Perks and pests in one last name
December 29, 2007
There’s good and there’s bad, but one thing about a last name like mine is that I know how to spell it, unlike a preponderance of other people. Whoever heard of putting a “u” in such a name, particularly if it isn’t needed?
Actually, the name comes from France, which, of course, makes the “u” absolutely self-explanatory. Yeah, I know, many of the old-timers around here came from Aosta, Italy, which is where my family came from, as well, and most of the non-Italian pioneers called us “wops” or “dagos,” but they didn’t really know the whole story. The area around Aosta used to belong to France, but by the time Napoleon got done, it ended up being Italian.
It’s not a big deal, but when I call Canada to make heli-skiing reservations, I always give them the French pronunciation of my last name, otherwise they think I’m speaking a foreign language and I have to spell it for them. It’s just one of life’s little perquisites ” being immediately recognized by those familiar with the French language ” “Bienvenu, Monsieur Vagneur.” That’s about where the perks end.
In my job as an Aspen Mountain ambassador, I’m required to wear a name tag and therefore have had people (always Americans, of various descent) explain to me the many errors in my surname. It should start with a “W,” is the most common, although many say the “u” should have been dropped many generations ago, or the “u” should come immediately after the “a.” I should have known all that, I reckon.
It is a rare surname, so rare in fact, that it is safe to say that every Vagneur in the U.S. is of the blood of my great-grandfather, with the exception of those by marriage. Most of us live around here ” 20 to 30 in number ” many of us fun-loving men, and more than once women have accused or thanked me for late-night assignations I did or didn’t participate in. I’m sure there are some who’d like to distance themselves from the clan, but there isn’t much confusion about who’s in the family and who isn’t.
We’ve been around Aspen for five, maybe six generations, and that kind of longevity in a small town opens one up to charges of inbreeding. It’s likely that only an inbred, uncouth person of dubious manners would have enough brass in his testicles to make such an accusation, but it does happen from time to time. I used to vigorously deny such far-fetched imputations, but have come to realize that the easiest way to deal with such moronic reproachments is to say, “Well, of course we are,” followed by some ingenious remark like, “Don’t you have any sisters?”
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On a New Year’s Eve, not that long ago, I was driving by the airport at dusk, with my emergency flashers on because my tail lights weren’t working. A blatant invitation to any cop in the area to stop me, and as I handed my driver’s license to the state patrolman, he demanded that I get out of the vehicle. As soon as I stood up, he slammed me up against the side of my truck, a satisfied grunt in his voice as he said, “I got you now, you son-of-a-bitch.” It’s not good to fly off the handle at a cop, but I was tempted. He cuffed me and then as he examined my license one more time, there was a look of, “Oh, my God, there’s more than one of you in the valley.” A new guy on the force, I guess. He couldn’t have been nicer after that, and volunteered to escort me to my destination. Turns out, one of my cousins had escaped the hapless officer in a different locale and the state bull was (understandably) anxious to run into him again.
Like I said, sometimes it’s good to have a rare last name, and sometimes it isn’t.
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