Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The name dilemma

Dear friends of the blogosphere, I need you to weigh in on something that’s been bothering me for weeks.

First, the premise: 
The Boy’s name is Alexandre, and to be really precise let me just say straight off the bat that it’s pronounced like Alexander. We named him Alexandre because, obviously, we liked the name, also, it’s similar to the husband’s name and we chose to spell it that way because it’s the Brazilian spelling and as I’m half Brazilian it all seemed to make sense. Plus, I went to a French school in Houston (yes, I know, my family’s messed up) and there were a LOT of boys named Alexandre (as this is how the French spell it too) and, as far as I know, none of them had any problem with the English speakers mispronouncing their name. Anyway…

Unfortunately, Italians are extremely literal and they pronounce things exactly as they are written so they pronounce his name with an accent on the last e, like Andre. 
But, no matter, I thought, I have a weird name too and have spent my entire life correcting people on the pronunciation and spelling, it’s no biggy. Yet… here in Italy, I’ve found, people can be pretty obtuse… point in fact, I have family members who still don’t know how to spell my name, or, more likely, don’t give a shit and decide to spell it the way it sounds rather than the way it’s actually spelled.

To make matters worst, we call the Boy, Xandre (pronounced Zander) because his dad’s nickname is Alex and we didn’t want the confusion of two people named Alex running around the house.

So anyway our conversations usually run something like this:

Stranger: “Oh, what a cute little boy! What’s your name, honey?”
Boy: “Zander”
Stranger looks totally confused so I step in:
Me: “Alexander”
Stranger: “Oh, Alessandro (Italian version), Hi Alessandro!”
Me: “No, actually it’s Alexander, Alessandro’s his dad.”
Stranger: “Sorry?”
Me: “His name isn’t Alessandro, it’s Alexander!”
Stranger stops calling him by name cause is confused.

Or maybe Stranger is actually a school teacher or something and sees his name written somewhere so the comment becomes: “oh! Alexandré! Ok!”

And that’s when I start banging my head against the wall.

So here’s the dilemma… the Boy is starting preschool in September, which basically means he’s really and truly on the road to being independent from us, and every day that passes more and more often he’ll be the one that’s going to be having the conversation above. We love him, it wasn’t our intention when we named him to make his life a living hell of futile repetition or worse, to spend his childhood and young adulthood answering to a name that’s simply not his own. So the Husband and I have been thinking of just getting his name legally changed to Alexander to avoid all this ridiculous confusion.

My problem though is that in my heart, in my mind, and in all his baby stuff (his bibs, his blankies, his sheets, his birthday cakes and invitations and baby books…not to mention on all the freaking church records) his name is Alexandre, and names are important, aren’t they? They’re important spiritually, mystically, anthropologically… his name is a part of him.

So, I’ve been spending my days on the fence, wondering, what’s in a name? How much of a hassle is it going to be for him to always be correcting people, or to answer to a slightly mispronounced version of his name? Is he going to care at all, or is it just me? Is it worth the hassle of going through the name change procedure (complicated beyond all semblance of proportion and sanity here in Italy by the infamous Italian bureaucracy) and then if it gets approved, is he going to mind that his name was changed without his consent? Will his life be different as Alexander than it would be as Alexandre?

What is in a name? And most importantly, what do I do?

Linking up with Shell at Things I can't say today.


  1. I would say stick to your original guns with his name and suffer through correcting people until they get it.
    You explained very clearly and eloquently above why you chose to blend your Italian, Brazilian and French cultural heritage into his name.
    As such, yes, it is important and spiritually relevant, and it is his name.
    You have no idea what we go through with our son Tarek's name. We get Tereek, we get Ter-ick, we get Tar-ee, we get everything most days except "Tah-rek" 
    But that is his name and so we soldier on. 
    May the force be with you.
    Cheers, Alcira

  2. I think you're over-thinking this. Italians will call people whatever they want, but changing his name how his parents say it might lead to identity conflicts and confusion.
    In Italy I got called all kinds of things... in Firenze "la Hethi", in Milan "Chetti", etc. etc. Don't think it matters as much, and it's more what will happen when he's at school, and what his personality is like... whether or not he cares enough to assert himself as to the pronunciation of his name, or if he is more laid-back and goes with the flow, and lets people call him however they want to.

