Eight Questions You Would Ask If I Told You My Name

An imaginary—but also all-too-real—conversation

Cast of Characters:
Turkish Chorus

Setting: anywhere in the United States, at any point from my arrival in 1975 to the day I die.

Director’s Note: Variations have been included so as to allow the actor playing You a certain amount of free will, but the audience will quickly notice that the actors playing You show little inclination to improvise. The audience should have the sense that You has never been in this play before, but Me . . . well, Me has been in this play many times and is trying not to be a jerk about it, but she kind of is. When Me speaks directly to the audience, You should appear not to be listening. The Turkish Chorus should bear a close resemblance to a Greek Chorus; the only difference is their insistence that they are not Greek.

Question 1

You:   Come again?

Me:   [slowly, with slight American accent] Aye-sha Pah-pot-yah Boo-jock.

Chorus: [corrects pronunciation] Ayşe Papatya Bucak.

Question 1, Variation A

You:   Spell it.

Me:   I go by Papatya. It’s like papaya, but with a T.

You:   But where does the T go?

Question 1, Variation B

You, with a “help me” expression on his/her face, remains silent, glances to the right, glances to the left, and makes a lifelong commitment never to call Me by name.

Me:   [to audience] On the first day of class, I force each one of my students to say my name aloud—to them I am Professor Bucak—because, I’ve    learned, they will never address me by name otherwise. I will be Professor . . . [blank]. I have also learned to turn around at the sound of silence that follows a shout down the hall of “Professor!” In fact, whenever I am in a situation in which names are called aloud, mine is the name that follows the pause as the name-caller stares at the paper in his hand, hoping for some kind of phonetic epiphany. It is to their credit that so many people don’t want to mispronounce my name, but I don’t really mind it and would rather they try anyway. It’s possible to have a friendship with someone who never calls you by name, but it always feels like something is missing.

Chorus:  This wouldn’t happen in Turkey.

Me:  I have a huge fondness for people who are unafraid of saying my name. I had a friend, Eric Killough, who, during graduate school, once stood    outside my office door, saying my name quietly, over and over, until I finally noticed and realized I had been hearing it all along, in the background, a soft chant, Papatya Papatya Papatya, and it had been comforting me. Three years later, I had a student who said, “Did you hear me shout your name the other day?” When? “Wednesday afternoon.” Where was I? “I don’t know, but I was outside your house, so I just yelled your name.” And then there was Ron, who said my name nine times in The Art Institute of Chicago as I walked from painting to painting, “like a woman in a movie looking at paintings,” and I never once heard him.

Question 2

You:   Where are you from?

Me:   Philadelphia.

Chorus:  She’s lying.

Me:   [to audience] The truth, which I have never once offered first because it is more fact than truth, is the city of my birth: Istanbul. I answer Philadelphia because it is the city of my upbringing, the city of my American side. And because, sometimes, I like to remind people that while my name is foreign, I am not.

Chorus:  She is.

Me:   [to You] My mom’s American.

Question 2, Variation A

You:   What are you?

Me:   My father is Turkish.

Me:   [to audience] As if I am not.

Me:   [to You] My mom’s American.

Question 2, Variation B

You:   What is that?

Me:   It’s Turkish.

Me:   [to audience] As if I am not.

Me starts to speak but is interrupted by Turkish Chorus.

Chorus:  Her mom’s American.

Question 2, Variation C

You:   Are you [inserts a nationality here]?

Me:   No.

Me:  [to audience] Educated guesses are always of Eastern European derivations. But only Turks get it right. Turks actually don’t ask. They speak to me in Turkish so that the “help me” expression is on my face. Turkey feels like a relative I have heard about but never met and don’t resemble much anyway. I feel more connection with people who go by their middle names than I do with other Turks.

Chorus:  Whose fault is that?

You puts on a fez, says something in Turkish.

Me:  [to You] I’m afraid I’m not a very good Turk; I don’t know much about it.

You looks sad and removes the fez.

Question 3

You:   Do you speak Turkish?

Me:  [staring at shoes] I can count to ten. And say son of a donkey.

Me:  [to audience] I can also say please, thank you, soup, bread, yes, no, good-bye, hello, pizza, ice cream, and monkey. You get the idea. I learned my vocabulary as a toddler and then again in restaurants while traveling with my father. Tellingly, I cannot say book, read, write, or writer. I think in Turkey I would have been someone different.

Chorus:  Do not insult Turkishness, or you will go to jail. Do not refer to the Armenian incident as a genocide, or you will go to jail. Do not become a communist, or you will go to jail. Or maybe be killed.

Me:  [to audience] I don’t think I would have been brave enough to be a writer in Turkey. In Turkey, my mother kept her copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X buried in the closet because it was banned and sometimes the army searched homes. Then again, maybe I would have been angrier, braver in Turkey. Maybe that other Papatya would have been a better writer, more important. When I was a baby, we used to run into James Baldwin in the pastry shop in Istanbul. Maybe that would have meant something.

