An Ordinary Life

What I do, what I think

A Stroke of the Pen March 24, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — reneewong @ 6:21 pm

I have a confession to make. I just doctored my baptism certificate. I am on medication for having a fever the past three days. Not that that is doing anything for my guilt.

I did it with a stroke of the pen. Literally. I added a stroke on top of an “e”. I think that from the moment the name “Renée” came to me as the name that would define me, and the name that I would take, I also knew that I was taking on a losing battle. That the accent on that “e” will always plague me, or the lack thereof, in any place where French is not common, i.e. here in my homeland.

On the day I received my baptism certificate, I was very happy, but a huge part of me knew that the accent aigu will be missing. (Yes, there actually are different names given to the different strokes, and they can change the meaning of the word, and that’s why they are there! They are not there to prettify a word or make it “French”.) So, lo and behold, no surprise there, when the space above the “e” was, well, space. It disturbed me, and I wondered if I should march back in to the church admin counter and explain to the nice people there that there is a missing stroke, very small, almost a speck in some fonts, then I decided not. Why? Read on.

A couple of weeks ago, I was near Chinatown with the ex (that, is another story altogether) and we walked past this hair salon called “Nice de Paris”. The ex, in a way that only he could, ridiculed and laughed at the name. Myself, I think I have become so inured to the abuse and misuse of the French language by beauty salons, cafés and boutiques in this country, that I barely even raised an eyebrow. And as we walked along Neil Road and the environs, there were pubs and other establishments which had happily adopted “French” names, which mean nothing at all in French, or any other language. And the only reason I can find, the only attribute that I can give to the owners of these establishments is “pretentiousness”, which, incidentally, has its origin in the French word “prétentieux”. To be “pretentious” means, according to Oxford, “to attempt to impress by affecting greater importance or merit than is actually possessed”.

When I chose the name “Renée”, it actually was the simplest of names. In fact, it cannot be simpler. It’s so literal. In French the prefix “re” means the same thing as in English, the sense of “again”, and né means “born”. René means “born again”, or even “reborn” if translated directly. And that’s what the baptism is supposed to be, and that’s what I was supposed to be: born again. “Ne” without the accent in the French language forms part of a negative construct – “ne… pas”, “ne… jamais”, “ne… plus”, “ne… rien” – “not”, “never”, “not anymore”, “nothing”. Now, why would I name myself after part of a negative construct? The accent was meant to be there, right from the start.

I understand the difficulty of adding the accent. It requires a few extra steps in Microsoft Word. That is provided one even knows that there is such a thing as “Insert symbol”. On all the forms that I have filled in for church, I have always included the accent. In fact, on my church membership card, the accent is there, because I specifically emailed the person-in-charge to include it. But I did not want to trouble the Diocese of Singapore, and I did not want to be one of those pretentious people who decide to adopt a French name without knowing what it means, or how to spell it. So now, ironically, I have a misspelled French name that doesn’t mean anything. I have become like one of those pubs along Neil Road.

So, why did I doctor the certificate today of all days? That’s the crux of the matter. I want to change the name on my IC. Or rather, add my baptism name. Now, since the church admin has failed me in their word processing, I am hoping that the Singapore government will get it right. But, I need to show proof in the form of my baptism certificate.

Of course, it has occurred to me that even if the accent appears on my IC, it is possible that it will disappear somewhere in the bureaucracy which is present in any government. Then again, let’s see if it even appears on my new IC at all, or if I will receive a phone call from a doubtful officer at the ICA.

The battle wages on, and in the meantime, I do feel bad.

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