  3. I'm not sure what you should do. I can share that in our house it was worked out by the child. We are both foreigners living in Italy and raising our daughter here. I named her "Madelyn." I wish I had given her a name that can easily cross cultures, but, alas, I did not.  I, too, fretted over how to handle all the confusion this very foreign name causes. To add to the confusion, we call her Maddy. 

    In the past year, she has taken on the name of Maddalena, when among Italians who are strangers. She chose to do it -- says it's just easier than explaining and correcting. She is seven. Of course, we introduce her as Madelyn to strangers, Italian or not. She perfers Maddy to all the names & was upset at the beginning of last school year when her teacher insisted on using her real name and called her Madelyn Isabel, in a phonetic Italian sort of way -- totally mispronounced.  It brought her to to tears, actually. By the end of the school year; however,  the classemates call her Meddy. 

    I should have named the child Laura or Anna or Emma.

    Maybe little Ale will figure it all out for himself.

  4. "names are important, aren’t they? They’re important spiritually, mystically, anthropologically… his name is a part of him."  Yes, exactly.  Don't change his name.  People will adjust as best they can.  Most likely he'll go through life with some folks insisting on pronouncing his name with an andre at the end and others will only be able to compute Alessandro.  I think I would tell him to correct people twice politely, and if they still get it wrong, it is probably best just to take pity on them and leave them alone.  Hey, look at it this way, if you had a Chinese friend who could only pronounce your name Yala, you wouldn't freak out and keep telling her to get it right.  You would just accept that everyone has limitations, and some folks' limitations are going to include pronouncing your name correctly.  I've run into people over the years who insist on calling me Rob or even Bobby.  Weird.  I work with one guy who seems certain my name is Richard.  I have told him probably a half dozen times that my name is still Robert, but the poor bastard just can't remember.  It's really no big deal, I guess; I can answer to Richard (though I think I would draw the line at Dick).  The thing is most people, the ones I care about, know how to say my name just fine.  I think it will be the same with Alexandre.

  5. That's exactly what I'm afraid of, the teacher who doggedly insists on calling him something that to him is unfamiliar, that will possibly upset him. Keeping an attitude that in my mind is neither justified nor comprehensible as a teacher should have the empathy to call a child by her name, trying at the very least to pronounce it correctly or use a nickname occasionally. 
    Thanks for sharing your experience, Xandre will indeed figure it out!

  6. As a person whose maiden name is spelled Gjestland and whose first name sounds like "Jane", "Jay", "Jess" and I've even gotten "Jake", I can well sympathize. But even with all the difficulties I wouldn't change my name for the world (when I took on a married name, I still kept my maiden name as my middle name). So I think you should keep his original name and if, when he gets older, he wants to change it, then you can leave that decision to him. It could be that he won't mind answering to various versions of his name, or it may well be that he won't live in Italy forever and this won't always be an issue. (I love the name Xandre by the way. I had a crush on a boy named Xander when I was 14 and it still brings fond memories!) Maybe when people ask his name, you can just say Xandre and leave it at it is with no explanation, as if it is his full name, and just ignore the confused stares. It's a pain, but I'm sure he'll appreciate having the choice left to him when he's ready to decide. He might even play around with a few different options until he finds the one that fits him most comfortably.

  7. Basically, in naming him, I included a lesson in patience! Thanks Dick! (Ok, I know, I'm sorry but I absolutely, positively, simply could not resist... you just handed it to me on a silver platter and that is how ye shall be known henceforth!)

  8. I know, I over-think everything!

  9. Thanks Alcira, (pronounced with a "d" sound and not a rolled "r") I just keep thinking about it cause it's basically the same name but with a different spelling and people will at least manage to say it right. Ugh, did I mention parenting is hard? We originally wanted to call him Drago, and our families revolted... I wish I had stuck to my original guns!

  10. Thanks Jade, and really you got Jake, seriously? Also, how is your maiden name pronounced (just for curiosity's sake!)

