The Name Game

  • By John Antonik
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  • April 09, 2014 03:29 PM
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The only thing tougher than blocking WVU linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski is spelling his name right.
All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo
Do you remember the old “I before E, except after C” rule that we were all taught in grammar school? Well, that sometimes comes to mind whenever I think of West Virginia University junior linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski.
Let’s face it, Kwiatkoski is not the easiest surname to get right, but it clearly pales in comparison to junior volleyball player Anna Panagiotakopoulos, or “Anna P” to just about everyone who knows her.
Imagine the look of horror on the face of the opposing public address announcer whenever he or she looks at the West Virginia volleyball roster once they get to the Ps.
P-A-N-A-G-I-O-T-A-K-O-P-O-U-L-O-S … that’s 17 letters worth of fun right there.
Think about it, Anna can use just half of the letters in her last name for a password and never has to worry about identity theft.
“I always get this every time we go somewhere: ‘We’ve got to talk,’” laughed WVU sports information graduate assistant Nick Arthur. “They will say, ‘there’s one name we’ve got to talk about.’”
Even after Arthur goes over her name thoroughly and it looks like they’ve got it down pat, they always seem to come back a second or third time just to make sure.
Arthur says it’s impossible to include Panagiotakopoulos in column tabs when he does the volleyball roster. Panagiatakopoulos is the equivalent to the A-Bomb for column tabs.
For the record, it’s PANA-YODA-KO-PAH-LUS, and just to make her even more interesting, her first name is pronounced AUH-NA, not Anna.
Anna can play some volleyball now, and I hope she becomes famous one day and hangs on to her last name – just to keep all those aspiring and established journalists on their toes. If she marries a Schwarzenegger and keeps her last name, it would be Anna Panagiotakopoulos-Schwarzenegger.
Try fitting that on your driver’s license!
For me, I always struggled with Chris Neild. For some reason I used to switch the I and the E and spell it Nield – that is until the emails began rolling in kindly reminding me that I was butchering the last name of West Virginia’s best defensive lineman.
Some others I’ve had problems with include: Contraguerro, Meighan (the G is silent just like the C in rock, says Billy Madison), Eliopulos, Krawchyk, Kucherawy, and, my good friend from Pittsburgh, Sam Sciullo, Jr. (I had the U and the I reversed for the longest time until an editor for one of my books Googled Sam’s last name and noticed that I was spelling it incorrectly).
It took me until Deniz Kilicli was about a junior at WVU to comfortably get his last name right (now I can spell it in my sleep or even backwards: I-L-C-I-L-I-K, just like ORTSAC, once the code name for the U.S. military’s planned invasion of Castro’s Cuba). Every once in a while I will still forget one of the Ds in Jedd or mess up the R in Gyorko, which says a lot about me since there are only six letters that you need to get right to spell Gyorko correctly.
And that brings us back to Mr. I-before-A Nick Kwiatkoski, who doesn’t even have the most difficult name on this year’s football team. Not even by a long shot.
That distinction goes to sophomore defensive lineman Noble Nwachukwu. I heard at least seven different versions of Nwachukwu from the poor PA announcer calling out the names of the players during West Virginia’s scrimmage last week down in Charleston. Unfortunately, he had eight different versions of Noble’s last name coming at him from the sportswriters sitting in the press box that afternoon.
For the record, it used to be watch-a-Chu-ku in last year’s media guide before being updated to WAH-chew-COO this year, or simply Mr. Noble for the mentally challenged such as myself.
Coming in a close second to Mr. Noble is sophomore defensive back Nana Twum  (Chume) Agiyre (A-jeer-E) from Chevy Chase, Md., followed by Ohio defensive back Nana Kyeremeh (KY-rum) and sophomore punter Houstin Syvertson (SEE-vert-son) from Shady Spring, W.Va.
For years, the Mountaineer football players used to perform skits at the conclusion of fall training camp called The Gong Show as a way to bond and get to know each other a little better. That practice ended with the late Bill Stewart, but if Dana Holgorsen ever wanted to revive it he could start by having a spelling bee with some of his players’ last names.
Talk about having some fun.
I know a little bit about what I write because I, too, possess a challenging last name: Antonik.
When my grandfather crossed the Big Pond some time in the early 1900s, my last name had more vowels than the longest Wheel of Fortune phrase.
To “Americanize” it, somebody in the family decided to whack off some As, Is and Ys and what they ended up with was Antonik, or An-TONE-ick to most of my relatives.
Others, such as my older brother, a handful of rogue cousins, my high school football coach and Bubba Schmidt - our veteran equipment manager here at WVU - pronounce it An-ta-NICK.
I don’t have a problem either way, telling those who are kind enough to ask that I consider my last name to be pretty versatile. An-TONE-ick or An-ta-NICK works just fine for me.
But then there are those who pronounce it An-TONIC to rhyme with Gin & Tonic. Those people can just call me John.
Enjoy your week!