Dog names amongst the Greek immigrants were entertaining. They all had dogs, usually a pure black mongrel call Spotty. If they chose to be different from their cousins then they might get a white dog and call it Blackie. It was almost a universal constant in our lives, visiting various families and meeting Spotty or Blackie, most times never allowed in the house and sometimes chained to a pole or tree in the garden. For me the Englishman’s love for his dog’s was an eye opener, and it felt so much better having a dog in the house, picking up your rhythms and waiting to go for a walk.
When my parents were married they stayed with my grandparents in the house above Union Cafe. The name in itself shows an attempt at allegiance with the union, and places it in historical context before the republic was proclaimed. The house and shop were on an upward slope of a quartzite koppie, part of the ridge bearing gold ore. By virtue of the slope the house was at a higher level than the shop, and was separated from the shop by a gully of a courtyard on the street side. Behind this gulley was a narrow cement strip with steps from the back of the house to the vineyards behind the shop.
The old house had a big veranda. Near the shop you could lean over the balustrade and look over the gully onto the roof of the shop, and across the narrow front garden that was later cemented over with cut out holes to allow two lemon trees to grow. When I was older the courtyard was empty, but when I was really small and we visited I remember two big Alsatians pacing up and down the gully like lions in the Coliseum. They were longer haired than modern the modern breed, and their hair was matted in places but they were handsome dogs with big paws and deep barks that were amplified in that cement gully.
It must have been a sign of coming of age that they were not called Spotty or Blackie. These dogs were graced with the regal names of Leon and Dervish. As the generations have moved on the names of their dogs have taken on some intriguing names harking back to the homeland of the Greek grandparents. Some of the more interesting names include Bouzouki and Orexi – as in appetite, or kali orexi, which is the Greek for the Italian bon appetito.
That aside I woke up this morning thinking of Leon and Dervish. Leon I could understand. He looked like a lion; he almost had a mane his fur was so long. But Dervish? Where did a Greek family in those days, still smarting about the Turks, get a name like Dervish? Dervish is in fact Persian for door, and the Sufis that dance open new doors to life with their whirling. Perhaps it was accepted because the Sufis were banned in Turkey for a while, and that might have made the name more acceptable to Greeks. I wonder.