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Ethnic Heritage

Verney is the name of a storied English family whose pedigree goes back to Ralph de Verney (1216–23) and which has been chronicled in The Verneys, a recent book by Adrian Tinniswood (Riverhead, 2007).

This illustrious family is not to be confused with that of educator and writer Luis Antonio Verney (1713-92), who reformed and liberalized Portugal’s educational system. His best-known book, The True Method of Studying (1747), was a landmark in European teaching methods.

All of this, of course, has absolutely nothing to do with me or my family: my paternal grandfather changed his surname from Skvarek to Verney after emigrating from the Tatra region of present-day Slovakia during the first decade of the 20th century and naturalizing as an American citizen.

At that time, there was a great deal pressure put on immigrants from eastern and southern Europe to “Americanize’ their names (i.e. make them sound more western and northern European). In fact, there was parallel alteration involving my maternal grandfather, who immigrated to the U.S. from the tiny Greek island of Fourni at roughly the same time and was persuaded to change his name from Grammati to Graham.

As a result, my family has two of the most British-seeming names imaginable, which has misled countless people with respect to my ethnic background! For the benefit of those wishing to know a bit more about it, I have provided links to the Wikipedia entries on Slovakia and Greece, which provide a comprehensive overview of both.