Just how do you pronounce “Czepiel”?

The Z is silent. Once you know that, there’s not much to it. Still, that CZ intimidates even the boldest new acquaintance. When my husband and I were first engaged and my family and friends were learning to say my crazy new name, everyone came up with his or her own little trick. My brother associated it with the color “sepia.” My grandmother thought about the Star Wars character C-3PO.

When writing our name, my husband draws a horizontal line across the Z to remind people it’s silent. My daughter tells people to think of the initials C.P.L.  My father-in-law, whose grandparents brought the name Czepiel to Connecticut from Poland, often uses the phonetic spelling “See-peal.” You could think of it as two commands to follow when given an orange: See it, peel it. My husband’s high school students have their own secret mnemonic nickname for him: our spies tell us they call him “C-plus Czepiel.”

The bottom line is this: I really don’t mind if you pronounce it wrong. You couldn’t possibly come up with a pronunciation I haven’t heard before. (Try me!) And if you pronounce it the Polish way, with a “ch” for the “Cz,” I’ll even be impressed.

OK, I think I can pronounce it. But how will I remember the spelling?

Once you get past the CZ, just remember this: I love pie. I grew up in Hudson Valley apple country, so apple pie is my favorite. But, really, I love any kind of pie: blueberry, pecan, strawberry-rhubarb, pumpkin, key lime, you name it.

What does this have to do with spelling my name? It’s the trick my dad used when he had to learn it. You already know the CZ. In fact, most people get all the way through CZE before they run into trouble. If you can pronounce it, you know there’s an L on the end, too. Now put PIE in the middle, and you’re set.