Once, in middle school I wrote an essay about our names. I remember starting with: “My name is Natalia. It is a Greek and Russian name”. But then everything got complicated. In my home everyone calls me Natasha, my friends call me Natashka or Natashechka. In the US I was told that all of these are different names, not (as I thought) just variants of the same name. So which one are you? I am all of them! Personally, I have never felt stigmatized because I use my Russian name and I am quite happy to take time and explain the multitude of name options I have. Ultimately, I give people the option to decide what name they prefer to call me. That which we call a rose, you know? It is a privilege to have this attitude. People fight for their names to keep their culture, ethnic names stand in the way of getting a good job and children are made fun of in schools because of their names. I am lucky, my name is so widespread that I have enough room to breathe.
In Canada many people ask me where my accent is from. If they know me as Natalia, I quite often get guessed as a Mexican. Once people hear Natasha they pin point my accent as Slavic: “Yes, I can hear your Russian accent now”. Natashka sometimes sounds Slovakian. Go figure.
This week I was looking for a new place to live. As an adaptation of this experiment, I started introducing myself as Natalie, an anglicized version of Natalia, one of many variants available in my name repertoire. Once I started anglicizing my name last week something remarkable happened. I no longer had to spell my name to Starbucks baristas or answer where my name was from, but my accent disappeared! I wasn’t asked “where is your accent from?” even once. One potential landlord politely asked if I was from Quebec. Personally I find it quite amusing and yet a confirmation that accent is in the ear of the listener. I have been working with Chinese immigrants for a bit over a year and now I can easily understand what they are saying. People who don’t have exposure to this variant of English might say it’s incomprehensible.
Professor Higgins, who trained poor Eliza to sound English, made her sound Hungarian. I simply changed my name on the application and started sounding Canadian! Take that intensive phonetics course!
I found a nice place, by the way, but on that day I was called Natalia.