Question 4

You:   Have you been to Turkey?

Me:   I was born in Istanbul.

Chorus:  The truth will out.

You:   When did you move to the United States?

Me:   I was four.

You:   Have you been back?

Me:   A few times with my father. They love Americans.

Me:  [to audience] They are more confused by Americans with a Turkish name, a Turkish father, and an American face. They want to reclaim me. Or sell me something. One guy wanted my phone number so he could call me when he brought his pregnant wife to the United States on a tourist visa with the intention of having their baby born an American citizen.

Question 5

You:   Do you have family there?

Me:   My grandmother died only recently. And my uncle is still there. And a lot of family I don’t know.

Me:   [to audience] My grandmother didn’t speak English, and my uncle is the kind of crazy where he urinates off the balcony, screams in the night, and once set the apartment, briefly, on fire. He speaks English, German, Turkish, and Latin. But not to me. When I visited, my grandmother and uncle felt like two sites I passed by and took photos of, much like the ruins of Pergamon or Ephesus.

Question 6

You:   What does Papatya mean?

Me:  [reluctantly] “Daisy.”

You:   [joking] Can I call you that?

Me:   No.

Chorus:  Ayşe means “she who must be obeyed.” You could call her that.

Question 7

You:   Do you have a nickname?

Me:  [after a long silence] Yes.

You:   What is it?

Me:   [with a smile] I’m not going to tell you.

Me:  [to the audience] It’s Pops. Where this came from, I don’t recall, but the truth is while nobody I have met since 1999 calls me Pops, all of my  most beloved people—the people whom I know best, who trust me, who know when I am quiet it does not mean I am mad, who have seen me dance, who do not ask me questions, who know they can call me before 9 a.m. but not after 9 p.m., who know me so well I don’t have to explain myself to them—call me Pops. Among those best beloveds, my nickname has bred nicknames: Popoff, Popcorn, Popsicle, Poopsy (thankfully that didn’t last), Poppyseed Bagel, and, briefly, for reasons I cannot explain, Henry David Thoreau. “Pops” used to feel the most me, but she doesn’t really anymore. She feels like who I used to be, a kid.

You:   Can I call you Patty?

Me:   No.

Me: [to audience] Papatya was the name of one of my mother’s students. It was a name she liked and one she could pronounce without an accent. It was supposed to be my first name. Here, somewhere, is a story I should know, but the answer I’ve been given has never really satisfied.

My grandmother was the one to fill out my birth certificate, and she did it backwards, my parents say. Her name, naturally, is Ayşe. But my brother also goes by his middle name, and he is two years older. Does this mean my grandmother made the same mistake twice? Does this mean she was allowed to fill out the paperwork a second time after making the first mistake? Does this mean she did it on purpose, twice? My parents don’t seem to care very much. But sometimes I wonder, would she have been different: Papatya Ayşe Bucak?

Chorus:  Ayşe is the Mother of Believers, the final and favorite wife of the prophet Mohammed.

Me:  [to audience] Ayşe was six when she married Mohammed. Though they didn’t live together until she was fifteen.

Chorus:  Ayşe is one of the great storytellers of Islam.

Me: [to audience] Ayşe is the name I use for official business, with doctors, contractors, termite inspectors, plumbers, and roofers. She is even less me than Papatya is. She is the one who gets shit done.

Question 8

You:   Do you like having an unusual name?

Chorus:  It’s not an unusual name.

Me:   I do like it.

Me:   [to audience] But I feel a sort of weird distance from it that I’m not sure other people feel from their names.

One advantage: people who hear my name always remember me, which for a quiet person is helpful.

When people ask me about my name, I believe I am being honest in denying or at least diminishing my Turkishness. I did not grow up in Turkey, did not grow up knowing any Turks other than my father, do not speak the language, can’t cook the food, don’t practice the religion. The most Turkish thing about me is my name. Which I guess is also why I want to keep it.

Maybe this desire to have my name but not be defined by my name, not to be the exotic flower people so often want me to be, but still to be
different, maybe that’s how I evolved into who I am. And maybe this detachment from part of my self is part of being a writer—maybe that’s how I evolved into what I am.

Maybe the other Papatya, the one raised in Turkey with an American mother, would have been more talkative; maybe Pops, who clung to her childhood nickname into middle age, would have three children and teach kindergarten; maybe Ayşe, who insisted people use her first name after all, would be richer. But if I were to name me, I’d have to be Papatya: an ordinary daisy with an unusual name, a Turk who doesn’t feel Turkish, an American who isn’t only American, a writer who likes to ask questions but not to answer them.

About the Author

Ayşe Papatya Bucak

Ayşe Papatya Bucak teaches in the MFA program at Florida Atlantic University. Her prose has appeared in a variety of journals including Brevity, Witness, and The Iowa Review, and her short fiction has been awarded the O.Henry

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