  11. LOL...yeah I've gotten Jake a time or two. The people working at Starbucks aren't always the brightest...And my maiden name is pronounced: Jest-land. Essentially the G or the J is silent. It's Norwegian. :)

  12. He'll correct people and it will be okay. :)

    My oldest is a junior and the nickname we use for him is not a traditional one. Yet, he has learned to correct people and tell them what name to use for him. 

    I thought about a legal change, but then decided that it wasn't worth the hassle. 

  13. I would agree with the other comments.  I don't think it's necessary to change his name.  While I can't comment on the difficulties of living in a different country that has difficulty with his name, I can say that I have a name that is very frequently mispronounced.  You would think Krista would be easy to say, but my whole life I've gotten Kristal, Kristina, Kristy, Kristen...I don't think anyone is really immune to having their name mispronounced.  Changing his name may help in some situations, but I'm willing to bet it won't do away with the problem all together.

  14. Hey, our son Arthur has similar problems and he is constantly called Arturo, Artù, etc. and only in the US Ar.TH.ur as you Italians don't pronounce the TH.  I call him by his name, he calls himself the way his French father calls him, and we tell Italians is name is Arturo. My vote it to leave your son's name the way you named him at birth.  Amy is not any easier for the Italians than yours and I have gotten used to being called Emy and I skip the explanation. He might not always live in Italy and may live where his name is easy for the locals to pronounce, at least this way he doens't have to explain that he was born with one name and now uses another... Resist!  hugs, amy

  15. Wow, that's a pretty tough dilema. I would just have him teach people to pronounce it correctly. When he gets older he'll move on and will appreciate why you spelled it the way you did. Maybe he'll leave Italy - being that he comes from such global parents. Don't succumb to the obtuse crowd. 

  16. Pronuncia Alexander esattamente cosi' com'e, come se fosse in italiano, e non dovrebbero esserci problemi. Non accusare gli italiani di essere stremamente letterali o ottusi: hai mai provato a far scrivere e a pronunciare ad un americano il nome Giuseppe? Pur facendo lo spelling non c'e verso di fargli mettere la i prima della u, immancabilmente scrivono "Guiseppe", e altrettanto immancabilmente pronunciano Giuseppi, la e non e' possibile farla pronunciare. Non ho mai pensato fossero ottusi o incapaci, quanto che le differenze linguistiche sono tali da non permettergli di scrivere e pronunciare diversamente. Cosi' come e' impossibile che un francese pronunci una qualsiasi parola senza mettere l'accento, pur avendo ascoltato precedentemente il termine senza accento.
    Era un problema che avreste dovuto considerare prima di scegliere il nome, ormai e' cosa fatta e quindi perche' cambiare il nome di un bambino che si e' sentito chiamare per tre anni? Alessandro lo pronunci "Alessandro" giusto? Allora pronuncia "Alexander" senza usare diminutivi ( Xander) e non ci pensi piu'.

  17. Il problema infatti è proprio che io pronuncio Alexandre esattamente come va pronunciato ma con accento italiano quindi: A l e x a n d e r. Ma la gente dice Alessandro, quindi non sono in grado o, secondo me, non hanno voglia di copiare quello che dico io ma lo italianizzanondirettamente, non lo storpiano, cosa comprensibile, dicono degli altri suoni, la s, la o... Che io non ho pronunciato. Ma soprattutto, quando vedono scritto Alexandre ovviamente lo dicono come lo leggono, mi sembra normale, ma se io rispondo, è vero, si scrive Alexandre, ma si dice Alexander semplicemente non gliene frega niente e ottusamente mi rispondono ma se si scrive dre non si pronuncia der. È per questo che pensiamo di cambiarlo, per questa assurda rigidità mentale. Come quando per anni tutti insistevano col scrivere il mio nome Iara quando si scrive Yara. Va bene la Y non esiste nel alfabeto italiano, ma non è un nome italiano e mi sembra il minimo denominatore di educazione e cortesia chiamare una persona col suo nome e non una versione adattata alla propria lingua, una volta che sei stato corretto, persistere nell'errore secondo me è proprio ottusaggine.

