What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stranger

A Rose by Any Other Name August 21, 2013

Filed under: Tales of Humanity's Imperfections — meganorussell @ 10:00 am
Tags: , , , , ,

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


5 Responses to “A Rose by Any Other Name”

  1. BAMHappy Says:

    Megan – great stuff! I love seeing your posts hit my inbox. You’re a hoot, young lady – Margaret

  2. strawberryquicksand Says:

    My aunt’s last name is Sebka. It was actually Schevek (probably spelled differently to that) but when her husband’s family came out to Australia in the 1950s or 60s (can you tell I’m sooo up on my family history) the arrogantly ingnorant obtuse dum dum who was posing as a border official decided that Schevek was too hard and simply wrote Sebka down instead. Thus the Scheveks were now Sebkas.

    Pretty wow about you finding a third cousin, just like that, though! Do you still keep in touch?

  3. rockettattoo Says:

    the world indeed is smaller than we think. When my wife and I had our wedding rehearsal dinner (you can read about the shenanigans on my other blog here: ) and it was only then by her parents talking with my mom’s then boyfriend (now husband) they rented a farm house from him and he remembered my wife when she was just a red haired baby.

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