A few years ago, soon after the New Year, I received news that my girlfriend had given birth to her fourth child in Florence. We met in Melbourne, she is French, had her first child in America, second in France, third in Melbourne (named Victoria) and fourth in Florence. And no, it wasn’t a little baby Florence, it was a Nouvel An..toine...nice play on words, thanks to Antoine’s talented multi-lingual father.
It is all in a name. We named our daughter 'Molly', for no other reason than we liked the name. We followed this with May, after my maternal grandmother. Prior to her birth, my husband and I debated the fact that due to her surname also beginning with 'M', this would give her a triple M set of initials. We also reflected momentarily, when we scrutinised our choice for embarrassing pronunciations, innuendos and acronyms and realised that with both names meaning Mary in different countries, we were effectively naming her Mary, Mary... Still, this was not enough to put us off our original choices.
In France, having a second name is rare, although a double-barrelled first name is quite common (think Jean-Phillipe, Jean-Paul, Marie-Claire, Anne-Laure...). All of my children have a middle name and when I filled in forms for them in France, I usually went for broke and included them all. As a result, when she started at collège, Molly was down on all the class lists as Molly May. She was initially amused, then mildly taken-aback, but quickly adopted the two-name first name as a badge of honour. She has many of the same characteristics as my grandmother: adventurous, people-oriented, sporty and affable and is delighted that it pleases my mother, May’s daughter, enormously, to have her remembered.
Molly’s Principal contacted me in the first week of her starting at her new school to request permission for her to join a special English class for students of an English-speaking background. Really? I was flabbergasted that such an option would be considered, as my older daughter’s experience, admittedly in a different collège, had been initially to ask her not to waste her time attending English classes and in the following year picking fault with her…English. Of course, I responded affirmatively to the Principal, checking nonetheless what she would be doing in her couple of now-spare periods. She would be required to attend ‘étude’ also known as ‘permanence,’ which were supervised study classes.
My handwriting is not the best. It never has been good; after all I did not go through primary school in France where the emphasis on perfect formation of tiny linked letters begins in the first year of school. My ‘v’ and ‘u’ in particular get confused often but when joining a new skiing group, Molly’s name had been written ‘Mohly’ on the lists. Naturally enough, and probably quite appropriately, I was blamed, as I had filled out the enrolment forms. The positive outcome was that the confusion led to a conversation between my daughter and her instructor about the origin of the name, her background and nationality, so the ice was broken and a relationship established.
My older daughter brought a form down to the kitchen for me to sign. With three children, it was a fairly constant stream of paperasserie (paper work), so often I graced each document with a fairly cursory glance and a rapid signature. However, every signature had to be preceded with the words 'lu et approuvé' or at least the place in which you were doing the signing and the date. The date, I understood, but the place? Did it really matter if I said that I was in Paris or Sydney when putting pen to paper? In any case, on this occasion, I had barely got through three letters of our village name, when over my shoulder were flung the words, ‘could you please write neatly this time’ and then moving closer to watch me, ‘honestly didn’t you learn to write at school?’ And it wasn’t even Mary Mary (and you know how that rhyme continued) who was speaking.