Lots of people are saddled with a surname that’s difficult to know how to pronounce and must be spelled out for the inquisitor.
Mine is not too bad, since it has only five letters. But time after time I’m asked how to pronounce Piatt. And I’m to blame for getting it wrong, at least in the local area.
“It’s like you would misplace your apple pie,” I answer. “And then you say, ‘Where’s my pie-at?’”
But on a visit to Piatt’s Castles in West Liberty, Ohio, the tour guide, himself a Piatt, scoffed and ridiculed me when I introduced myself. Two Piatt brothers, I guess third or fourth cousins of mine, built the castles some time after the Civil War.
“Oh, no!” the guide exclaimed. “It’s not Pie-at. No, never! It’s Pea-ott.”
Also, late last year or earlier this year, Dan Armitage, who has an outdoor sports show on radio stations across Ohio, was preparing to interview me about cold weather fishing on the Ohio River when he asked how I pronounced my name. I told him my apple pie story, but he said, “Well, here in Ohio, it’s pronounced Pea-ott, so that’s how I’m going to introduce you to the listeners.”
It was pronounced Pie-at by my grandfather, George Franklin Piatt, who, when I was eight or nine, often took me on his knee under the grape arbor on his hillside farm down in Kellen Hollow to tell me some wonderful stories of high adventure. And I’ve no doubt it was called Pie-at by his folks.
Interesting that he, like me, went by his middle name – “Frank.”
I was named after my paternal and maternal grandfathers, him and Sam Hannah of Elliott County.
Strange that Sam became my favored handle, since Sam Hannah died the same year I was born (which was in a three-room cottage at the top of Stoner Hill in Fullerton, a community wiped out by reconstruction of U.S. 23.)
Once, in the Navy, the medic was taking urine samples. He asked how I pronounced my name, so I gave him my apple pie story.
But he surprised me by pronouncing it the way the Castle folks said it was supposed to be pronounced. There was a big line for the samples. I was next in line for the head. I was busy talking to a fellow sailor when the medic tapped the small plastic container in my hand and said, “The one thing I’m interested in right now, Petty Officer Pie-at, is where’s your pee-ott?”
I’m sticking with the pie way of saying it. It would be very difficult – confusing – to get my eight grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren to change now.
You can call me either way. One of the only calls I’m interested in is – if we’re on an outing and you’re grilling hot dogs, with homemade sauce, onions and mustard – is “Next!”
The name I like to answer to is Gsam, capital G and lowercase sam, all one word.
I have even signed in that way on the sign-in sheet at doctors’ offices. But when the gal comes to the door of the waiting room and announces “George” is next to see the doctor, I look around me, wondering why George doesn’t arise. Then I realize that, hey, that’s me.
I’ve decided that the book I’m writing now will carry the author’s name as Gsam Pea-ott. Pronounce those two names together and you’ll have to admit they have a pleasing ring to them.
And have you noticed that “Gsam” sounds a lot like “Shazam?”
That’s it! Just call me Captain Marvel!
Reach G. SAM PIATT at [email protected] or (606) 932-3619.