Over the years I’ve heard just about every different type of pronunciation of my name, and you just kinda shield yourself to the slings and arrows of failed attempt after failed attempt. One of the most common things to hear is a long pause, with the person hoping for a lifeline, or else its followed by a ‘oh boy, I won’t even try that, is that German?’ Ultimately, it’s all fine. I don’t judge but will always gleefully acknowledge a newfound pronunciation when it happens.My name isn’t as tricky to pronounce as you think, but it does have a circuitous little history to it.
It’s very simple, it’s two syllables, the first usually has a bit more stress on it and sounds just like ‘my’, and the second sort of sounds like ‘kull’. My name is not Mike, so please don’t ever, ever call me that. Once again, it’s pronounced:
My last name is understandably a bit trickier, and even has a sordid past in my own family! To answer your question, it is of eastern German origin, and has a very German way to pronounce it correct to its roots:
As a matter of fact, the correct German pronunciation is a homophone of the Polish word for Plum (śliwka)
SHLEEF-kah is a 100% acceptable form of Schliefke. I will always accept with a large smile and a friendly nod that proper German was acknowledged!
And then America happens and things get tricky.
My grandfather, the sole source of my German heritage, already had name issues. He changed the spelling of his name from Karl to Carl to avoid any association with communism. This reduced conflict with racist nativist Americans who would actually care about these things. Whether it was my grandfather or his parents who changed the pronunciation is lost to history at this point. No matter the actual origin of his pronunciation, he taught his two sons the correct way to say ‘Schliefke’ was this:
I have no evidence as to why he pronounced it like this. No matter what tinkering is done, it’s still a nine letter German last name that has no real easy, intuitive English language equivalency. Both of his sons went with it, for a while anyway, but more on this in just a second. My uncle is such a stickler for this pronunciation he has his doubts that the correct German way is actually correct. I don’t think anybody besides my uncle has ever called me this variation in my life. As a nod to my grandfather, I will completely accept this rare pronunciation.
My father made a further change when he enlisted in the Navy. In an effort to make the pronunciation more palatable to the English speaking tongue. I’m honestly not sure what his thinking was besides the fact the name ended in an ‘E’ and this would be more intuitive for Americans, but he did this anyway. His pronunciation went like this:
Cool. We’re just going into uncharted territories here! My uncle continues using his father’s prononciation to this day. Mind you, neither my dad nor uncle speak a word of German, although they both are seemingly fluent in English. So I grew up with SHLEF-key, the second American variant of my surname. Most of my friends eschew my first name and just give me a literal ‘SHLEF-key!’ shout to get my attention. Again, this pronunciation is 100% acceptable.
So, to recap, I grew up a SHLEF-key, and the most common pronunciation of my surname. My uncle still follows the SHLEF-kah variant. A few close friends do call me SHLEEF-kah, which is doubly awesome to hear, and it is always a treat to use that in Warsaw and hear the restrained chuckle of meeting a ‘Michael Plum’.
But whatever you do, don’t ever call me Mike. It’s not an actual name, does not appear on my birth certificate, passport or driver’s license. Americans love doing this! I’ve never been called ‘Mike’ overseas. ‘Nice to meet you Mike!’ is the worst reply to an introduction. Let’s stick with the formalities, please.