My maiden name is Orlowski. A nice Polish name. Unfortunately, in my family the name has a sordid history.
I never met my great-grandfather. I heard a few stories about him being really weird. There was professional alligator wrestling at one point. But I never really asked questions. Until they started going through my great-grandmother’s things. And then we learned the terrible tale.
Apparently my great-grandfather was born a Jew with the last name Olesky. He fought in World War II with the American soldiers. Something happened. It was a terrible war, so who knows what exactly it was. When he came home he left his Jewish wife and children, converted to Catholicism, and changed his last name to Orlowski. He married my great-grandmother, and we never knew anything about it.
I was at summer camp when we found out that my great-grandparents had never been legally married, since my great-grandfather had never divorced his first wife. He just up and left, leaving that family with what I can only imagine to be severe abandonment issues. I had a friend at camp whose last name was Olesky. I told him the story and about how my family was trying to contact the other family to tell them what had happened to their father. He told me it was strange, someone had just called his family to tell them about his great-grandfather who had left his wife and kids right after World War II. I had found my third cousin. Weird right? I had a bit of a melt down and couldn’t figure out if I should change my last name to Olesky and convert to Judaism. But being thirteen I wasn’t allowed to change my name. And Hebrew is hard, so the identity crisis eventually passed.
If you’d like to know why O’Russell is my fancy pen name, check out the post on my author’s blog at http://meganorussell.com.