What do people know you as?
Do you go by your full first name? A nickname? An acronym? How does that common reference relate to your personality?
Does it mean anything at all?
Although my friends and I have joked about it for years, I grew up with a cultural identity crisis that, to this day, very much remains. I was born and raised in France, yet sound and feel like a completely different person when I speak English, a language I express myself a whole lot better with than my native French.
I became obsessed with adopting American English after falling in love with New York during an episode of Law & Order in my early childhood to the point where I took its learning process far more seriously than any of my peers at school.
Refusing to go see dubbed foreign movies with friends who never bothered to improve their linguistic capabilities beyond our 60-minutes-per-week English classes, I grew more socially awkward and dug a lonelier hole for myself as my mind gradually replaced my inherited mother tongue with a foreign language I grew fond of after spending barely a few hours watching TV (great TV, I might add).
Basically, the older I grew, the more Americanized I became. By the time I’d entered high school, I began making jokes only I would find funny as I attempted to literally translate American idioms into French which, to the French, was a no-go.
Eventually, I grew far more interested in learning about what was happening around the world in English than I was reading Le Monde or watching TF1 in French. Despite living 5,853 kilometers (3,637 miles) away from New York, there was something about loading CNN in the background that always made me feel connected to life in the United States while unconsciously distancing myself from my own country, its culture, and its people.
This, you might think, isn’t that big of a deal nor uncommon. The problem, however, was the following: the less French I read, watched and spoke, the less articulate I became… in my own f-cking mother tongue. A language that I’d spent the majority of my life speaking, yet became less and less confident using in everyday life.
English, however, felt so… natural.
Although my obsession with New York and living in the United States passed when I moved to Asia after a one-year stint in NYC, another identity issue had arisen. One I had never thought much of in the past but that became much more troublesome while working overseas:
By the time I had first moved to New York (before Asia), I was commonly known as Edouard in both my French- and English-speaking worlds. Despite having grown a conundrum of two distinct personalities depending on the language I spoke, my name remained the same for quite a while.
In French, I was — and still am — Edouard. Socially awkward, constantly translating words from English into French in his head Edouard. But Edouard isn’t particularly easy to pronounce for those unfamiliar with Le Français. Granted, it’s not as hard as Uvuvwevwevwe Onyetenyevwe Ugwemubwem Ossas, but it has caused a problem or two.
So Edouard became Edward. Yet, for some reason, Edward just didn’t feel right. Having to translate my name didn’t feel right. So Edward naturally became Ed. Short for Edouard, and easy enough to pronounce by anyone, anywhere in the world.
I then came to wonder: what do people think of me when they think about “Ed”? What would people think of me if they thought of me as “Edward” or “Edouard”? Surely the latter sounds and, in fact, is far more French than the previous two. And one of the reasons I became Ed in the first place was, if memory serves me well, because of how “American it sounded”.
The more I thought about these questions, the more I attempted to assign certain personality traits to each of the names I had been given based on what I believed people saw me as. I ventured a wild guess and came up with the following list:
- Ed: goofy, international, loves referencing Friends, active, social, confused, enjoys making jokes in awkward situations.
- Edward: wants to pretend to be from the US even though he’s not, tries to hide insecurities by using the English version of his real name.
- Edouard: French.
So, am I overthinking this whole name thing?
Is it justified? I’d say it is.
In a day and age where names have become brands of their own, it’s fair to think of them as emotional tools.
But at the end of the day, what matters most isn’t so much related to what you think people think of you; it’s what you do with that name that will ultimately determine the kind of person you aspire to become. It took me 27 years, a few international flights and a lonely dinner watching “Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals” to figure that out.
With 2019 already in full swing and New Year resolutions (probably) already out the window, I thought to myself: to hell with what I believe people think of my name. To hell with overthinking and assuming. This year, and beyond, this is what I want people to think about:
- Ed: always asks questions, constantly curious, turns causes he cares about into actions, takes his trash to his office to be recycled (wait, what…), dedicated to learning new skills, deeply and genuinely interested in human connections, and loves burpees.
There. That sounds about right.