A couple of nights ago I was talking to Davide, husband of Smiljka, a teacher at Sandra’s school. They are a charming couple who hail for Belgrade in Serbia. There have always been links; ethnic, cultural and religious between Greece and Serbia [my father was a Greek from Cyprus] so he asked me what the Greek family name is…
Now, before I reveal what the name is, or was, I have to say that it is not a name I use. My parents got married in 1941 and four days later my father went back to fight in the war, not returning until February 1946. My mother [who was English and lived in London] then had four and a half years of people mispronouncing the name, which is not easy on the ear.
The name is ten letters long and contains two “K”s. It is Kapakiotis. For four and a half years my mother was called Mrs. Kapakapakapa, Mrs. Tapioca or if she was lucky Mrs Cap-paki-otis. The name should be pronounced Ga-ba-gio-diss. Just before my older brother was born, they changed their surname to one that was easier on the ear, Kay…
My father was always proud that there was only one Kapakiotis family in Cyprus. I had often speculated about the name origin. Perhaps my Grandfather’s family were refugees from the Caucasuses or the Balkans but my father was a great keeper of secrets and other than telling me that the name was unique, said nothing more.
One piece of the jigsaw was revealed by my cousin Elli about ten-years ago when in conversation with my step-mother Andrula, she mentioned that Kapakiptis has a direct meaning if you translate it from Turkish. Although they won’t admit it, many Greeks of the older generation have some grasp of the language, so sitting down, she worked it out in her head. She suddenly started to laugh.
“Ka, pa, kio, tis!”she exclaimed, “the man who is constipated!” We all had a good laugh but how and why would anyone, let alone a Greek end up with such a bazaar moniker? Neither of them knew. Then the other night David, the Serbian dropped that piece of the jigsaw into place.
Serbia, like Cyprus had been part of the Ottoman empire for several hundred years. As I have mentioned in previous posts, in Islam you may not force people to convert their religion but it is acceptable to make it difficult to continue being a Christian.
David went on “you know how the Ottomans’s ruled, don’t you?” My grasp of history is pretty good, but no I admitted, the actual techniques they used to keep the local population in check I was not aware of. “Ridicule”…
Everyone had to pay taxes under the Ottoman rule, whether you were a Muslim, a Christian or a Jew. If you were not a Muslim however, those taxes could be two or three times higher due to payment of the “jizya”, a special tax that allowed you to continue worshiping your own religion.
The tax man was the one with the power. He was the official who when you paid taxes, put your name down in book. Once it was written down, it was official. Like the immigration officers at Ellis Island who with a stroke of a pen could change your name on arrival to the United States from Milanovski to Miller [as happened to the forebears of a University friend].
Who can say which of my ancestors annoyed the Turkish official to the extent that he wrote down his name as “Kapakiotis” or The Man Who Is Constipated. In Serbia, there are similar family names that date from that period such as The Man Who Has No Underwear. Anyway, since that time, the family has officially had the name Kapakiotis.
My relationship with my father wa always difficult. He was a narcissistic, control freak who was probably an undiagnosed Aspergers person. Just before my son was born, I decided that didn’t want to continue using the name “Kay” after all, it meant nothing either in Greek or English so I reverted to “Hollier”, from my mother’s side. Over the years I had done lots of work on the family history and felt close to them.
I discovered that the family is quite ancient, first being mentioned in France during the 14th century. There is a family crest [a dexter hand, holding a fish “in its true colours”] and the name “Hollier” has a meaning… This from a family history website: http://www.ancestry.com/facts/Hollier-family-history.ashx
English and French: occupational name for a brothelkeeper, Middle English, Old French holier, hollier (a dissimilated variant of horier ‘pimp’, agent noun from hore, hure ‘whore’, of Germanic origin). It was probably also used as an abusive nickname.
Is there no escape!