Recently I had the good fortune to meet a distant cousin. Her maternal great-grandfather and my paternal great-grandfather were brothers. And all this time she’s lived about 5 miles from me. Talk about a small world.
That part of the family comes from France, and as we talked over lunch, a few things struck me. In the space of one generation, not only did my branch of the family tree completely change languages, but we also altered the way our family name is pronounced.
The language thing makes sense. Of course you’re going to adopt the language of the country in which you live. And even if you don’t or can’t, your children surely will. It’s inevitable.
But the name pronunciation change intrigues me. Why did that happen? Did some relative simply get tired of correcting people? Or perhaps it was an effort to try to seem less foreign, or try to fit in. How long did it take before the new pronunciation started to feel normal? I wonder.
Another thing that really hit home for me as I bid my newfound cousin adieu was the very miracle that any of us become who we are. Think about it. If some distant relative decided to say home instead of going to that dance where he met his future wife, a whole branch of the human family would not exist. If grandma had turned left instead of right on a fateful day, she would have never met grandpa. If some ancient ancestor had been attacked by a saber-toothed tiger, poof! Your whole family history would be history.
We are all a product of centuries of pure coincidence. Yes, each generation slightly alters the path on which your family treads, but hundreds of people had to survive and meet to make you who you are today. What a gift!