Helen S.

I was born Helena in Prague, Czecho­slo­va­kia in 1927.  The Czechs have diminu­tive or endear­ing names that are often used for chil­dren, but also for adults whom they  espe­cially like. My name was Helenka. The fem­i­nine diminu­tive usu­ally ends in ka.  When I came to the United States in 1939 when Ger­many invaded Czecho­slo­va­kia,  I became Helen, because I wanted to be as Amer­i­can as pos­si­ble.  I real­ize that Helen is an old fash­ioned name, fre­quent in my gen­er­a­tion, but not in younger ones.  In my  twenty year teach­ing career, I only had one stu­dent named Helen, a lovely lit­tle girl, one of my favorites.
I have no idea why my par­ents chose my name.  My mid­dle name in Czecho­slo­va­kia was Renata, in the US Renee, but I never use it.

One Comment

  • Like many essay­ists, Helena describes one of the first steps in assimilation—Americanizing the name. She also describes the impor­tance of diminu­tives. Eng­lish does not have many dif­fer­ent diminu­tives like othr Euro­pean lan­guages: Pol­ish has the great vari­ety of diminu­tives. Los­ing the diminu­tive “ka” may well sym­bol­ize other losses Helen suf­fered when the war drove her out of Czecho­slo­va­kia. Essay­ists in the book describe very com­plex emo­tions cen­ter­ing on diminu­tives. Helen’s sweet mem­o­ries of a name­sake stu­dent are a reminder of the plea­sure of find­ing a name­sake that reach back to some of our ear­li­est expe­ri­ences with names and name­sakes with whom we nat­u­rally feel a spe­cial bond which derives from some of our ear­li­est expe­ri­ences with names as women descbe them in the book.

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