In English my name means high tower. In French it means an old house in Paris, covered in vines. It means passion, it means expectation. It is like the click of high heels. A pas de deux. It is my best friend’s carton of chocolate swirl ice cream eaten over fits of laughter and sappy romance films after a school day filled with trying too hard, spoonfuls like secrets.
It is only mine, nobody before me to draw from, but still expected to live up to them. Though sometimes I don’t acknowledge its true form—the nickname that comes instead has swallowed it up—I’m not sure how to feel about that, the true name is unfamiliar to everyone but me, those who use it seem like imposters from a bad spy movie, the name coming out of their mouth like a blaring alarm.
My father. I would’ve liked to have been there when he was trekking through France. That’s where he fell in love with the name, the language, the food, the people. He wanted to remember the crispy “French” fries, which are nothing like American fries, the long loafs of bread that made sound when you broke them, the chilly morning air that soon dissolved into afternoon heat, everything. This name was a way to do that.
And the story goes that I was on the way, a few names were discussed, the one that would eventually be picked was among them. And the moment I was born they knew. It was probably my red hair. I wonder if they even thought about the others, and how different it would be if they had picked another name. Madeleine. I was given a big name for a tiny girl, and I wish I could live up to all the dreams they had for her.
At school they mispronounce my name as if the letters are tripping over each other in a rush to be said first. In third grade, the teacher asked if I had a nickname because my real name was too hard to say. It’s not too hard to say. She’s the girl most people see now—Maddy—which is short, sweet, and to the point. I thought I was her for a while, but then I discovered something. I am always Madeleine.
I wish I could go back to that day and tell them I had no nickname. Maybe then the name that I whisper in secret would be easier to live up to. Maddy has ruined some things for Madeleine. Maybe it would be easier to be a Sarah or a Jane, to have a name that lots of other people do. One that’s “easy to say”, and maybe easier to be.