Oh, so you speak Russian, right?

sonjaSonja Racquel Bradley,
Flagler Beach, FL.

When I was a child, I confess that I hated my name. Of all the ‘s’ names my parents could have picked, why this one? Why not Sabrina, or Sasha? At the very least, they could have utilized the “normal, American” way of spelling it: Sonia or Sonya. But as they have told me, time and again, they thought the traditional Russian spelling was prettier. “Like Sonja Henning!” they’d say, except no one under 30 knows who the Norwegian figure skater and one-time actress is, except me. All of this wouldn’t be so bad, it really wouldn’t, if people wouldn’t make such a big deal out of it. Instead, it’s been a long parade of mispronunciations, misspellings, and an inability to ever find a personalized mug or key chain while on vacation. On the first day of any and all classes I’ve ever attended, the following question: “Is Sewn-ja (or Sun-ja) Bradley here?” This situation always gets weirder when people find out my “origin story”. Mom and Dad were away on their first vacation alone, without my then 3 year old sister, and Mom forgot her pills. Not too weird, right? Except they were in Moscow, Russia, and though they have denied this up and down for years, I just know they thought it would be adorable to give their newly conceived daughter a Russian name. Once people find this out, the first question they always ask: “Do you speak Russian?” Mind you, I was conceived in a foreign country, I wasn’t BORN there. I don’t even have Russian ancestry. I’m German, English, Scottish, Irish, Polish, Italian – basically a whole lot of dead white dudes. This is such an oddly specific inquiry, and asked so often, along with the following comment: “I thought you’re name was Stephanie or something. You don’t look like a ‘Sonja'”. Which always leads me back to, what is a “Sonja” supposed to look like? Should I be darker? Taller? Thinner? A different shaped face? What is it about me that makes me look like someone else?

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