What’s in a name?

Observant, Maastricht

I’ve been flirting with the idea of adopting a new name.

For starters, I have to share my present name with about ten million other people. Being called Alison Edwards is like being Jan Jansen in Dutch, or at least the female equivalent thereof. To make matters worse, I don’t even have a middle name. In fairness it’s probably for the best I wasn’t given my mother’s middle name, Pamela – that would have left me facing a lifelong struggle with the initials APE. Christine would have been fine, though, or Catherine or Cecilia – then I would be ACE.

In the Netherlands my name comes off as a lot more exotic. The novelty wears off, however, when you have to repeat it a dozen times on introducing yourself. And as an unmistakeably English name, it goes hand in hand with the assumption that I mustn’t be able to speak Dutch. Introductions therefore tend to go as follows: ‘Alison.’ ‘What?’ ‘Alison.’ ‘What?’ ‘Alison. You know, kind of like Alice in Wonderland.’ At this point, people usually catch on and say, ‘Ahh!!! English?’ Followed by my awkward: ‘Right. Well, the name is English. But I’m not English. But yes, I’m English speaking. But I speak Dutch too though.’

The initial ordeal over with, I then find myself being referred to as Elison. This is preferable to the German variant, Elizon, but only marginally so. I’ve tried simplifying things by going with just Ali, but based on the spelling I tend to be taken for a Turkish man, and even then the A still comes out like an E. So I’ve decided to just ‘own’ it, as the Yanks would say, and embrace Elli as my Dutchified alter-ego. Replace that pesky Edwards with my husband’s last name, Lange, and in trial runs I’ve been finding that people actually get it first go. Better yet, they don’t notice at first that I’m foreign. It takes a few sentences for my accent to become apparent and the conversation to take that inevitable turn: ‘Ahh!!! English?’ ‘Right. Well yes, English speaking. I’m not English though …’

Elli Lange

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One thought on “What’s in a name?

  1. Well, you can hardly expect non-English speakers to use a sound they don’t have, can you? My first name sounds (to my ears) as GEStn in English, gasTONN in Spanish and chasTON (ch as in Bach and loch) in Dutch. I remember an elderly German lady who would say CASHtong. I’ll just bear my cross.
    Having said that, I could get used to Elli (or Alie) Lange. For you, that is; not for myself.

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