Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Nicola and Helena

From: anonymous

I just heard you on NPR and pricked up my ears because of your beautiful voice and your name. I am English and have lived here in Seattle since my husband's work brought us in 1994 with our tiny daughters, Helena and Nicola. Then I noticed your sister's name, Helena on Wiki. Small world. My question is - do you have any tips for helping Americans pronounce Nicola correctly? Do you find they like to rhyme it with Coca Cola, emphasis wise? Our theory is that they are more accustomed to the name Nicole and its emphasis on the second syllable. Oh well.

Looking forward to trying your books now.

I tell Americans: pronounce it like Nicholas, but without the s. But then they often actually call me Nicholas. Sigh. This happened a lot in Atlanta, fifteen years ago, when Kelley worked for an environmental engineering company. We'd go to these awful corporate parties where the wives (oh, yep, they were Wives) had the biggest hair you've ever seen and pasted sugary smiles on their faces and said things like, 'My goodness, where did you find your decorator?' and the men (oh, yep, they were all manly Men) punched each other on the shoulder and said, 'How about them Braves!' And Kelley would get pushed into the Wife group (even though she was the corporate soldier) and, by default, I'd end up with the Men (even though I was a corporate wife). And they'd blink and call me Nicholas, put a drink in my hand, then punch me on the shoulder and tell me that Kelley was 'doing a helluva job'. Utterly bizarre. But, wow, they made good drinks. (Actually, I have a story about that, but it's not something I put in writing. Buy me a pint sometime and I'll tell you all about it.)

Being called Nicholas by those Georgia men is just another example of the strength of binary thinking: you're a girl (big hair, likes boys) or you're a boy (little hair, likes girls) and certain names only are appropriate. Perhaps if I'd been called Nicole they would have shoved me in the Wife group and forgotten about it, but having a name that sounds like Nicholas, NICK-uh-luh, rather than Nicole, Ni-COLE, just drove them mad. Funny how it always seems to be the little things...

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