What's in a Name?

My name has its origin in Turkish. Although I regularly spell it using the American characters as "Can Isik", it is actually spelled in Turkish as "Can Işık", and pronounced as "Jon Ishik".

As you might imagine, people say my name in many different ways, some more inventive then others. Here is a short essay about my first name, which I found some time ago floating on the internet. Credits are at the end of the text. -- C.I.

                         by John Tumpane

When I arrived in Turkey in May 1958, the first thing I bought on
the local market was an English-Turkish dictionary. I was a member
of the advance team for our company, which had just received a
contract to maintain the U.S. Air Force Bases in Turkey. We arrived
in Istanbul via Pan Am after midnight. On the way into the city,
all the neon signs looked so strange to me: Tuzcuoglu, Haci Bekir
Lokumlari, Koc. I thought, I'll never be able to learn this
language. Then I saw a sign reading Is Bankasi and I was sure the
word "bank" was lurking somewhere in there Since I knew one word
of Turkish already, I decided to stay.

I love language. (They say marriages succeed or fail, not on sex or
money problems, but on language alone.) And I love foreign
languages almost as much as English. In high school and college I
had taken five years of Latin, three years of French, two years of
German, and loved them all.  Now, here I was in a new country with
an exotic new language to conquer--Turkish! Additional signs along
the waysuch as Cinar Otel, Pera Palas, and Anadolu Sigorta, only
fortified my decision to stay since I saw clearly in those neon
lights the words "hotel," "palace," and "Anatolia."

The next morning, before my teammates were out ofbed, I left the
Istanbul Hilton and hopped a "taksi" (another Turkish word I
grasped easily). I ordered the driver to take me to Istiklal
Caddesi (Independence Avenue) where I had seen on my tourist map in
English, the "University Bookstore."  I leapt out, telling the
driver to "Wait!" (I knew he understood that word because I hadn't
paid him), and charged into the bookstore.

"Do you speak English?" I barked at the young, beautiful, dark-
haired, dark-eyed girl standing behind the cash register.

"I want to buy an English-Turkish dictionary," I shouted, "Chabuk!"
(Quickly). proud of another Turkish word I had learned the night

The pretty girl started shaking. "Yes, sir! Please follow me,
sir!"  She ran to the front of the store and grabbed the Redhouse
English-Turkish Dictionary off a shelf. "Here!" she said, almost
throwing it at me.

I flipped through the pages and discovered that it had no phonetic
pronunciation of the Turkish words.  "You wretched girl! How am I
to know how to pronounce Turkish words without the phonetic

She looked bewildered and started trembling again.

"Bring me an English dictionary and l'll show you, said. "Chabuk!"

She reached into the front window of the shop and pulled out a copy
of Merriam-Webster's Second Collegiate Dictionary of the English
Language, my favorite.

"Good" I said, flipping it open at random to the first word on the
page. "look, archaeology. and in parentheses ar-ke-ol-i-je. You

She started to apologize for no parentheses in her Turkish
dictionary. but it was getting late so I said, "Oh, never mind,
I'll take it. How much?"

I got back to the Hilton at 10: 15 a.m. and found our whole team
sitting on their luggage outside the entrance of the hotel. We were
scheduled to fly to Ankara at 11:15 a.m via THY (Turk Hava Yollari-
Turkish Air Lines).

"Hurry. John!" said Nila Springer, the only female on our advance
team. "We were about to leave you here."  She was our Mother Hen,
our Personnel Director, but I knew she wouldn't leave without me.
I ran up to my room. threw the Redhouse into my ditty bag along
with my airline ticket passport. Polaroid camera and Baby Ruth bars
(l had already packed my suitcase), and was down in three minutes
standing beside Nila, waiting for the "otobus" to take us to the

After we boarded the THY plane to Ankara, I sat down beside Nila.
She opened up her thick, loose-leaf notebook of SOPs (Standing
Operating Procedures) and started revising them. I opened up my
Redhouse Dictionary and learned immediately that all Turkish vowels
were Latin or European:

     [a] as in father
     [e] as in bet
     [i] as in machine
     [o] as in boat
     [u] as in tutu

Then I learned that most of the consonants were the same as the
Roman alphabet, with a few exceptions:

     [ -- c with a cedilla under it] is pronounced ch as in China

     [ş -- s with a cedilla under it] is sh as in shell
     [j] is soft as in the French Jacques
     [c] is a hard j as in jazz

Suddenly I realized that Turkish was completely phonetic.  Every
word was pronounced exactly as spelled: Amerikan, bambu (bamboo),
kanser (cancer), fotograf. I got a hot flash thinking of my
shameful behavior in the University Bookstore that morning. No
wonder that pretty girl must have thought I was mad--demanding a
Turkish Dictionary with the pronunciation in parentheses.  Oh,
Allah, forgive me!

Just then I realized how to write my name John in Turkish. The J
was hard [C], the o was the sound of [a] in father, the h was
silent (ridiculous and unnecessary), and the n was no problem. I
got so excited, I pulled out an air-sick bag from the pouch of the
seat in front of me and printed on it in capital letters :


I showed it proudly to Nila.

"It's in the back," she said, jerking her thumb toward the rear of
the airplane.

Mr. John David Tumpane was the author of Scotch and Holy Water (ISBN 0-9607382-0-7), a book about his life and escapades in Turkey. Scotch and Holy Water is no longer in print but you may be able to find a copy by writing to : St. Giles Press POB 1416 Lafayette, CA 94549. Amazon.Com usually has a used copy available for shipping within a few days. Mr. Tumpane passed away in October 1997, but his writings are remarkably as accurate today as they were in the 1950s.