Wednesday, April 13, 2016

What's in a Name?

I was born Shawntelle Marie Kalkbrenner. My name had exactly the same number of letters in it as the alphabet. The problems began fairly early on. In kindergarten, I was still writing my name when most of my classmates had finished their papers. In first grade, the last "e" on Shawntelle had somehow been left off the teacher's list so when I spelled my first name "Shawntelle," Miss Gooserunner told me that I was spelling it wrong and circled that "extra" E in red for the first few days of school after which she realized the error of her ways and apologized. 

In second and third grade, in a whole new school, I was "Show-n-Tell." For the most part, no one even tried to pronounce my last name until I hit fourth and fifth grade in another new school, where it was the height of wit for the boys in my class to call me "Kockenweiner" or, alternately, "Kockenburger." 

We moved again before sixth grade and in seventh, "Show-n-Tell" came up again, this time with a much naughtier connotation. The barely pre-pubescent young man who was so proud of his cleverness was put firmly in his place when I told him that second-graders had called me that. 

In eighth grade art class, the teacher pronounced both my first and last names flawlessly and then asked me if I knew the meaning of my last name. I told him it was "Lime burner" and he argued that it was "cabbage burner," which would've been Krautbrenner, but I was too shy to argue the point much. 

In ninth grade, the computer program cut off the last three letters of my first name so I was "Kalkbrenner, Shawnte" to every teacher I had freshman year until and unless I corrected them. I rarely bothered so I was "Shawntee" or "Shawntay" for as long as I was in that school.

When I got married, I told everyone that one of the top five reasons I had chosen my husband was that his last name was five letters shorter than my own. I was only partly joking.

While I was growing up, we knew only a few other Kalkbrenners--my father's Uncle Bill and his three kids. I still have yet to meet any unrelated Kalkbrenners, though I have found a few on the Internet. We grew up hearing that Kalkbrenner was a pretty common name in Germany, but I don't think I entirely believed it. 

Once I started poking around on, I discovered all sorts of new ways to butcher the name Kalkbrenner. I have found ancestors listed as Klackbrenner, Kalfbrenner, Kalbnermer and Nackbrenner, to name a few. I also discovered that there are, and have been since the mid-1800s, little pockets of Kalkbrenners all over the US. This has been both a blessing and a curse, since it has sometimes made it harder to narrow down the right, say, Gottlieb Kalkbrenner.

Fortunately, most of my Kalkbrenners came straight from Germany to the Pittsburgh, PA area and stayed there. In Germany, though, I hit a dead end because there are, as promised, lots and lots of Kalkbrenners in Germany. Meanwhile, on this side of the Atlantic, the hits keep coming...

A couple of years ago, Baby Brother's Wife and I were at work at the halfway house talking about an upcoming family reunion/camp out where we planned to play lots of Killer Kalkbrenner Volleyball. A few days later, one of the residents who had heard us talking about it jokingly tried to invite himself by saying, "Come on! I want to play volleyball with the Colepeppers!"

Close enough. 

Kalkbrenners all the way back to Germany...where there are so many Kalkbrenners I haven't been able to get any further back than my great-great-great-grandfather.

K is for Kalkbrenner

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