Monday, February 21, 2011

What’s in a name, part 2

All the Michutkas in the United States today are descendants of George and Valeria (Grečnar) Mičutka. The pronunciation of our name varies among us: some soften the ch to an sh sound, others do not; some pronounce the t, others leap right over it on their way to k; the i in the first syllable varies.[1]  The spelling, however, is uniform among us.  But my grandfather George and the other Mičutka relatives who came to the U.S. did not immediately or consistently anglicize the spelling of their surname.

All the immigrant Mičutkas that I’ve identified settled in Manhattan, New York City, when they first arrived in this country. It is clear that they not only lived near each other in many cases, but also were part of a larger Slovak immigrant community. Members of our family appear several times, with the Slovak spelling of the name, in the registers of St. John Nepomucene Church, which was then and is still a Slovak ethnic parish in Manhattan. Among these are the marriage records of George Mičutka and Valeria Grečnar in 1913, the marriage record of George’s brother John to Mary Perdoch in 1910, and the baptismal record of John’s infant daughter Caroline Mičutka in 1911.

The civil records show some experimentation with new spellings. Micutka (without a diacritic), Mitchutka, and Michutka all appear in records for George Michutka: his 1916 Canadian border crossing uses his Slovak name minus the diacritic, Juro Micutka; his 1917 draft record is signed George Mitchutka; his 1942 Declaration of Intention gives his name as “now George Michutka” but references earlier names Juro Micutka and George Mitchutka.  His brother John’s surname history likewise shows a mix of Micutka, Mitchutka, and Michutka; he appears to have settled on the last spelling, until he changed his name to Mitchell sometime between 1931 and 1937.

Other Mičutka men apparently left fewer records. Being for the most part a generation older than George and John, they were not included in the World War I draft and its records.[2] They also did not marry and raise their families here, and they likely did not apply for Social Security cards.[3] George’s relative (his father’s cousin) Vincent is only found with the spelling Micutka, but that is only on one record, his death certificate (for which he obviously did not supply the info himself). George’s uncle Peter (his father’s brother) began but did not complete the naturalization process, and his name is recorded there as both Michutka and Micsutka (did he have an old baptismal record with him, that had the Hungarian spelling?), but he signed as Michutka. It’s interesting that his death record spells his name Micutka; the informant is not indicated, but whoever it was either knew the family well or had access to a document such as a baptismal record, because Peter’s mother’s maiden name is recorded correctly.  Peter’s son, also named Peter, lived into the late 1970s and the several records I’ve found indicate that he consistently spelled his name Micutka and never added the letter h as others did.

The Mičutka women who came to this country appear not to have fully anglicized their maiden names; the very few records I have for them show that at most, they dropped the diacritic, but they did not add an h to make spelling reflect pronunciation. Their families appear to know their surnames as Micutka.[4] The one exception that I’ve found is the death record of George’s sister, wherein her maiden name is spelled Michutka.[5]  There are probably more records that can be obtained, such as naturalization papers or alien registration forms, but it’s not an area where I’ve invested much research time.

Well, this is rather dry writing, a recitation of who spelled our name how, and when. But it’s a part of how we got to where we are today.  Those of us who still carry the name sign it a hundred times a year, and type it even more. Those who have it in their family tree but don’t hear it or write it very often have sometimes wondered about the variations and who is actually related. To the best of my knowledge, there are no persons in the U.S. today with the names Micutka, Micsutka, or Mitchutka. And anyone with the name Michutka is family.

Next week: a closer look at George’s baptismal record

[1] While the American pronunciation accents the second syllable, the Slovak relatives I’ve met put a slight stress on the first syllable instead. It sounds a little strange to my ears!
[2] The WW I draft registrations included men born 1872-1900.
[3] Applications for Social Security numbers began in 1936.  The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) that is accessible online does not list many deaths before the 1960s, so the absence of a name from the online SSDI does not necessarily mean that a person did not have a Social Security number with its attendant application.
[4] These include George’s aunt Maria (Micutka) Bartek, and George’s cousin Orsula (Micutka) Medvedik.
[5] The informant on the death record is Sophie’s daughter Veronica. Sophie’s daughter Josie told me that George had made all the arrangements for Sophie’s funeral and burial, so it’s possible that he was behind the anglicized spelling on the document. I have not seen a copy of Sophie’s marriage record, to know how she herself spelled her maiden name.

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