to my birth. So, I’m a seventh daughter, and named after a pagan festival. Uh-huh. The “e” at the end is not silent; it’s pronounced somewhere between “Yula” and “yuluh”. Never Yulee or Yulay. I hate that. (The last name, incidentally, is Hi-bell.) The Germans often mispronounce Yule, saying the Y at the beginning like an English J, even though they say their German J’s like English Y’s. There is a German name “Jule,” which perhaps derives from Julia, but I’m not sure. Mine, for better or for worse, comes from the pagan thing, and it is a bit like being stamped with a scarlet letter. My middle name is the female form of Frederick, which gave me no end of grief when I was growing up in Canada. Yule was the name I was called at home, Frederika the name for outside, but everyone shortened it to Freddie or even Fred. For a bony tall girl-kid who looked like a boy, this was really annoying. At 16, although no longer looking like a boy, I decided to go public with “Yule,” a perhaps foolish decision prompted by the enthusiasm of an art teacher whose judgement wasn’t the best: she was in the midst of an affair with one of her high school students. If I hadn’t also had a crush on this guy she was sleeping with, I probably wouldn’t have listened to her, and Yule-pagan-festival would be a blip on a birth certificate. We all smoked too much. When my father went to register my birth at the Duesseldorf city hall, he learned that his and mama’s prodigious fecundity meant that Theodor Heuss, who was near the end of his 2nd term presidency, was my honorary godfather. If my family had known beforehand that this distinction was in the cards, I would have been named Yule Frederika Theodora, adding another female version of a male name, the abbreviation of both rhyming with each other. Teddy, moreover, was the nickname of Theodor Adorno, one of my intellectual heroes, so I’m always a little miffed that I didn’t get that third name. Frederika was a name my sisters came up with, inspired by Goethe’s affair. The honorary godfathership came in handy in 1989-90 when I was in Berlin to research my dissertation. I had a doctoral fellowship from the Social Science Research Council in New York, but although the Berlin Program had had many Americans and German citizens, I was the first Canadian to join their ranks (I didn’t have US citizenship at the time). My papers consequently didn’t stack up, and this super-nationalist German immigration bureaucrat delighted in being able to tell me that he was going to throw me out of the country. (It didn’t matter that I had been born there, or that 2 of my sisters lived in Germany.) He fumed that he had known a German woman who had married a Turk and had given up her German citizenship (the Germans typically don’t allow dual citizenship: take on a new citizenship and you lose the German one). He seemed to take personal umbrage at this affront, considering it a slap in the face of the fatherland. I was right up there with that formerly German, now Turkish hussy who had turned her back on the imaginary Reich this man still inhabited. (Good thing he didn’t know about my 2 sisters who had married Japanese men and another one who had married an RAF Brit.) It was a really scary and nasty encounter with German bureaucracy, in part because this guy could use the law for a personal vendetta and there was nothing I could do. Except write to Richard von Weiszacker for help. He occupied the Office of the Presidency at the time, an office which to this day represents the embodiment of my goddaughter standing. Ha. Within 2 weeks I had my permission to stay in the country. But I was very happy to get out of Germany again when my tenure in Berlin was up. And that pagan thing at any rate doesn’t hold with godfathers. So, having played that card once, I’m out of the game now. Next time I want a lawyer.

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