Becoming French Part II – What’s in a name ?

A name is an identity.
It is personal, and part of who we are.
We may like or dislike our name.
We may have a nickname or some members of the family may have a pet name for you.
I make a conscious effort to repeat the name someone gives me. If they are called Elizabeth, unless they tell me to, I will never call them Liz or Lizzie.

So when I was filling out my French nationality papers and I had the choice of changing my name, I did. It was partly motivated by the fact that many French people could not pronounce ‘Adam‘ correctly and proceeded to call me Adan (with a nasal N) I didn’t like it. It wasn’t me. I would correct a lot of people and nearly all my friends would call me AdaM.

The original name I wanted to adopt was ERWAN (which is not pronounced with a nasal N at the end). It is Breton so I thought it was a perfect marriage between Celtic Britanny and Celtic Wales. This was refused by the French authorities as it wasn’t French but Breton. So I adopted the name of Louis. Similar to my second name of Lee, I thought at least no one would mispronounce my name.

Don’t get me wrong. I am still very proud to be French and have French nationality, but there I things I have done which in retrospect I should have thought a lot more carefully.

Despite having a French first name, my surname does not sound French and I am constantly asked about it’s origin in situations which are not the right ones. I was renting a flat once and because my surname has a WE it can sound Arabic sometimes. So when asked, the motivation was more sinister. I hung up.

Ten years on, despite speaking fluent French, joking about films, knowing public figures, or having historic references, I still get the feeling I will always be from the outside.

Even changing my name to integrate better didn’t help.