Things were complicated in 1946. Most of the infrastructure in the Dock area of London, where my parents lived, was destroyed and hospitals were either non-functioning or full up. Just imagine thousands of men returning from war service arriving home to their wives or girlfriends. They got married, which my dad did (on the right of the picture), and their wives became birth machines, to make up for lost time. I am the Yul Bryner lookalike in my mum’s arms.
Due to this situation my mum (in photo in the middle) was sent out of London to a very nice village called Hitchin, where the Mile End Maternity Hospital had requisitioned space in their hospital for the mothers-to-be. She had to wait two weeks until I arrived and lived in a home with other pregnant women and said it was quite fun. The women often met in town and had a chat together. Unfortunately they were the cause of a blockage on the pavement. Just imagine about 10 pregnant women, ready to drop any day, forming a group. Other pedestrians had to make a circle around them. They just took up too much space. In the meanwhile dad was all on his own living with his in-laws, and paid mum a visit at the week-end.
So they were the circumstances I was born into. Dad away, mum staying in a home and no-one knitting awaiting my arrival.
Then one day I decided this state of affairs must end, so I gave a few kicks and there I was. Then the next problem arose. I had to have a name. I never had a problem with my kids, it was all thought out as soon as they started kicking around, but with mum it was a bit different. She was probably so preoccupied with not seeing dad, and living somewhere strange, that a name was something she never really thought much about.
One day the registrar arrived at her hospital bed and asked what the name of her daughter was to be. Mum and dad were sure they wanted a Maureen. However, in that crucial moment when the registrar was poised with his pen, mum said Patricia. She will be a Patricia. Ok, I had no say at the time, Maureen or Patricia was all the same to me, as long as the milk bottle was available.
It seems that my grandmother, mum’s mum, liked the name Patricia. So at the last minute I became a Patricia. Not enough with this complicated name, mum added an Ann to it (note without an “e” at the end). So there I was Patricia Ann Relf. Relf was a problem on its own. It has been spelt as Rolf. Rolph, or Relph, but the simplest spelling “Relf” seemed to be the most complicated for some. If you try to trace your ancestors in a genealogy site, you have problems, it being spelt in many different ways over the centuries.
Dad arrived for a visit after hearing that his long awaited heir had arrived. OK, I did not do him the favour of being a son, but I do not think he really cared eventually. The next problem was getting me home. Unfortunately I chose 6th December to make my debut. This was not a good time. We did not have a car and mum and dad, complete with a week old baby, had to take a long train journey to get home. We arrived at a central station in London and dad wanted to take a taxi: no deal. It was after the war, everything was upside down, and mum told me the taxi drivers were only interested in taking American GI’s as good payers in their taxis. I do not know whether this was a good story, or whether it was true. I do know that dad’s patience was gradually exhausted, mum was not too good and probably I was screaming my lungs out. Dad almost got into a fight with a taxi driver. No-one told me how it ended, but eventually they got me home.
Back to the name: Patricia very quickly became a Pat. I cannot remember anyone calling me Patricia, although my dad’s mum, grandmother Relf, always called me Patsy. I think there was something about “little Patsy” but when they all realised I was growing fast and was the tallest kid in the street, the little was dropped. Ann was a problem. I always had to tell people it was without an “e”. If mum had called my Anne I would probably have had to tell everyone “with an “e”” so one way or the other, it was complicated.
You think it was now settled? Not really; twenty years later I arrived in the German speaking part of Switzerland. The “c” became a “z” meaning that I was now a Patrizia as the Swiss Germans had problems pronouncing the “cia” bit. No-one seemed to shorten the name in the German language, Pat being something less known. So now everyone was calling me Patrizia.
I married a Swiss with a French name, which I have problems to pronounce correctly, so things just got more complicated eventually. I definitely made sure my two sons had names which could be pronounced in English as well as German with no difficulty.
And just to add, no, I would not rename myself. Official correspondence in Switzerland was often addressed to the wife using her maiden name as “Mrs. Gerber-Relf” I my case, and that is ok with me. We Relfs are few and far between. Gerber is a name that forms the population of some villages, especially in the Emmental, where our Gerber branch originates. I am proud to be a Pat Gerber-Relf in Facebook and that is enough. After all, what is in a name?