My first name, Chantal, comes from the French verb, chanter, to sing.
As a name, it was a nice thought, but as far as being practical for an American girl, it was terrible, especially when it was combined with my Italian last name.
“Sh..shh…shantell Pa…Pan..ahzzo?” stuttered the first grade teacher at my suburban Chicago school, after she had read flawlessly through all the Mary Andersons, Joe Jacksons, and Anna McPhees.
Over the years, not much changed. My name confused not just American teachers and telemarketers, but also my own grandmother, who never once pronounced it correctly.
But in 2006, twenty-eight years after surviving Shantell after Shartrell after Shanell, I moved to Switzerland.
When I walked into the office on my first day of work, the secretary said a bunch of stuff that I didn’t understand. But it didn’t matter. Because I heard him say, “Chantal Panozzo.” Correctly. And on the first try.
It was then I realized there was hope in the world. While I may never be Swiss, my name, Chantal Panozzo, always has been. It’s got two of the four official Swiss languages in one nice package. This has its advantages.
Unlike in the United States, people in Switzerland never stutter, stumble, or stammer when pronouncing it. Instead, they stew. About the fact that I speak neither official language my name implies. It’s like I’m an imposter, except I’m not, I’m just a victim of two overly cultured American parents.
The conversation between a Swiss person and myself usually goes something like this:
“Your name is Chantal?”
“Do you speak French?”
“But Chantal is a French name.”
“So why do you have this name?”
“It’s my father’s fault.”
“What?” (They don’t get the sarcasm).
“And your last name. It’s Italian?”
“So do you speak Italian?”
“I don’t understand…”
I don’t understand either. But despite the accusations - and the irony that while my name is French and Italian and I speak English and German - I can’t help it: I really enjoy hearing my name said correctly.
Thanks to living in Switzerland, my name has become normal. Granted, I had to move 5,000 miles from home to revel in what Mary Smiths have enjoyed for years in America. But still. It’ll be even harder to return to the US now.