Nikolaj Znaider: I have changed my name. Here’s why.main
A note from the new music director at Lyon:
A NOTE FROM NIKOLAJ SZEPS-ZNAIDER
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
I have thought and mulled over how to write this for several months (“I’ve always liked Prince” was an early discounted opening sentence). It is, all attempts at humour aside, a very personal thing taking place in a public arena.
Perhaps naïvely I thought I could quietly add Szeps to my name and people wouldn’t really notice. After all, I said to myself, Nikolaj Znaider and Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider will surely be perceived as the same person when the name appears in a season brochure or in a musical context. It turned out I was half right.
While it is true that no-one as yet has come up to me and said “My goodness, I am so surprised it is you, I thought Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider was a completely different person!” I did greatly underestimate the human need to search for meaning.
In other words, there is no need to explain the “what” but I could do worse by you than to explain the “why”. Indeed, since the season started I have encountered many people, friends and colleagues and most have had the same question: “Why have you changed your name?”, they ask. And it is true…..in this case, the logic certainly isn’t on the surface.
When people change their name, it is usually to something simpler and I am keenly aware that Szeps easily becomes Schweppes or, as in a particularly unfortunate incident on live television, Sheps-Peps.
So why on earth HAVE I gone and changed my name to what in most parts of the world would amount to a tongue-twister?
Well, the fact is that I was born Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider and my name has always been Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider. If you don’t believe me ask any Dane 40-years and older, many have till this day consistently called me Szeps-Znaider. Old habits are hard to break, I guess.
It was in the late nineties that some well-meaning folks, whose opinion I valued, advised me I would be better off with a simpler name when presenting myself on stage. Eager to not get in my own way I took that advice and this is, perhaps where the story could have ended.
On stage I used only Znaider as a second name, life went on and although making dinner reservations certainly became easier, a regularly occurring pang of guilt persisted. You see, it isn’t that both my parents are called Szeps-Znaider, rather each have preserved their name choosing to pass on the head-ache of a double-barrelled name to the next generation.
To them, having been born just post-World War ll, the responsibility of carrying on an extremely rare name (or in the case of Znaider, variant of a name) was felt very keenly, especially in the light of the numerous family members lost in the Holocaust. Indeed it was after watching a documentary about the Second World War earlier this year that I had the impulse to research some of the databases that exist of both survivors and of those who perished in the Holocaust. After having come across more than a dozen Szeps’ who had lost their lives, I was overcome by a strong sense that I simply couldn’t bear to be responsible for another Szeps disappearing from the world and so I made the decision from then on to carry both names on as well as off stage.
In other words, I wish to honour my father and my father’s side of the family wherever I appear, privately as well as publicly.
Now, some among you may at this point understandably ask: “But haven’t you merely passed on a difficult dilemma to the next unwitting and defenceless generation? After all, if everybody were to keep their names, within very few generations chaos would reign and everybody would have an intolerable amount of surnames, the consequences of which we cannot even begin to fathom?”.
To which, I say: “Absolutely”!
This is, to be sure, an act of procrastination that my children will one day have to sort out but since they also stand to inherit my soon to be obsolete cd-collection, I thought one more headache won’t be too bad.
I hope they will forgive me the inconvenience and I hope you will too.