Name Calling

By having had the opportunity to live in different countries, each with their own language, I have seen how names, my name, can change when pronounced in a different language. I now understand better why people in the US may “Americanize” their names. For ease in pronunciation, for ease with spelling, for ease with just trying to fit in…

My name is Alexandra. When I lived in the US and even when I return to visit, my name is automatically changed to Alex by whomever I happen to be with at that given moment. Teachers, fellow students, a waitress, the gal who took my pizza delivery order, colleagues. When I began high school in the US, I decided that if I had to be called by a nickname instead of my real name, then I’d prefer Lexi. From that moment on, my friends called me Lexi, teachers called me Lexi, I started signing my papers Lexi, my Grandfather even started calling me Lexi (he is the only one in my family who calls me by my nickname). For me it was like taking a new identity. When I graduated from high school and my full name was pronounced I had several friends and fellow students tell me they had no idea that Lexi was a nickname, they had always just assumed it was my real name.

When I lived in Japan, my name was アレクザンドラ a re ku zan do ra. It worked for me. Though the pronunciation changed a bit, Japanese friends tried to respect, to the best of their ability my real name.

In Brazil, I was known by two names. The Brazilians go by first names because they want to value the individual and not the person as part of his family’s name which he shares with many. Most people called me Ale-shan-dra, which is also quite close, just the ‘x’ changes to a ‘sh’ sound. However, to shop owners, at the bakery, the Kodak store, the fabric shop, I had also been called Francesca, which is ‘the French girl’ in Portuguese. I can’t help but smile with the analogy.

Now back in France, I have to get used to yet another name. The French never go by your first name, it is considered impolite. They prefer to use your family name, with a title, to show respect, good manners and to establish a distance (for people you work with, or may meet for a rendez-vous, but who are neither friend nor acquaintance). When I moved back to Paris at age 16 with my parents I was addressed as Madamoiselle Drouart. Very rarely as Alexandra. Now, I am addressed by my married name, Madame Conrad. I have to remember that people are talking to me, not my mother-in-law, or my husband’s grandmother or any of the other wonderful women in the Conrad family.

Here, when introducing myself, it is very hard to switch from giving my first-name to giving my surname. It takes some getting used to and I feel that in each country I have lived, I have had a different identity, a different name, that I have been a different person. When you arrive in a new country and don’t read or speak the language, and your name is not pronounced or used as what you are accustom to, it can be a very humbling experience. I have a better sense of empathy for those who have ever immigrated and had to change their name, either by choice or involuntarily.


About Alexandra

wife, lover, mother, sister, daughter, friend, teacher, blogger, scrap-booker, cross-stitcher, photographer, designer, multi-lingual speaker, dual-citizenship holder, world traveler, dreamer... hopeful, happy, blessed
This entry was posted in adapting, Brazil, France, Japan, travel, USA. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Name Calling

  1. Jenn says:

    loved the blog….can i still call you Lexi!? 🙂

  2. Julia says:

    Interesting blog – makes me think of my own adventures around the world and how my experiences were different. Never really felt like a different person or have a different identity even when some people insisted on calling me Julie 🙂

  3. Diane says:

    Ok here is another name for you darlin, Cousin!! I just love reading your blogs. You are a very talented writer and when the boys get a little older I hope you will continue your writing maybe even consider trying to become published. In the meantime I look forward to each new post to your blog. Thanks for sharing your insights and experiences. I am truly living vicariously thru your adventures. Much love, Diane.

  4. Catherine says:

    Very interesting…I had a similar experience when I got married….the older Judges wondering why I wasn’t changing my last name to Bakal…..Funny, isn’t it?!

  5. JimmyBean says:

    I don’t know If I said it already but …Great site…keep up the good work. 🙂 I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks, 🙂

    A definite great read..Jim Bean

  6. Super-Duper site! I am loving it!! Will come back again – taking your feeds too now, Thanks.

    Online Stock Traing 🙂

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