When you become a parent, you get a new name: Mom or Dad. You have a new role, a new identity, and this name helps you make the transition to parenthood as well as separate your old self from your new one.
|Step off that plane with a new name|
But when most people move abroad, they don’t take a new name for their new role as The Foreigner.
If you were like the Frau, you didn’t change your name after changing countries, so your old and new identities collided like tectonic plates and the earthquake that shook your body was probably a 9.0 on the Richter scale.
That’s why the Frau is campaigning for Expat Name Reform in Switzerland. The new law would say that all foreigners should take a new name when moving to Switzerland in order to protect their old sense of self.
So what are you waiting for, expats? Let’s choose a nice Swiss name and let’s get going.
Ok. Let Regula get cut in front of at the cheese counter. Let Regula smile at people and let Regula feel defeated when they don’t smile back. Let Regula protect Jennifer or Katie or Cathy or whoever you are inside. Don’t let your two identities meet.
The Frau’s Campaign for Expat Name Reform was inspired by Peter Hessler’s book about living in China, River Town (great book for expats, by the way).
In China, expats usually take Chinese names. Hessler took one right away, and describes how his Chinese identity, Ho Wei was very different from Peter Hessler. In fact, he says, the two never really interacted. Ho Wei was passive, dumb, and a toddler in terms of dealing with his Chinese world. But he never collided with Peter, who was more assertive, Oxford-smart, and a world traveler.
Anyway, if you read this blog, you know Chantal eventually became “The Frau.” But looking back, Chantal wishes she had become The Frau right away.
After moving to Switzerland, things happened to Chantal and she had no control over them. Chantal wasn’t used to being rendered mute but Swiss German had a funny way of doing that to her. She had trouble separating who she used to be (Ms. 4.0 Perfectionist Who Was Going to Conquer the World With Her Brilliance) with who she had become (Ms. I Failed At Buying Beef So We’ll Be Having Pork Stroganoff for Dinner).
So do yourself a favor, new expats, and find yourself a new name to go with your new country. Find your “Frau“ or your “Ho Wei” and preserve the smart, worldly you before it gets ripped apart by people who think you’ll automatically understand them if they talk louder.
If you agree with Expat Name Reform, please sign the petition otherwise known as the comment board and include your preferred Swiss name.