Read Across America Day is Sunday, March 2, a date co-opted by the National Education Association to coincide with Dr. Seuss’s birthday. Beloved the world over for his books of wacky rhyming and outlandish illustrations,
March 2 is also a day of celebration for the tiny contingency of America’s population whose last name is Geisel, the actual last name of Dr. Seuss.
Born Theodor Seuss Geisel, it is only on his birthday that this most mispronounced surname is correctly broadcast throughout the land as Guy´sel. Such correctness is music to the ears of 1,491 Geisels in the U.S., of which my husband’s family accounts for a dozen.
A foreign name, Geisel doesn’t follow the English grammatical rule of side-by-side vowels, When two vowels go a-walking the first one does the talking.
While there’s much lamenting of late over the breakdown of adults’ correct usage of the pronouns I and me, there is no grammar lesson than can lessen the mangling of a proud family name.
In 1939, my father-in-law, Albert Geisel, was released from a German concentration camp. Securing passage to America, he was questioned upon arrival by United States immigration authorities. Albert spoke only German, and when asked his last name, he emphatically spoke each letter, determined the family name would not be phonetically reinvented by the officials.
Albert was so proud that “Geisel was not an Ellis Island name.” The phrase became a family mantra, standing for the opportunities that are available to those who work hard.
Ted Geisel was a hard worker, a trait in common with the Geisel dozen. We’re proud of him
because his imagination brings joy to children and once a year, the world gets our name right.