Who Are You?

While I’ve been going through the longest time of the semester in terms of classes, I’ve been learning a good amount recently away from the classroom, as well. And all this new information I’ve been learning, well, it’s pretty cool.

I take tremendous pride in where I came from. Not just the coordinates of my house or the city or the region I live in, not just the two amazing countries I am a citizen of, but the long list of countries that my ancestors came from. Without them, there’s no me. And I firmly believe that, no matter how far apart, they shape who I am today. Agree or disagree, that’s how I view it.

On my Dad’s side, I’m Russian. Long before he was born (I believe it was his great, great-grandfather), his family came to the United States. When he stepped off the boat, evidently no one knew what on God’s green earth he was saying, so they dubbed his surname “Gittis” and it’s stuck until this day.

On my Mom’s side, I’m a true mutt. You know, like a dog that’s not pure bread. I’m a Canadian citizen thanks to my mom, but her father’s family came from Poland, and her mother’s family from Scotland. There’s also a little bit of Austrian and I believe French in there somewhere. But let’s go back to Scotland, because that’s the area that has really grabbed my attention the past few weeks.

Turns out, I’m a Viking. Who knew? And while I don’t have any plans to sail the high seas in search of a good raid anytime soon, I’m intrigued to say the least.

I guess it would be unfair, or at least inaccurate to say that am a Viking, but I’m a very, very distant ancestor of them. Here’s the deal: my grandmother (mother’s mother) was a MacNeil. My grandmother’s father was John Murdoch MacNeil, his father was Daniel Charles MacNeil, whose father was Murdoch MacNeil, and so on. And you can keep going back for a very, very long time, and at some point you’ll get to Neil Og MacNeil. His son, Neil MacNeil, fought for Robert The Bruce (the guy who totally screwed William Wallace in Braveheart but then felt bad about it and tried to help him out) in the Scottish War of Independence at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. And then if you keep going back further from Neil Og MacNeil eventually you’ll get to some Vikings, who originally settled the tiny Isle of Barra a very long time ago.

And so you get the clan MacNeil of Barra, from the tiny Isle of Barra in Scotland’s western isles. Fast forward over a thousand years later, and they’ve evolved into yours truly. For those of you wondering what the funky square thing with a lot of colors at the top of this post is, that is the MacNeil of Barra tartan. There’s one in my house somewhere.

I wanted to do a little self-evaluation today, to see where some of my personality came from. I promise you, I’m going somewhere with this.

  • Desire to explore: Scottish (the MacNeil’s were known to be quite adventuresome, as were Vikings, which is fitting seeing that they sailed across the Atlantic to settle in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia means New Scotland in Latin.)
  • Occassional temper: Sounds pretty Viking-like to me
  • Stubbornness: Scottish/Polish, but mostly Scottish
  • Love for arguments: Polish
  • Enlarged ego: American as all hell
  • Holding doors for others: Canadian
  • Saying please/thank you to cashiers: Canadian
  • Love for water and boats: MacNeil as hell
  • Fan of cold weather: don’t think I need to say this one

Like I said, I’m going somewhere with this, but that was fun. I’d encourage all of you to look in to where you came from, and how that influences you today. For example, I thought I always just liked to argue, until two summers ago my grandfather told me that is a very Polish thing. I thought I was always just a stubborn person, until my mom told me that all the MacNeil’s tend to be fairly hard-headed (in a good way). It’s interesting, in my opinion, to see how all these people and places from hundreds and hundreds of years back still influence who I am today. So talk to your parents or grandparents or great-grandparents if you’re fortunate enough, and see what they have to say. Maybe you’ll find out something you never knew, or something that will offer some explanation into why you are the way you are.

Alba gu bràth.

—DG

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