Sunday, December 10, 2006

Names, part two

You may already have read that Miss Baby is named for her maternal great-grandmother, 'Hortense', and that it took some time for her (well, me, really) to grow into this name.

Names: they're complicated, as anyone who has ever been married or divorced, or the child of remarried divorced people, or later-married people well know. Last names, of course, are usually what's at issue. In my case, I carry my stepfather's last name, as does my mother, largely because in the small town where we lived, to have my father's last name would always link you to him--and you'd never be able to write a cheque anywhere, or get phone service hooked up. I remember getting teased a lot at school, in grade 3, when my mom remarried: it was so unusual then to have a divorced mother, a remarried mother, and then to take a new surname! I guess we didn't want to look like a 'weird' blended family. Nowadays, everyone is surprised that I have my stepfather's name. Still, when I got married, I kept this name, 'my' name, because I've lived with it for more than 20 years, have a passport proclaiming it my own, have published and created a professional reputation under its banner. Pynchon has his name; I have mine. Miss Baby has Pynchon's last name--doesn't bother me a bit. It's her name. Anyhow, she is named for my grandmother, and she also bears my middle name, so it's not like I've left her unmarked by me and 'mine', if you will.

But that's not what this post is about! (Thought the length thus far might make you doubt ...)

This post is about Miss Baby's given name, and how I've somehow turned into my mother, and made the curse of my name her own, in a second generation 'whoopsie.'

Here's the thing. I also have a french given name, something antique that no one francophone has named their kids for about 65 years. So it's french but not cool with french people. Also, it has an anglicized pronunciation--in fact, there is an English version of my name. But it is also pronounceable in French. This means (sigh) that no one who hears it pronounced can spell it properly, or even recognizes the French spelling as a reasonable variant. On the flip side, no one who sees it spelled can figure how to say it properly, which often leaves me in the awkward position of re-anglicizing my name when well-meaning people call me by the french version--which is, of course, the way my name is spelled.

Confused yet? Basically, I have an old-fashioned french name, that is by convention (my mother's) pronounced in English.

I have bestowed this linguistic mess on my daughter: she has an old-fasioned french name, pronounced (following the practice of her namesake) in English. So no one who sees it written pronounces it correctly, and no one who hears it spoken can spell it.

I always hated the awkwardness and confusion of my name, and the inference from confused interlocuters that it was somehow a sub-par 'made up' name, and now, goddammit, my daughter will never get found in the database at the hairdresser, will always have to spell her name twice for people who don't pay attention the first time she starts to speak it, will be described as 'ununusal' and will be explaining to francophones why her french name is to be pronounced in English. Mangled addressed admail. People trying to avoid addressing her directly until they hear the pronunciation. And it's not even the same name as mine! And I never saw this coming! And it's confusion and awkwardness all around!

At least, unlike my name, Miss Baby's does not feature any accented characters. The hell of that will be described in a future post. Likely entitled 'Names, part three'. Stay tuned. Let's just say I'm developing a strong sense of linguistic nationalism because the bureaucracy of this country can only partially cope with a paltry, innocent little é ...

6 comments:

bubandpie said...

Names are indeed a constant source of confusion. When I remarried, I continued using my ex-husband's name professionally, which many people find strange. I had spent my whole adult life using that name, and all of my post-graduate education; I had one or two articles published under that name, so it seemed best to stick with it. But it's an ethnic name, so I'm constantly fielding questions about my ethnicity by explaining (on job interviews, or to students) that it's my ex-husband who's Italian. I kind of like having that line of separation between my professional and personal life (I use new-hubby's name in my personal life), but it's been more hassle than it's worth.

And I have a first name of dubious French-English origin, a name that is rarely pronounced correctly (though that's getting better, as the name becomes more popular). I've never minded correcting people's spelling and pronunciation - those disadvantages were outweighed by the boon of having an interesting, uncommon name.

These days, all names have to be spelled - even with names like Mark or Jane you have to indicate if it's Marc or Jayne (and forget about Karen/Karin/Caryn).

cinnamon gurl said...

We chose an old-testament name for our son, and I've been shocked at the number of people who ask if we made it up. Probably 50% of people we encounter. It's not very common (yet) but still...

My maiden name was a mouthful. Once you hear it AND see it spelled, it all makes sense, but nobody gets it on just one of those. I felt such a sense of accomplishment when I learned to spell it at age 6.

Mimi said...

BAP and CG, you both express a certain pride in the difficulties of your names. Now I gotta 'fess up: I think I like that my name is a pain, because all that respelling and the feeling of uniqueness did contribute to my strong(ish) personality. Now, the misadventures with my passport are another issue entirely ...

Mad Hatter said...

Hi Mimi,
I am fairly certain--like 99.9% certain--I know who you are. When I heard you had a daughter I wondered how long it would take you to start blogging. I've been at it since March.

Your job is to guess who I am without "outing" me to planet internet. Once you know, come to my place and leave a comment or drop an email. BTW, watch out. This blogging thing is addictive.

Mad Hatter said...

Oh and congratulations on wee one. She is a beauty.

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