Dunja Cvjetićanin was born in Yugoslavia in 1989 and moved to Australia with her family as a baby. Dunja is one of the Founding Co-Editors-in-Chief of be:longing and enjoys interacting with others who feel similar connections to other places and cultures as she does.
Dunja dedicates this piece to her parents, Vesna and Miloš, and her brother, Relja.
Image: © Dušica Milutinović, 2017
Ever since I learned the NATO alphabet, this is how I’ve spelled my surname. To all who have asked for it. Banks, insurance companies, the IT help desk at work. They all get the same 11-word speech. I assume they understand it.
I use it even if they don’t.
Sometimes, I use January instead of Juliet. January seems to be less at risk of being spelled with a G than Juliet.
But either way, this is the code I use. A shorthand of sorts. To help people decipher my surname. To break down its complexity and divide it into something they can digest. Individual English letters.
Cvjetićanin isn’t the easiest of surnames. I’ll give you that. Even amongst European names, it tends to stick its head above the crowd and claim dominance. Difficulty Supreme. But what’s difficult to them is beautiful to me. Intricate. Layered. Rooted. Gentle.
Cvjet. It means flower. Cvjetić. Little flower. Cvjetićanin? Well. It’s a surname that evokes a little flower.
I love it.
I adore it.
And I value who I am with it.
We are battle-born babies, it and I. Forged through struggle. We clutch at each other, famished, hungry, striving. We resist all those who rush past us; who might rush us into the past, if we weren’t careful.
We’re nothing without each other. It and I. Well. We have been so far, anyway.
I am who I am because of my surname. Because of the struggle we’ve shared together. I’m strong, determined, kind, because of it. A revolution. A new wave.
I challenge those who question it. I share its meaning and its beauty; its provenance, and my heritage. The workers at the IT help desk learn a thing or two about the South Slavs when they talk to me.
It’s tiring at times. Exhausting, over the years. Defending it. Explaining it. But each time I speak it, I also gain strength from its utterance; a protection for myself. I stake a claim. I put South Slavs on the map. I demand to be accepted. I declare, with confidence, my space, my place, and my face.
It’s a Serbian name. From the hills of Croatia. A name my grandparents carried with them from Lika and Kordun, to Sombor. Their resting place.
A name my parents folded up into a book and carefully packed into our luggage, and which they took, to fly with them,
A name they then carefully unfolded, checked on all sides, and held up, humbly, offering it to the Australian sun.
My brother and I took it to our primary school. Gave it to the innocent hands of our fellow 5-year-olds, who giggled at the funny way it squirmed in their mouths. And to relief teachers, who could have tried harder.
We took it to high school, and university. And to our first office jobs.
To telecons, and videocons, and face-to-face meetings. To face others, meeting it, and meeting us. All together.
And with it, we forged new paths and new brain connections, and new awareness-es of Serbs. Slavs. Eastern Europeans. And their beautiful, difficult surnames.
We protected it, I think. I certainly tried. As best I knew.
I tried to care for it, too. As best I knew.
I dressed it up, and I dressed it down at times, never knowing what clothes really suited it in this new world. But trying all the same. Svetty-CHA-nin, or Sv’-TEE-chanin? No. Cvjetićanin. Always.
But always isn’t forever. And so. Now.
In a week.
My surname and I. My dear, darling surname. And me.
Will part ways. After 30 years together. Through thick, thin and gooey.
In a week, my surname will
walk me down the aisle,
kiss my forehead,
wish me the best,
and hand me over to a new world, and a new name.
And this new name will
lift my veil,
and take my hand,
and promise to love me, in sickness and in health,
in good times and in bad,
‘til death do us part.
And I will look back on my name. And bid it farewell. And look at this new name. And take it in my hands, and clasp its hands in mine. And meet it, and step forward, and claim it as my own.
And I’ll take it with me – to my job, my world, my life. My children’s schools. And try to protect it and care for it, as I’ve done for my dear Cvjetićanin. I’ll learn its NATO spelling, and teach a new speech to a new world – the IT helpdesk staff and all. A new, 9-letter speech, with Kilo, and Mike, and Romeo, and an Eastern European history all of its own. And I will bring a new energy, and new protection, to a new name. From the strength I gained from my old one.
All of that.
That’s a week away.
A little life away.
From the here.
From the now.
For now, I still have it. My little flower. My little Cvjet. We’re still together. Holding each other’s hand.
And until then, I will sit with it. My name. My surname. My Cvjetićanin.
And I will water it, and protect it. And care for it. As best I know how.
© Dunja Cvjetićanin, 2019