“Guhhhhnadinger,” my third grade classmate attempted to pronounce my last name as he handed me my name tag. It was the first time I realized there might be something wrong with my last name, and that I would struggle with this deformity for the rest of my life.
When I was in fifth grade, my teacher pronounced it with a hard “g” at the end, and although my classmates corrected her, technically it was correct. In fact, even though most of my immediate family pronounces our last name with a soft “a” and second “g” at the end, most of the rest of the family pronounces it with a hard “A” and second “G.” And according to my dad, this is the closest pronunciation to the original spelling.
It’s a rather simple last name if you take away the German “G.” Instead of “Gnadinger,” you would have “Nadinger,” and I think everyone would know how to pronounce that, but it’s that damn “G” that throws everyone off. Anytime I attend a conference, go to the pharmacy, or any place that must check me off a list, I always introduce myself as “Gnadinger … G… n…a…d…” Always.
It comes naturally. And growing up, I thought how easy it would be if I didn’t have this German conundrum. Apparently, when my German ancestors migrated here in the 19th century, they changed the spelling to make it more “American.” Yet they couldn’t get rid of the silent “G.”
A German-Irish Connection
In addition to this German ancestry, I’m also half-Irish. In fact, my mom’s grandparents migrated from Ireland to the U.S. in the 1920’s. And somehow both of these families ended up in Louisville, Kentucky. Louisville has a common Irish-German ancestry. It wasn’t until I left this town that I realized how uncommon this was. Where I grew up, the Germans and Irish often got together and so many families were born. My parents like to say it’s because opposites attract, and Germans and Irish have very different natures.
Although I carry a German name, I inherited repercussions from both. My dad likes to say the Irish get angry easily but get over it quickly, and it takes a lot for Germans to get mad, but when they do, you better clear the room. This is obviously a generalization, but when it comes to my family, it couldn’t be closer to the truth. And like my mom, I have two heritages so I get mad easily, and boy do I stay mad (although I have gotten better over time).
Just ask my eldest brother about the time I held a grudge for seven years. I was eight when he broke a promise to me, and I never trusted him with a secret again until my early teenage years. It’s a funny story we share when we’ve been drinking, but it’s not a story either of us is likely to forget. But even though it was quite an exaggerated grudge, when I finally forgave him, I realized how silly it was, and I haven’t made that mistake again.
A Simple Last Name
In high school, I had friends with last names like Sanchez, Brown, and Perkins. I envied their simplicity. And when I went to college, I made friends who had last names like Roman, Hunt, and Williams. So that when I read Jeffrey Archer’s The Prodigal Daughter, I understood the Polish protagonist’s dislike of her last name and her promise to marry someone with a simple name.
Because I grew up wanting to be a published writer, I thought of various pen names, and for a time in high school settled on Tracy Lynn (my first and middle name). It was easy, but it didn’t feel right. Tracy Lynn did not encompass exactly who I was.
After college, I decided I wanted a more “professional” sounding name. To this day, I don’t really know what this is, maybe something that sounds more distinguished? Gnadinger with a soft “g” doesn’t really sound sophisticated so I started introducing myself as Tracy Gnadinger with a hard “a” and second “g.” After a while, it came naturally so since 2010, I have been known as Tracy Gnadinger with a hard “a” and “g” at the end. Except when I return home, I automatically revert back to the soft “g.” It’s a family thing. Depending on which “Gnadinger” clan you’re a part of, so to speak, you pronounce the name differently. Our “clan” pronounces it with a soft “g.”
Surprisingly, this actually enabled people to get my name quicker. They didn’t struggle as much with the hard “g” pronunciation as they did with the soft “g.” Who knew? But it didn’t change the silent “G” factor. And to this day, I often clarify, “The ‘G’ is silent.”
I don’t know why people must put a vowel between the “G” and “n.” It’s very American, I suppose, but just like the word “gnat,” the “g” is silent. But I stopped using this comparison years ago. I didn’t really want to be compared to a gnat.
A Hard ‘G’
In my last relationship, when conversations of marriage arose, I realized I would never change my last name. It kind of surprised me. I always figured, like Flora in The Prodigal Daughter, that I would marry someone with a simple last name (although my last boyfriend’s name did not meet this qualification at all – maybe that’s why it didn’t work out?).
He was a little abhorred that I wouldn’t change my name. What about our future family? But I was stern on this matter. Tracy Gnadinger is my name and my identity. I will never change it. I don’t criticize those women who do, but I don’t feel right about it. I could never be anyone without a silent “G.” As much as I detested it growing up, it’s what makes my name unique.
I sometimes wonder what my mom thinks of going from a somewhat simpler Irish last name to a more complicated German one. But her mom was German, too. Nobody’s name was easy those days, especially for those who grew up in Germantown in Louisville.
And I kind of half-smile when I approach a registration table and watch them scramble to find my name because they’re looking under “N” instead of “G” (I admit I sometimes do it on purpose just for fun).
It represents my ancestry, my family, and my nature. I’ve published under this name. And I like to think it makes me stand out a little bit more. I will always be the one with the silent G.