I've been giving a lot of thought to my first name recently. Which may sound strange. But for some reason it keeps coming up as a topic of conversation, and I must admit I fail to understand why. Michele does not seem to be that surprising of a name to me. I mean, sure, in English you could argue that it is missing an "L" but I am certainly not the first, or the last, American with the name "Michele" that I have encountered. It is not THAT big of an anomaly, though it has plagued me my entire life.
As a child I always regretted that it was impossible to find personalized pens, bookmarks, glasses, notebooks, you name it, with my name. It has caused confusion and embarrassing errors. Many people, including a number of members of my extended family, just seem absolutely unable to spell my name correctly. I have constantly had to correct the spelling of my name - on administrative documents, school paperwork, letters, certificates, etc, etc, etc. To me it doesn't seem that complicated, but to others I suppose it is.
Growing up in the US I can't even begin to count the number of times that I was mistaken for a boy before someone met me. For some reason people thought "Michele" was "Michael" and could never seem to see the similarities with "Michelle." I remember one particularly humiliating moment in the 2nd grade when I was called to the office over the loud speaker and they asked for "Michael my last name" rather than "Michele." I was made fun of for weeks. And another moment in the first week of 7th grade when a particularly unintelligent science teacher actually corrected my spelling of my name on my homework assignment from "Michele" to "Michael" and repeatedly referred to me as "Michael."
But then I started taking French class. As is, I imagine, the case in most junior high languages classes, we had to choose a typically "French" name to use within the confines of that class. I was ecstatic! I was able to choose the "French" version of my name "Michèle" and for once no one would confuse me for a "Michael." The name "Michele" spelled with only one "L" was normal, expected even, and I reveled in it. My younger self saw it as almost destiny...my name had been spelt the "French way" and there I was choosing to learn French. Add to that the fact that I was named for the song "Michelle" (but spelt incorrectly) by the Beatles, which obviously includes lyrics in French, and it just all seemed perfect.
Fast forward to the much more present day. Coming to study in France and eventually marrying a Frenchman and deciding to live here. I figured all name confusion would be over. After all, the way my name is spelt is typically French. No more being confused for a man again! But then, reality hit. Apparently, in French, there are two traditional and typical spellings for the feminine version of my name - "Michèle" and "Michelle" - and I had been wholly unaware of it. And it would seem that most French people are unaware of it as well.
Living in France I have encountered very similar reactions to my name as those I experienced in the US: It is spelled correctly, except the accent over the first "E" which some people (my father-in-law included) just add in at random as if it is supposed to be there (does the absence of that accent really make it THAT confusing???). It is spelled incorrectly and should be "Michelle." And even being mistaken for a man because the masculine equivalent has only one "L" and the feminine version has two. Since I have only one "L" mistakes are made. Except, last time I checked, the masculine version was "Michel," no "E" on the end. Seems to me like it shouldn't be that confusing. Nonetheless, the mistake has even been made here in France when I was standing right in front of the person! I'm sorry...do I look like a man to you??? Perhaps I don't want to know the answer...
Now to the present, the last few weeks really, and what has inspired this post. As I wrote last week, I recently had my naturalization interview at the préfecture. I was asked one other question, in addition to everything I talked about in my last post. Did I want to franciser my first name? Apparently, if you say yes, then when your request is accepted and you become French they will also issue you a French version of your first name. To help you fit in or something. I suppose that at this point I could start into a whole tirade about how strange and unnecessary this process seems, but that is not where I wanted to go with this post. Well, when she asked this question Lionel and I both must have looked at her like she was crazy before I opened my mouth to speak. She glanced back down at her paperwork, saw my name, looked up blushing and said that she supposed that wasn't necessary. I agreed, and then the conversation turned to my name. "Well, isn't that convenient, you don't need to change your name. It's already very French! C'est parfait! How did you end up with such a French name as an American? What a coincidence! Oh, look at your father's first name...Thomas...that is a very French name as well! How did this come to be? Both you and your father, Americans, have French names!" Blah, blah, blah. I just let her ramble on about how surprising it was for an American to have such a "French" name, chuckling to myself the entire time. Once the interview was over I didn't really think anymore about it. It was just one fonctionnaire after all.
Then last week I went to the first Afterwork in English meetup of the "school year." I was disappointed to find so few people in attendance, none of whom I had met at previous meetups, but I suppose it was still too close to la rentrée. I was even more disappointed to be the only native English speaker present that night. But I gave it the old Gallic shrug and prepared myself for an evening of speaking English with a bunch of French people. It was better than nothing, especially since I desperately need to meet more people in Bordeaux. I ended up speaking with a small group and when we introduced ourselves everyone was shocked that I had a French name. Again. This isn't the typical reaction I get to my name here in France, but in the space of one week I had had multiple people be surprised that an American would have a French name. Very strange. Very strange indeed. And I found myself ruminating on these odd reactions and on my name in general, which, in turn, led to this post.
I'm just so surprised. Overall, between studying in Tours, living in Paris and now in Bordeaux, I've spent about 7 years in France and never really had anyone comment on my name being so French. Let alone met anyone who was surprised that an American could be named "Michele." Where do these people come from? With the fonctionnaire I had just passed it off as her being older and very French. But at the English meetup it seemed odd. This is a group of people who meet once a month to speak English. People who are either native speakers, have studied English extensively, are studying it currently and want to practice, or who have lived abroad and don't want to lose their English. Certainly they have met, or at least heard of, someone from an English-speaking country named "Michele" or "Michelle." How could it be so surprising? I mean, have they never heard of Michelle Obama, Michelle Pfeiffer, Lea Michele, Michele Bachmann (they love crazy US politics and all know Sarah Palin, so why not?), Michelle Williams, not to mention the song "Michelle" by the Beatles. As if this was not surprising enough for me, one of the people in the group even pointed out that it must be very confusing for people in France because the feminine name is not spelled with one "L" but rather with two and that it is only spelled with one "L" if it's the masculine name. Ahem, what about the other French spelling - "Michèle" - that has only one "L" in the feminine? Forgetting the fact that there is an extra "E" there, buddy?
Anyway, despite all the issues, confusion and inconveniences, I actually do really like my name and I think my parents did an excellent job choosing it. I don't think there is any other name I would want. Sure, as a kid I sometimes wished they had just spelled it "correctly" but now I can appreciate the missing "L" as it makes my name a little more unique. Plus, I must say I enjoying having a name that at the very least is easy for the French to manage, and at best is both very French and very American. It works well in my current situation. What about you? Do you like your name? Dislike your name? Run into issues because of your name? Feel free to share in the comments!