Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What's in a Name

Hi, bet you were expecting Yrsa Sigurdardöttir. So was I, up until two days ago. But you’re getting another Sigur… slightly different spelling, the “u” is gone, an “e” is added, the rest is missing, and no one seems able to pronounce either name correctly. You think I’m kidding? Say Siger out loud. Wrong, I can tell. The only ones likely to get it right either grew up with me in Pittsburgh or knew me from my life as New York City lawyer, though come to think of it I’m sure some had other names for me. My last name is pronounced “Tiger,” except with an “S” instead of a “T.” Now try Sigurdardöttir. Sorry, couldn’t quite hear you.

Once reason prevailed, and I moved to Mykonos to live and write, my last name was rarely mispronounced. That’s because last names aren’t used in normal conversation. There are so few last names and so many identical first ones (Niko, Mihali, Andreas, Zanni—you get the idea) that it doesn’t help much to say both names. Instead it’s “Andreas with the Tourlos hotel,” “Zanni the fisherman,” or, more often, family nicknames. If you say Niko Nazos or Mihali Apostolou you get a blank stare, but say kremidhas or skordho (onions or garlic, respectively), you get nods of acknowledgment.

How Mykonian nicknames came to be is a story in itself, especially the ones unlikely to clear a censor. But that’s for another time. After all, I must save some material for later.

You see, I’m the new kid on the block, deeply honored at the invitation of the extraordinary writers and individuals who created MIE to be its Saturday blogger. Fate has me pitching in for Yrsa today, allowing me to make rookie mistakes in her slot, but come Saturday it will be all Greek to me—and hopefully not, as Greeks say, “all Chinese to you.” But that, too, is another topic.

I’m writing this as I sit by the old Mykonos harbor on the first day of a new month; so I wish each of you the traditional kalo mina, have a good month. For Mykonians, the first week of this November is shaping up to be an interesting one. The tourist season’s tsumani-like influx of visitors has ended, the locals are back to their traditional island ways, more are getting to sleep at ten at night rather than ten in the morning, and politicians are hovering like...uhh…bees. Yes, it’s local election time in Greece.

In tavernas and coffee shops around the old port politicians are struggling this morning for attention against a local fisherman’s huge catch, a fifty kilo vlahos (Goliath grouper to some), and the fisherman is conducting a take-most-of-the-morning bidding for his prize. A local taverna owner is likely to buy it, and end up making customers of all those who saw such promise in that unusual catch. It will be interesting to see if after trying it they think all the fuss was worth it.

Which nicely segues back into the election this Sunday. It’s for mayor of Mykonos, and though most locals agree it looms as a watershed event for the future of the island, tourists are unlikely to notice a difference no matter who wins. The practical immediate impact is that for this week the town’s lanes are swept clean twice a day (even of political fliers), and roads that hadn’t seen asphalt since the last mayoral election four years ago are getting a new face.

That reminds me of my first trip to Greece, some thirty years ago. My friend was taking great care to show how modern Greeks paid homage to their ancient past by naming many things after the Greek gods. She pointed out names—Hermes for a hotel, Eros for a bar, Dionysus for a shop—and patiently explained the role played by each god in myth. Trying to impress her with my ability to read Greek signs, I pointed to one up ahead and asked, “And which deity does that represent?” Without missing a beat or cracking a smile she said, “That would be our Greek god of road repair, ‘Potholes ahead.’”

And that should give you a pretty good idea why so many of my Greek friends struggle to spare their native tongue from mine by leaping into English whenever we communicate.  But that has yielded unexpected benefits for my mystery writing. My books touch upon issues confronting contemporary Greece and when I’m interviewing people “in the know,” whose English is not good enough to conceal the meaning of their words, I get the unvarnished truth.

Even though I’m a fiction writer, I’ll try passing along the same to you.  See you Saturday. Yia sas.

Oh, by the way, for those of you who might like to hear my name mispronounced LIVE I will be interviewed on TALK RADIO EUROPE tomorrow, Thursday, November 4, at 2:45 PM Central European Time (9:45 AM New York Time, 3:45 PM Athens Time), by Hannah Murray for the weekly book segment of her daily magazine show. It streams live on the Internet at

Jeff for Yrsa — Wednesday


  1. I just learned that the time for my TALK RADIO EUROPE interview tomorrow (Thursday) has been changed to 2:45-2:55 PM Central European Time which is 9:45-9:55 AM ET (New York time) and 3:45-3:55 PM (Athens Time.



  3. Jeff, I look forward to your posts on Murder is Everywhere.

    The local elections on Mykonos cannot be nearly as annoying as the ones we suffered through yesterday. No one pretended to be civil; discourse was long on insult and short on thought, plan, and possibilities.

    Telephone service in parts of New England crashed because of the robo-calls that made a lot of older people believe that they younger ones are really on to something by not having land lines.

    We could have used something to talk about, like a big fish.

    It must be lovely to look at blue, blue water all the time. I live near the Atlantic Ocean but for most of the year it reflects the sky, cold and gray.


  4. Hi Beth,

    Believe me the only reason elections here are not as annoying is because everything is happening in Greek!

    As for the Aegean, yes that's a definite plus but it's getting toward the time of year where the sun is so low in the sky that it's more gun metal gray than azure (always wanted to use that word, would never dare my books:)).

    Thanks, Beth, and efharisto poli ekaterini mou.


  5. Welcome aboard, Jeff! I'm looking forward to reading about your neck of the woods. Stan

  6. Jeff manages to capture the true colors of Greece in his books and new MIE blog, while sharing abit of his own colorful self with us. Sinharitirio! Barbara,a great fan.

  7. YRSA!

    I've been busy lately and just checked MIE for the first time this week. Love the new Siger persona you've invented. Can't wait to see what you do with it.


  8. Jeff: After reading your most recent (Jan 28, 2017) post, being high and dry, in which you posted your first regular Saturday post, which had a link to your FIRST post (this one), I had to, of course, travel back in time to read it. Imagine my amazement that it was posted Nov 3rd, and then to read that you're WRITTEN it two days earlier, Nov 1st... on my birthday.

    I guess it was always kismet and karma that I would eventually track you down and harass you endlessly. :-)

    1. Yes, EvKa time traveler, fate can be a nasty trickster. :)