My junior high foreign language teacher hated me.
In the seventh grade, my school had “wheel class” which was a period that would rotate each quarter. The class you were sorted into at the beginning of the year determined the order of the subsequent three. The luck of the draw dropped me in Ms. Z’s Spanish class.
The very first day, I made it clear that I did not belong there. The second day, I started correcting her pronunciation which was terrible since she’d never actually been out of the state. The third day, the principal informed me that I would have a quiet study time in the library during that period for the rest of the quarter, which was fine by me.
The following year, we could choose to have one of the wheel classes for the whole year. The options were foreign language, speech, chorus or home ec/wood shop. I opted for language and the same Ms. Z smirked at me the first day and said that she’d made sure I was in French this year. “Great!” I said, “I just spent a month in France.” Her face fell.
Sometime during that first week, we had to choose the names we’d use in class when speaking to her and to each other, our “French names.” In our text-book there were two facing pages with little speech bubbles that read “Je m’appelle” followed by a typical French name like Jean or Marie. One page was for boys, the other for girls. My BFF chose Sylvie and I chose Georges.
When we had to introduce ourselves in class and I said “je m’appelle Georges,” Ms. Z said that Georges was a boy’s name and I had to choose a girl’s name. Instead of speaking up for feminist causes or equality or some other such stuff that I really don’t care about, I looked right at her and said, “Well, George Sand is a woman, so I can be Georges.”
Let me interrupt this blog post with a side note about how I was a pretty precocious kid. Obviously, this was my family’s fault. They never spoke to me like I was a child, so I didn’t act like one. I listened to everything said around me and read as many books as I could get my hands on and, at some point, I’d heard about George Sand who was a woman and a writer. I’d never read any of her stuff (still haven’t), but at 12 years old, I knew that there was precedent.
And so, I became Georges. All through high school French, I was Georges. My first non-school email addresses were variations on Georges. If I’d made a dinner reservation, even friends post-college knew that it would be under Georges. When I moved to Barcelona, I became Jordi (the Catalan version of same) and when I’d go to restaurants, the hosts would smile at me and say “you’re Jordi?” and I’d say “Sí, je sóc la Jordi” and they’d laugh since I’d used the correct female form of introduction despite having a boy’s name. In all these cases, it was just a lot easier to give a name that everyone could spell and that was easy to understand over the phone.
Recently, I stopped by a place to get a pizza. “First name,” the woman behind the counter asked without looking at me. “Georges.” She glanced up, “Georges?” When I confirmed that she’d heard correctly she said, “I’ve never heard that before. Ok, Georges, what would you like?” So, girl at the pizza place, you made my day.