What's, like, in a name?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What's, like, in a name?

My ditz survival pack...the essentials.

While joking with a good friend at the Sorbonne about what we’d name our babies (both parties aware of the joke), I told her I’d name our son Bob.  I like this name in French and I thought it would be a funny (note: these are the things Sorbonne students do before class).

She, French, and aghast, said, “No way. We’re not having an American name for our child.”  I asked what the problem was with an American name like Bob, or worse, Bryan.  I then learned something that I had not known about my name and others like it.  Certain American names for boys, according to this girl and other students, are the equivalent of names like Candy and Buffy in the US.

Essentially, to the French, Bryan is not only in the kitchen, but he’s a total ditz.

I argued against this, saying I never felt prejudice because of my name, but she assured me that when French people see my name, they don’t expect much from me.  The fact that I was at the Sorbonne helped this enormously, giving me some sort of intellectual boost, so I avoided some of the sting.

But now I wonder if many of my happy interactions in Paris are simply due to the fact that the French feel bad for poor airheaded Bryan.  Could it be?

I quickly considered dressing more smartly or perhaps investing in glasses.  Maybe get rid of the Chucks and start combing my hair.  I didn’t want to give the French any reason to believe I was anything less than a bona fide genius.

But then my future wife-not-to-be continued to tell me that Kevin was also another name associated with ditzy boys, though another friend had previously told me that Kevin was also a name associated with gangsters.  I started to lose faith in her, wondering who the real ditz was.  Maybe she was playing a fast one on me, but either way I am slightly more aware of avoiding ditzy tenancies these days and I’m still considering those glasses…


  1. LOL It's kind of like how the French think the name Estelle is classy and in English, I just picture an old, nasal Jewish woman (I can say that as a Jew, by the way).

  2. I did a whole blog post on this six or seven years ago back when I was teaching in an elementary school. Basically any kid that had a name from a 90's American TV show (Brandon, Brenda, Dylan, etc) was just pushed aside because it was "obvious" that they came from low-income families whose parents just sat around watching TV all day, and thus they wouldn't ever amount to anything either.

    I've also seen a few TV reports where the journalist sent CV's with "French" sounding names and then others with "foreign" sounding names and then saw how many got called in for an interview. The French names won 10 to 1. Same thing when they sent foreign-looking people to apply at places advertising "Help wanted" in their windows - 90% of the time, they were told the job had already been filled. Yet when a "French-looking" person walked in later in the day, the job was miraculously open again. And again, the same for CVs that were sent to temp agencies - the agents took one look at the picture of the person and said "No way, none of our companies would hire that person".

    All of this has really opened my eyes to the hidden discrimination that goes on here. I'm not trying to be critical of France, just accepting that's the way it is. Which is one of the reasons why I took my husband's name after we got married and it's also one of the reasons that our (future) children will very likely have typical French names. I guess IMO, any leg up we can give them will help.

  3. This post totally made me laugh! And what if you have been the victim of discrimination all these years solely based on your name??? I don;t know any other Bryan's here in France so I can't ask around. Hmm, come to think if it maybe that fact in and of itself is telling... :P

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