  18. Tra l'altro, vorrei aggiungere che i francesi al limite ti chiamano Michelà perché devono accentare la fine della parola perché così funziona la loro cadenza linguistica, ma non insistono nel chiamarti Michelle perché è così che si traduce Michela in Francese, idem in America dicono Giuseppe con l'accento Americano ma non decidono di chiamarlo Joseph perché è più semplice e famigliare. Allora perché in Italia Alexander o Alexandre deve diventare Alessandro??

  19. Definitely keep the name. It is him, it is you, it is your heritage. If there is a problem he will deal with it his own way when he grows up.

  20. "dicono Giuseppe con l'accento Americano"

    Right, so the question is would you rather be called "Jew-zepp-ee" or "Joe"?

  21. I believe you should keep his name as it is. I think it's beautiful, and it shows his heritage. People mess up names all the time. We grow up correcting people, and it's not really a big deal. Frustrating, but not so bad. Whether it's first name or last name or a nickname we totally hate (I hate being called Roxy. And people have called me Roseanne.), we spend time correcting people. And if they are people who don't matter, sometimes we give up correcting them. Let him take his path in life. If he wants to change it (legally or informally), then it can be his decision.

    And can I just say? Xandre is an adorable nickname. Maybe he'll just go by that. :)

  22. I would simply like people to have the courtesy to at least attempt to pronounce his name the way it's supposed to be pronounced with whatever accent their mother tongue imposes and not simply translate it into something it is not. It's like that guy calling you Richard, that's not your name. If this was acceptable behavior anyone could call anyone else in whatever way they preferred and our given names wouldn't mean a thing. Also, we're not thinking of changing his name per say, we would just change the spelling, inverting two little letters, which could make a huge difference in his day to day interactions. Those people who will insist on calling him Alessandro he will just have to learn to pity but at least no one will call him Alexandre (pronounced like André) even after he takes the time to correct them. And now I'm being repetitive, and boring. Thanks Dick!
    (see, annoying isn't it?)
    And suddenly I feel like we're back at Awty debating stuff just for the pleasure of hearing ourselves speak, oh those halcyon days!

    p.s. incidentally, did you know that teachers here teach their students about Girogio Washington (I kid you not!) not even the french change historical figures' names and we know how much the french like to frenchisize (I just totally made that word up) everything!

  23. There's certainly an argument to be made for sticking to our guns...

  24. I know, all foreigners have the same problem here!

  25. You're right, it won't do away with the problem all together. Our idea was to try and improve the situation by just switching around the last two letters... I may just leave it up to the dice! 

  26. It is, in fact, a huge hassle, which is one of the reasons I'm sitting here debating it and haven't done it yet! Also, I'm a pathologically indecisive person by nature...

  27. Alexandre is the name you chose for him and I think that you should keep it that way.  Who cares if strangers can't pronounce it, in school he will only have to correct them once a year hopefully.  Our son's name is Nathan Alexander and the french call him Natan (short A's on both) Alexandre.  It used to drive me crazy until they kept hearing me call him Nathan and now they make an effort.

  28. You are not changing his name, Or the intention. Just switching around a couple Of letters that Will make his Life easier. I believe in sticking to your guns only if it is something you are truely passionate about. It sounds to me like your passion is more about what will make your Son happy and self assured on HIS future. Trust YOUR maternal instincts.
    I really hope I get to see you in Rome! Right now I am battling my own maternal instinct in making my decision to go!

  29. What a fine name - I reckon he'll be proud of it as he grows older. I love that Alexandre is just a little different and connects him to his heritage. 

    My daughter's name (Ana is just her nickname) is likewise a variant of a common name and gets mispronounced and misspelled aplenty. I just try not to notice. I reckon it will matter less as they grow up and either a) select a common nickname for themselves or b) move somewhere else where the name is more common or c) take pride in having a slightly uncommon name. 

    Either way, Alexandre is a good gift. And the nicknames are super-cute too :)

  30. I know this is old, but I've found it interesting because my son is named Xandre, spelled that way due to my Portuguese ancestry. I had considered giving him Alexandre as his formal name with Xandre as the nickname, but my ex preferred just Xandre. We are in the U.S. and it either is misspelled or mispronounced constantly. Oh well. We just carry on and I choose my battles.