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Canalside Chronicles

The Student News Site of Canalside Chronicles

Canalside Chronicles

The Student News Site of Canalside Chronicles

Canalside Chronicles

A second chance
May 7, 2024

    The power of a name

    By Lucy Crounse

    Lean-a Tur-jay? Tarjay? Targe? Tair-aj?

    Lena Turaj has been hearing her name mispronounced her whole life. Teaching people how to say her name correctly has been a constant struggle for the SUNY Brockport freshman, who has had to balance her rich Polish heritage with her upbringing in Central N.Y. This struggle often made her an outsider in the only place she’s ever called home.

    “There was one Pakistani family and one family from Honduras [in my hometown],” Turaj said. “I had it a little easier because I’m white and you wouldn’t know my parents are immigrants, but sometimes people would be weird to me or say things about my family having funny names.”

    The Turaj children on Lena’s high school graduation day, June 25, 2023. From left, Brandon (17), Nadia (12), Zoey (16), Lena (18), Maya (16), Kai (13). (Contributed Photo)

    Ter-ja?

    In Oswego, the Turaj family are the minority. Only 2.8% of people there are foreign-born, compared to 22% in New York State as a whole, according to 2020 Census data. Turaj’s parents, Kaisa and Daniel, immigrated to the United States in the early 2000s. The two had been family friends growing up, moved to the United States separately, then married and settled in Oswego, N.Y.

    “[Poland] is very conservative and very, very Catholic,” Turaj said. “My parents don’t talk about it much, but I know they had kind of rough childhoods. In their families, they were both the first to leave Poland.”

    Too-raj?

    Mispronunciations were commonplace in high school; teachers not bothering to get her name right, substitutes pausing when they see it on the attendance sheet, classmates butchering it for years. Overtime, Turaj became jaded from the constant reminders to people to get it right.

    “Once you know how to say it it’s not that hard,” Turaj said. “My school is small and these are people I’ve known forever, it’s obviously frustrating, and after a while I kind of gave up.”

    Turaj playing soccer in Fall 2022. She attended Hannibal High School, in a suburb of Oswego. (Katarzyna Gonciarz)

    Terge? 

    Coming to Brockport has given Turaj a new perspective. A stark difference from her hometown made up almost entirely of native English speakers, being in college has opened her eyes and connected her to people with common experiences. In her first year, she found a second home. 

    Turaj in her freshman year media day photos. She has found her place at Brockport as a member of the women’s soccer team. (Katie Wilson/Brockport Athletics)

    “Sometimes when I hear people on campus or around town speaking a different language it makes me feel more comfortable,” Turaj said. “I haven’t heard any Polish, but it does make me feel good knowing there are a lot of people from a lot of different places.”

    From Oswego to Brockport and beyond, Turaj carries her Polish heritage with her, celebrating her family’s journey and her name. 

    Lehn-a Tur-AW-j. 

    Turaj giving the English pronunciation of her name.
    Turaj giving the traditional Polish pronunciation.
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