What’s Your Name, Little Girl? or An Ode to Ilo
My given name at birth was Ilona Pistey, which makes me cringe and always evokes visions of chubby Eastern European women in babushkas–you know the ones that are like a hundred years old and look like those dolls made with dehydrated apple faces. It’s possible I married young in order to change my legal last name without too much hassle.
On a personal level, I inherited my first name from my father’s Slovak born mother, a skinny but sturdy Eastern European woman who wore a babushka, spoke broken English, and kept herself busy well into her eighties pruning fruit trees and making chicken soup.
I learned early in life to answer to anything that vaguely resembled my actual name. While the Eastern European pronunciation of Ilona is ee lon ah, it is not unusual for people to pronounce it as eye lo nah, a lo nah, ah lo nah, ill lo nah, duh lo nah, WTF ever lo nah, to which I generally respond “yea, that’s me.”
There has been so much confusion over the years as to the pronunciation of my unusual name that I don’t even know how to pronounce it anymore. I read a number of years ago that the correct way to say it is ill lon ah, but my father’s family usually called me ee lon ah. It doesn’t seem to matter what I tell people when they ask me how it’s pronounced, they almost always resort to uh lo nah, as in “do you want to be alone-ah?” wink wink, usually by creepy old guys who think they’re cute, especially after I respond back with my dazzling (phony) smile. I often drop the first syllable and tell people to call me Lona, which is what my immediate family and old friends know me as, but that generally elicits a “Can you loan-ah me some money?” response, again from the creepy old guys. I guess it’s kind of clever if you haven’t put up with that shit for like a half century already.
Evidently, Ilona is a common Eastern European name, especially in Hungary, where it is credited to be the name of the Queen of Fairies in Magyar folklore. It is also believed to be a variant of the Greek name Helen, as in the goddess of beauty, hence the common translation for Ilona–beautiful. My Daddy thought so too. In Finland, Ilona is the same name as Joy is in English, from the Finnish word for joy–ilo, so Ilona means “she who brings joy.” I really dig these translations for my name, I just wish it wasn’t such a brain and tongue twister here in the western world.
Throughout history, there have been a number of important Ilona people. I’m not one of them, so don’t get excited thinking you have stumbled onto the blog of someone famous. In the 20th century, there were a number or European born actresses and athletes, and there are currently two singers, one Czech and one Colombian, with the name Ilona. My favorite historical figure with the name is Ilona Zrinyl, a seventeenth century Croatian countess who reportedly defended Palanok Castle from the Hapsburgs for three years. According to Wikipedia:
From her childhood she was known for her beauty and good education. There is little information on her schooling; it is known though that she acquired a high level of knowledge within her family, not only from her father and mother, Croatian writers and erudite persons, but from her uncle Nikola Zrinski as well.¹
Sound familiar? No, I guess not. Although, I could, under the right circumstances, be described as erudite…at least by today’s standards.
I guess it’s kind of cool having an unusual name despite the “HUNH?” response it elicits from the general public. It kind of sets me apart–like my knowledge and beauty and erudite sensibilities. It could be worse. It could translate into something like Ogre or Witch or Fat Ass. I think it actually does to several of my older brothers.
And while there are certainly simpler names, like Kim, which seems to have a common universal pronunciation, Ilona is unique, with a lovely meaning and a fine pedigree, and would make a fine name choice for someone’s next baby girl. No need to ask–of course you can, I would be honored. No, thank you!
I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a whole slew of Ilona babies in the next couple of years. And by all means, post photos!
©2017 by Ilona Elliott