Callaghan finally changed his name on Facebook. His old Facebook name had been an inside joke between us, but the joke didn’t translate well in French (I’ve written about this before… people in France thought that his name was “Chili Farts”), and he’d wavered between keeping it and changing it because on the one hand, he liked it despite the confusion on the Gallic side, and on the other hand, who wants to be called Chili Farts?
He finally decided to change his name after conversing with one of his cousins in France. He ended the phone call and shuffled into the kitchen looking mildly perturbed.
“Once again,” he said, sighing and laughing at the same time.
“Ambre just asked me why my name on Facebook is ‘Chili Pète’,” he said. “I told her that it’s not ‘Chili Pète.’ It’s ‘Chili Pete’.”
Ambre is his cousin’s daughter. Their family had visited with us for a few days in August. And language is an interesting thing. “Pète” and “Pete” are spelled the same, but that little accent above the first ‘e’ makes the critical difference between a bodily function and a boy’s name.
I’m guilty of omitting the accents in my French writing online because I’ve yet to memorize the alt codes for the different ones, and I’m too rushed to look them up. (I know, I know!) In such cases, the French usually visualize the accents where they should be, since they know the word, itself.
Because that’s what people naturally do when they recognize a word, but it’s missing its accent. They assume the accent.
The French don’t readily associate “Pete” with a name, though, being that it’s short for “Peter” – their counterpart to “Peter” is “Pierre” – but they recognize the word. So when they see it, they visualize its accent: “Pète.”
“The French all pronounce it like that,” he said. “Chili Pète.”
And so he changed it. I changed mine, too, since my fake Facebook name made a matched set with “Chili Pete.” We decided on a new set of inside-joke fake Facebook names with equal (if not better) amusement value.
The moral of this story is that when your social media audience of friends and family encompasses groups of people who speak different languages, interesting things can happen. Stuff gets lost in translation. Your French-speaking friends will mispronounce your name and you won’t even realize it because you’re bilingual with dual citizenship and you’ve spent years in the States, so “Pete” is self-explanatory to you. It’s all fun and games until the hundredth person asks you why your name is “Chili Farts.”