A Student Takes Pride in His Name That Everyone Mispronounces

"From principals butchering my name at graduations to teachers and coaches destroying it in front of classes and teams, I have yet to hear someone pronounce Zgaljardic correctly," writes this teen. 


My name is Thomas Zgaljardic. I have the type of last name people misspell even when they have it in front of them. They take a second, or third, or fourth look before even attempting to pronounce. It’s a name customer service representatives need spelled out in painstaking detail.

From principals butchering my name at graduations to teachers and coaches destroying it in front of classes and teams, I have yet to hear someone pronounce Zgaljardic correctly: Zgal - jar - dic. I have heard it all. Some take a stab at the first few letters, then quit on the rest—Zgalarie, Zgalaric, and Zgaljarjie.

Some view the Z as silent and avoid pronouncing it: Scalgardic, Jardic, Galarie, and Galarjic. And then there are the select few who come close but get lost in between all the exotic letters: Zadaric, Zgaljargic, and Zgajardie.

Oddly, I don’t take offense at the lambasting of my surname. Instead, I see it as not violating my culture, heritage, and identity, but highlighting it.

Everyone knows me as Croatian because of my wacky last name, and I have come to embrace this. If it wasn’t for my name, I don’t think I would represent Croatia as boldly and eagerly as I do. Many Croatians I idolize—including basketball player Dražen Petrović, soccer star Luka Modrić, artist Anka Krizmanić, martial artist Stipe Miočić, football coach Bill Belichick (Biličić), and my grandfather, John Zgaljardic—all enjoy the same ending to their name.

That last part, -, gives me a unique sense of identity. All Croatian names share that ending. The suffix –, when combined with a word, means “child of.” And just as some American last names reference families’ jobs during the 18th century, Croatian names did the same. If a person came from a family of sailors (sailor—mornar), their name would be Mornar-ić (child of a sailor). In some cases, Croatian names also acknowledge the name of a parent. So, if someone’s mom was Ana, their last name could be An-ić (child of Ana).

Delving deeper into the origins of my name, I did some detective work with Google Translate and came to a discovery. Minus the -ić, my last name is the word Zgaljar. In Croatian, that means “scorcher.” So, I believed my ancestors had worked with fire, whether that had been burning things, putting them out as firefighters, or starting them for others.

I decided to consult my grandfather. And then, my nono stunned me by telling me that his last name was not Zgaljardic when he was born. Yet, after I thought about how Croatia did not become an independent nation till 1991, it made sense that his name had changed (more than once).

My nono’s last name at birth was Galiari. He proved this to me by showing me physical building plans from 1942 that his grandfather had designed, with his name—Galiari—on them.

Regarding Galiari, my nono told me it was a Slavic name that the Austro-Hungarian Empire (better known as Austria-Hungary) gave to his family. Austria-Hungary was a monarchy from 1867 to 1918 that comprised modern-day Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bosnia, Croatia, and certain parts of Poland, Romania, Italy, Ukraine, Moldova, Serbia, and Montenegro.

Before the empire, our family’s name was Sgagliardich, my nono said, explaining that with each new government came a distinct name somewhat influenced by the one prior. Sgagliardich was my great-great-great-grandfather’s last name, and it had origins well into the Venetian Period (1386–1797).

In 1947, the name changed again when Croatia, then under Italian rule, became part of Yugoslavia. It went from Galiari to Žgaljardić. And finally, when my nono immigrated to the United States, it had a minor evolution from Žgaljardić to Zgaljardic, because the United States forbade any kind of accent mark on legal records. The reason? U.S. computer systems were not advanced enough to handle them. (Fun fact: California and seven other states still do not allow accents in names on legal records.)

Since learning so much about my name, I’ve embraced it all the more. Frankly, I love everything that comes with my scorching last name—the rich history, peculiar spelling, and failed pronunciations—and I will take pride in passing it on to future generations.

Thomas Zgaljardic is a freshman at Hofstra University and will transfer to Cornell University next year.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing