What’s in a Name?

In my case, quite a mouthful. I used to have a page up explaining my name and its pronunciation, but that’s been gone a while. So let me try and explain it here with a little humor.  . . . And yes, this is my real, legal genuine name. It is not a pen name despite what some say or insinuate.

It is pronounced Geeyawn Kwuhsahr, but few pronounce it properly and I am used to John Quasar. Gian is simply Italian for Jan or Latin Janus. In Europe Jan is a man’s name. The female form would be Gianna. In Italian it is pronounced similar to John. Janus is the god of beginnings. Hence January is the first month.

It is no secret my ancestral name is von Granichen of the Stuarts/Stuardi/Schaffners of Granichen. Some use the full Stuart von Granichen; some, especially primogeniture, use von Granichen.  It is Swiss. Very Swiss. My Opa was the third son, and after an indiscretion (the substance of which is quite confused) came to American in 1922 on the Berengaria. I’d like to think he killed a man in a duel. It’s the romantic in me.

In any case, he dropped his surname and assumed another. I have my ancestral name appended on some social or business sites, though I’m really not that active on the web in such a way.


Opa quietly failed to inform his wife of his origins. Nevertheless, Oma became suspicious of her husband’s background. He was University educated, spoke all the lingua, and even went to Catholic school when young, though not Catholic. To Oma, that spelled money or a chateau. In 1961 while visiting family in Europe she dropped by Bern in Switzerland. Bern is the center of all international post. She figured the mails could trace anybody. She had a picture of him when young. A beamter was patient enough to listen to her. The town he had been born in was small. By a coincidence the Post Secretary himself had been born there. Oma importuned the Post Secretary of Bern. He came out and looked at the picture.  Opa had used the name “Harry” in America. The Post Secretary declared “That’s my little brother Albert!” After 40 years they found out what happened to their little brother. Oma’s little Prussian toes curled.

Swiss are suspicious of the Germans, and Oma could be very German. “Prussian, dahlinks.” She spoke English like a sophisticated Brit and looked like the Queen Mother on parade. Naturally they were kind to her, but like all Swiss a bit aloof. After all, was this really their long lost brother’s wife? If so, Bertie hadn’t seen fit to tell her anything.

Moreover, this was not a convenient year. Aside from my Great Uncle, Karl Albert, being well posed in the Swiss Post, their cousin had just been elected to the Bundesrat itself– the 7 who govern Switzerland. In the year I was born Hans Schaffner von Granichen would be president. He was not your average Swiss president. He had been an economic influence that kept the Nazis out of Switzerland during the war. He was also father of the EFTA in the late 1950s. Soon he would be president. They would eventually name a cake after him. That’s fame! Forget marble busts. Desserts are the way to go. You’ll never be forgotten. Bad time to say, “Guess whose wife is here but she knows nothing of the family. Bertie also uses a different name.” What indeed to make of that? Just be polite and aloof.

President Hans on the left, during some political/economic meeting
President Hans on the left, during some political/economic meeting

Oma returned and laid out Opa’s real name on him. Boy, did he have to be nice to her! My father was 28 years old when he found out his father’s name. When I was born several years later the history and connections and my real surname were often repeated to me.

Arriving for the big tado!
Arriving for the big tado!

My family’s origins on the male side are from the Aagau, near the ancient capitol of Arau  They did everything with cattle– ranchers, butchers, the vets, and I’m sure they even profited off the other end as well. There was one who went off and fought for Napoleon. But we don’t talk about him. I think there’s a book out that proves Napoleon never existed. Anyway, when you have land and cattle what is the next step? Politics! Thus both locally and Federally my family moved into law and policy.

Why didn’t I retake my ancestral name in America? Well, considering what I investigate I didn’t want any confusion with Erik von Daniken, also Swiss. The names are similarly pronounced, but we have very different approaches to investigating piquing mysteries. How about just the Stuart? Gian Stuart = boring.

Surnames on my mother’s Swiss side are all dynastic. Law does not allow anyone to take a dynastic surname, even those descended of those dynasties unless they are born to that name by direct male line.  And all the dynasties carry unique names– von Porta, von Salis-Soglio, von Planta. These 3 dynasties were the power in the Grisons since recorded history. The Court of Milan catered to them, as did the Republic of Genoa. The Holy Roman Emperor, being Swiss, was well aware of the power of the families that held the Alpine passes, and equally aware of his need to hold northern Italy and Rome to keep the Pope in line and maintain his legitimacy as Roman emperor. Through the von Porta, who were always the big “in” with Milan, I descend of Lombards and Genovese with equally unique and verboten surnames.

Needless to say I’m stuck with my name.

The Swiss are a little mysterious to themselves. The Irish tell me I am the pure Celt. I know I’m not, though I think when an old inscription is found in Switzerland a Welshman is called to translate it. The nobles were also essentially German– The Salis, Planta, Porta were undoubtedly Lombards. I always giggled at the names of the gentry– a romance surname with a German von in front of it. Von Pestalozzi, De Sacco von Monsax. Wrong thing to giggle about. The Allemanni  must be mixed in on my Opa’s side. The Burgundians on the French speaking area of Switzerland. Despite being the only country named after a Celtic tribe, the idea of being Celtic is rather suppressed. Even when Opa told me stories of the battles with Caesar and the Romans, he’d say “Caesar could not defeat the Swiss.”

The Swiss are nostalgic. In fact, nostalgia was once considered a disease. It was nicknamed “The Swiss Disease” because wherever they went in Europe they longed for their Alpine homes. Perhaps that’s a Celtic thing. The Irish are always pining for Ireland and mother.

The Swiss are fierce, ruthless fighters. As Europe’s first true successful federation, they took sides with whom they would. It was seldom, but they did. However, they were the most notorious mercenaries. Switzerland finally had to sign a treaty saying it would not allow its citizens to be mercenaries. Only those acting as the Swiss Guards to the Pope are exempt.

So I’m nostalgic, independent, a bit aloof and mysterious, and I delight in exemptions. I’m not that interesting, but I pursue interesting things.


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