Sunday, June 19, 2011

What's in a Name?

My mother's maiden name was Ziegenhein. It is a good name, but one I never learned to spell, which wasn't entirely the result of my innate laziness. I didn't learn to spell it because I didn't need to. All the Ziegenheins in my life were former Ziegenhiens. Mom's father, Edwin Ziegenhien, died while Mom was still in high school. Grandma remarried around the time I was born, and her name became the orthographically less challenging Krahl. Aunt Jean, Mom's older sister and only sibling, married Mr. Turner.

If I met any Ziegenheins along the way it was when I was quite young. I can remember a few visits with Mom's aunts and uncles. They all looked to be older than Methuselah, and they occasionally conversed in German. But I think they were Bieswingers. Bieswinger was Grandma's maiden name, and she took great delight in telling people her full name was Hildegard Caroline Bieswinger Ziegenhein Krahl.

Whether or not I've spelled Bieswinger correctly is another question. Grandma surely turned over in her grave when I did a computer search of the name. Google found 333 matches, but at the top of the page it asked, "Did you mean to search for bi swinger?"

Until the other day, my inability to spell Ziegenhein had not been a problem. If for some reason I was asked on a form for my mother's maiden name, I spelled Ziegenhein according to my whim at the moment and figured that was good enough. But in cyberspace there are websites that require a password to get on and often ask for your mother's maiden name in order to occasionally quiz you to see if someone else is trying to log on to your account. That creates two problems for me. First, I have to remember the password. But, frequently I don't and have to jump through security hoops in order to get another password to forget. Usually that process begins with the computer asking me for my mother's maiden name. Because I never spell Ziegenhein the same way twice, and the computer expects me to spell it the same way every time, I cheat. Besides Harris, I have two other perfectly good last names in my name: Thomas and Russell. I use them as my mother's maiden name sometimes. And there are such easy-to-spell names as Casey, Jones, Black, Smith, Stone, Mason and Dixon I've used them all and a half dozen others. Of course, being able to spell a name and remembering which name I should be spelling are two different things. The Internet is brimming with websites I can no longer access because I've forgotten my password and my mother's maiden name on the day I first logged on.

But the real trouble came Friday when I decided to find out about my Social Security account. It was so easy: a click of the mouse here, a click there and I got on the Social Security website and was presented with a form to complete. "Where's the challenge?" I thought. I know my name, my address, my birthday, my place of birth and my Social Security number. Why I even took a minute to double check everything on the form. Then, poised to go on, I scrolled down to find the button marked "Continue." A split second before I got there, however, a box saying "Mother's maiden name" appeared. I was tempted to type in "Jennings." But, would the government ask for my mother's maiden name if it didn't already know it? And what if in trying to be honest I mangled the spelling of Ziegenhein? Would the government conclude I was a dangerous international terrorist?

Opting to be safe rather than sorry, I e-mailed my siblings, explaining the situation and asking for assistance. None of them was certain about the spelling, but Barbara was pretty sure "Ziegenhein" was correct - unless it wasn't. Not willing to take a chance with the government, I googled "Edwin Earl Ziegenhein." That led me to, where I learned that Edwin E. and Hilda C. Ziegenhein of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, had been counted in the 1930 census. Now confident that I had all the necessary information, I logged on to the Social Security site and went looking for my account. And I found it.

Learning to spell Ziegenhein turned out to be the easy part. The real challenge is trying to decipher the bureaucratic prose.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoy your writing so much Tommy....and I remeber Hildegard Caroline Bieswinger Ziegenhein Krahl with fondness.



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