A bloke with a surname like mine was never meant to be in the military. Go on, dream up any nickname relating to sausages or the male appendage and I’m betting that I’ve been called that name at some stage of my military career.
In the Army, one’s surname is prominently displayed on the chest in bold, capital letters on every uniform, so it’s pretty hard not to draw attention if your surname is a little peculiar.
It often serves as a pretty good conversation starter.
‘So, how do you pronounce your surname?’
‘Well, that depends. If you are of European origin, you will understand that a ‘w’ is pronounced like a ‘v’ in German, and you will know that it’s pronounced: ‘Vay-ner’. If you are a culturally-redundant Australian Army platoon sergeant who has no understanding of the nuances of language and pronounces everything phonetically, then you should just use the ‘Strayan’ version: ‘Weeee-ner’.
Sheesh, sometimes I wish that my surname was ‘Smith’.
Some platoon sergeants were so disinclined to pronounce difficult names that they opted instead to substitute surnames during roll calls:
(A long pause…)
‘How do you pronounce that…Wheelbarrow?’
‘Yes, present, sergeant.’
Perhaps my most memorable surname-related military experience occurred way back when I was a first year cadet at the Australian Defence Force Academy. As newly-arrived cadets, we were paired up with a ‘buddy’ in our division to help each other out. My buddy’s name was Malcolm Dick. There was a good deal of mirth to be had by the senior cadets at the expense of the ‘Wehner-Dick’ combination. We also had a Leak, Burgher and a Wood in our division and the third years had great fun constructing funny combinations of the names. (When we were senior cadets we kept the legacy going by making sure that Pagan, Nunn, Priestley, Godde and Chapel were all together).
I’ve long abandoned any efforts to explain the origin and correct pronunciation of my surname. I’m now entirely immune to the banter. It’s far easier just to accept the ‘Strayan’ version and get on with life.
But I have often felt the need to explain the origin of my namesake – the ‘wiener’ – which most Australians understand to be a hot dog sausage or a type of schnitzel.
For clarity, a ‘Wiener’ is something or someone that comes from the city of Wien, or Vienna (Wien is German for Vienna) – in much the same way that a ‘Frankfurter’ is from Frankfurt, a ‘Hamburger’ is from Hamburg, and a ‘Berliner’ is from Berlin.
In each case, the term denotes a person or a thing from that city – a Frankfurter is not only a cocktail sausage, it’s also a resident of the city of Frankfurt.
So, when John F Kennedy famously said ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’, he actually wasn’t saying that he is a jam donut.
And, so, a ‘wiener’ is a type of sausage from Vienna, or a type of deep-fried schnitzel from Vienna, or a person who lives in the Austrian capital.
For the record, my preferred nickname is ‘Schnitzel’. Although at my current workplace, they’re calling me ‘Smithy’.