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Wednesday, July 27, 2011


When I was 10 years old we were living in France. After being there since age 3, I was so good at passing for a little French girl that no one ever thought I was American unless they had a conversation with one of my parents (whose American accents were obvious despite their hardest efforts at language school) or heard my last name. Somehow, parents and last names don't come up much in the classroom, playground, or gymnastic lessons when you're 10, so I rarely had to out myself as a foreigner. And that was a good thing for me.

I wasn't a very talented gymnast, but I liked to try. I can still stand and touch the floor without bending my knees, so I'd say the lessons were a win in the greater scheme of my life.

I have two lasting memories from my gymnast days. One of them is standing in line with the other girls waiting our turns to practice the balance beam. We were talking about how we couldn't wait to see Titanic in the theatre. Only one girl had seen the movie already and she announced to the whole group that Leonardo DiCaprio died at the end after having sex in a car. We were all confused and crushed.

My other memory is of my last competition. I wore my team leotard, half white, half purple with long sleeves. After completing every part of my routine, the forlorn French judge looked down at his paper and wrote down my score. At the end, we all sat on the floor of the huge gym and our coaches called our names over a poor quality speaker and read our scores for everyone to hear.

I didn't know when my name would be called, and I couldn't wait to find out how I had measured up. I listened and listened to the names and numbers but never heard my own. Coach was almost at the end of the list and I was straining to hear every word he said when he spoke a jargon name and started trailing numbers. Suddenly I realized that those string of scores were mine and he had just publicly read my name as "Brittany Bo-Ah-Trig-T".

I burned with embarrassment that my name had been so butchered by my coach. He should have known me! Now everyone would know that I had an American last name with the offensive "ight" ending that the French simply cannot pronounce. I was so thrown off that I didn't catch my scores and I was about to go up and ask for them again.

I thought a lot about my name then, and how I liked it for myself and how American "Boatwright" sounds, but I hated that it set me apart and made me different from my friends. And I'm sitting here now, 14 years later, and I cannot believe the irony that I have one month left to have this name before it changes to the most incredibly French last name that ever existed. Tabailloux. Ta-ba-you.

If I ever have a little girl, I'm going to teach her to be proud to stand apart from her peers and then take her to France just so I can introduce her to other little girls and marvel that when I speak her name over them, no one will even blink.