By Any Other Name

Lately, a few people who have only been exposed to my name in written form have asked me how on earth that’s pronounced. Don’t feel bad – no one on this side of the pond (OK, outside of Denmark) knows how to do it without a quick tutorial. I once read a book – I’ve forgotten which; it had something to do with a dragon and King Arthur - in which the dragon mentioned that Danish wasn’t a language, it was a throat disease. There might be something to that claim.

Do all children want another name than the one their parents gave them? I did. Well, sort of - more of a variation on it. I wanted to be Lena, which I thought more exotic and glamourous, not Lene. I wished for it quite fervently, although I never went so far as to insist people call me that. Instead, they called me Lene - not surprisingly, I suppose. In Denmark, everyone knew how to pronounce it. The first ‘e’ isn’t like an ‘i’, but definitely an ‘e’ and the final ‘e’ is pronounced like the ‘e’ in ‘the’. Clear as mud, right?

Just how clear this is to people outside of Denmark was brought home to me when we moved to Canada. I quickly learned to introduce myself as ‘Lena’ when meeting people in person – thus handily fulfilling my childhood dream (by the way, not nearly as exciting as my seven-year-old self imagined) - but once the written version got involved, things deteriorated. Even when it appeared after a verbal introduction.

I’ve been called Lini. Lenée (as in Renée). Lean, fer fuck’s sake. I vividly remember the day I graduated with my B.Sc. There we were in Convocation Hall – hundreds of co-graduates (with assorted family members), all dressed in black robes, all very excited, nervous and overwhelmed by the pomp and ceremony of the situation. Our names would be called by a very official-looking guy in robes and we would move up before the Chancellor of the university, who’d drape the (fake)ermine-lined hood over our necks in front of almost 2,000 people. I waited for hours and finally, it was my turn. The culmination of four years of hard work, public recognition of my academic accomplishment, all that shy young pride and mindboggling momentous milestone wrapped up in one brief moment. And then… Dude calling the names? Called me Lenny. And then mangled my middle name, as well. If the neverending speeches and funny hats worn by the senior faculty hadn’t already moved things into the surreal and giggle-inducing for me (I respond badly to solemnity), being called Lenny certainly kicked it over the edge.

These days, I essentially answer to almost anything, including ‘hey, you’. Although I do prefer Lena.