Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Hello, My Name Is

Le Petit said his name for the first time today. When he was still a tiny baby, his grandmother bought wooden letters decorated with teddy bears to spell his name and we stuck them to the door of his bedroom. I used to stop in front of them all the time and point out the letters to him one by one:

"L-E P-E-T-I-T. Le Petit!"

(The real version is better, I assure you.)

I hadn't done it for a long time, but did so for some reason today. I think I was looking for a diversion before carrying him to the changing table. Le Petit listened attentively, repeated the letters veeeeeeery approximately -- I may have recognized an L in all the babbling -- and then clearly repeated his name.

It startled me to hear his own name in his own voice, a "whoa, he can do that?" moment almost like when he took his first steps. Yet for all I know he's been thinking of himself by his name for months now and what sounded huge to me represents no change in his mental landscape at all. Not that it mattered: he could tell I was proud of him, regardless.

It got me thinking, why is it that the very first thing they teach you when you're learning a foreign language is some overly complex formula for introducing yourself? Later on, when you actually live in a country where you speak the language daily, you almost never need to use it. I utter "Bonjour, je m'appelle..." only once every six months, if that.

Of course, I don't get out much or meet new people these days, but when I do, a simple handshake-and-state-your-name usually suffices.

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