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  • In Haiti, one of the most difficult things to do is to get names straight. Sure. It’s pretty easy with the common names like Jean and Marie or anything that started with them, which many do. But it doesn’t take much for things to end in confusion.

    First challenge: figuring out first and last names. A lot of Haitians have first names for both and have no problems presenting them in whichever ordered they feel in the moment. Is it Patrick Toussaint or Toussaint Patrick? No idea… And no one really cares.

    Second challenge: compound names. Many of those are influenced by a deep belief in God. Dieubon, Bon Dieuseul, or Dieumene names are common, because Dieu, or God, is clearly good, the only one, or bringing it in this country. Or at least Haitians would like him to be. But my favorites are those I heard about through the grapevine of two siblings from the center of the country. Their parents, fans of American products, named them LemonJello and OrangeJello.

    That brings me to a third challenge: creative spelling. Case in point? I have no idea if I spelled LemonJello’s or OrangeJello’s name correctly. To be perfectly honest, many Haitian names are beautiful when they’re pronounced in the gorgeous sing-song lilt of the Creole language. But that lilt sometimes makes it harder to figure out how they might possibly be spelled. The French names I could get, and even those influenced by Polish, German, and Russians immigrants - at least if I spelled them myself. But given the country’s oral traditions and low literacy rates, it is common for names to be spelled so creatively that there is absolutely no relation between the pronounced name and what it looks like on paper.

    So when I became pregnant, I was wary of the suggestions my ex-husband might make for our daughter. He had already been given the opportunity with children he had before our marriage, and his record wasn’t exactly stellar. Unaware of any competition he might have started with George Foreman, he gave all of his sons versions of his own first name. And in the solid tradition of making stuff up, he had given one of his daughters a name with no vowels which no one could pronounce in any language. And the ones he had come up with so far were just not cutting it. So I decided, quite unabashedly, to limit his input into choosing one for the child growing inside me.

    Several years later, we were on a family trip in Florida. My ex-husband wanted to get his niece a souvenir. He saw a man painting names on a grain of rice. He figured this was just the kind of personalized gift she would love hanging around her neck.

    So the man asked me how to spell her name. I started spelling out Conchise, which is what I had thought was right for five years. But my ex stopped me. He knew after all. He had chosen the name.

    Oh, you mean Conchese?

    No, he said.

    Then what?



    C-O-R-N-C-H-E-E-S-E.



    Vindication, you are mine.

    (And let it be know that the child has since adopted an entirely different spelling for her name)
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