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The Other Ange Mlinko

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There’s a TV reality show in the US (Same Name) about people with the same name swapping lives. I feel confident that the producers won’t be calling on me. But a few weeks ago, Google alerted me to the improbable existence of another Ange Mlinko.

She is divorced, childless, a bit misanthropic, and pilots a spaceship between Earth and Mars. It’s not that glamorous – she’s just a working stiff contracted by corporations to haul this and that; barnacles, for instance, to populate Mars’s lakes. But she’s good enough at her job to be considered for the crew of the Leibniz, a spaceship headed for the Oort Cloud to meet a delegation of aliens known as Cygnics. The job falls through, but the aliens find Mlinko anyway.

Anticopernicus is an e-novella by Adam Roberts, who has been shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award three times and teaches at Royal Holloway. I emailed him to ask where he’d got his heroine’s name from. As it turned out, he had read an article of mine in Poetry magazine and used my name as a placeholder before deciding to keep it. I’m in exalted company: there’s also a character called Tsvetaeva.

Mlinko means ‘windmills’ or ‘little mills’, or so a Slovenian doctor once told me, which makes me think of Don Quixote. The name usually creates nothing but headaches for me. Apart from having to spell it out at every turn (slowly, repeatedly), I learned at an early age that Americans glean a lot of useful social information from whether you are a McDonald or a Pellegrino or a Cave or a Hartz or a Goldstein. A Hungarian name throws them off, especially (this was 1980) if it rhymes with ‘Pinko’. And then my Belorussian mother wouldn’t speak to me for weeks after I said I wouldn’t be changing my name to my husband’s. She hated my father’s family that much.

Comments on “The Other Ange Mlinko”

  1. Phil Edwards says:

    That’s a Ukrainian name, surely? My wife has a name with a similar ending and similar problems getting it across. I remember there were slightly mixed reactions when we introduced ourselves to our Polish neighbours – nice to meet somebody with connections at least near to the old country, but shame it couldn’t have been an -owicz instead of an -nko.

  2. Ange says:

    Well, no, my father’s family is definitely Hungarian. But the Eastern European tribalism, as you describe it, is spot on!

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