May 13, 2010
What's in a Name?
We don't usually get to choose our names. They come to us at birth unbidden. Some people change their names later on, of course, like Chad Ochocinco or Prince have done--in their case for apparently promotional purposes.
For the rest of us mortals, we enjoy or suffer the consequences of randomly having parents who may or may not themselves have been handed an ordinary name--or who may or may not have had good taste in "titling" their children.
In my case, Le Peau came to me without my consent as a name commonly mispronounced by non-French speakers. For some reason, these people don't have the same trouble with Henry David Thoreau's last name. Nor with the name of former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Nor with a high plain or tableland (plateau) nor a French castle (chateau). Occasionally people pronounce my last name correctly, and I am quick to complement them.
Nonetheless, I (and my children after me, to whom I now apologize) have heard the question hundreds of times from someone who thinks he or she might be the first to ask it, "Has anyone ever told you that sounds like Pepe Lepew?" If they are not sure that I know what they are referring to, they will helpfully add, "You know, the Parisian skunk."
I admit my name is a challenge for those who (like me) have watched thousands of hours of Saturday morning cartoons. Repetition is clearly an effective way to learn--even if it is learning something wrong.
So, to clarify, no, my name is not pronounced like a church bench (pew) or like that of a certain charitable trust (Pew), but like the long vowel sound of the letter O.
(There. I got that off my chest. Phew!)