Names are tricky. Luckily, mine is pretty easy, but mistakes still happen. My first name can be spelled “Denice” or “Denisse.”
My last name will sometimes get two D’s instead of one, but that’s usually when the “The Addams Family” movie is being shown.
Growing up in the North, my last name, Hebert, was constantly butchered. My Dad was a Southerner with a Cajun last name who happened to move to New York State.
To those who know the ingredients in andouille sausage and eat it anyway, there’s no problem pronouncing Hebert. It’s “A-Bear,” like in the sentence “I saw a bear in the woods today.”
But for people who’ve never stepped foot in Louisiana, Hebert is usually pronounced “Hee-Bert” or “Heb-Bert.” I remember explaining how to pronounce my name to my teachers because they’d never met a real Cajun before.
These were educators who could pronounce every Polish, Italian and Lebanese name in the phone book. They had no problem with Kowalski or Kneiser.
But throw an Hebert or a Boudreaux in the mix, and every one acted as if we’d told them our names came from the ancient Aztecs.
Once we moved back to Louisiana, nobody ever asked me how to pronounce my last name. After all, this is a state where the words “Atchafalaya” and “Thibodaux” roll off the tongue as easily as “barbecue” and “ribs” roll off a Texans’ tongue.
By the way, that’s “Ah-chaff-ah-lay-ah” and “Tib-ah-dough.” The first is a huge swamp along I-10 where you will inevitably run into a traffic jam and sit unmoving on a causeway for 45 minutes with no way to get off.
The second is a Cajun last name that’s as common as Smith or Jones in states where they incorrectly pronounce crawfish as crayfish.
When my husband and I moved to Texas, we brought our Louisiana pronunciations with us. In Louisiana, a big body of water is a bayou, pronounced “bye-you.” Here, it’s “buy-oh.” When we saw Bissonnet Street, we pronounced it French style, “Bis-son-aye,” while Texans say “Bis-son-et.”
Roads were a tough one for us back then.
Interstate 10 is also called the Katy Freeway. I-45 is known as the Gulf Freeway and Loop 610 is known as “The Loop” even though two more freeways circle Houston.
I finally realized these roads are named for where they either originate or end up – Katy, the Gulf of Mexico and the unending loop around the greater Houston area that’s always under construction.
The grand winner in the confusing street names is U.S. 59, otherwise known as the Eastex Freeway, I-69, the Southwest Freeway and the Lloyd Bentsen Highway.
I still laugh about one of the first phone calls I made in Texas. I was trying to find a store near Sharpstown. I told the man I lived in Richmond.
“Well, you get on the Eastex Freeway,” he began.
“I’m sorry. Which freeway is that?” I said.
“The one that goes from east to west,” he said.
“Can you give me a number, like 610, 10 or something like that?” I asked.
There was silence.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “We just moved here from Louisiana and I’m not familiar with the street names.”
“From Loo-zianna, eh,” he said, pausing. “Then let me talk slower.”
If you really want to fit in with the Cajuns, do not ever say you’re happy to be in “New Or-Leans.” Simply say your favorite breakfast in “New Aw-lins” is “café-oh-lay with a side order of ben-yays.”
They’ll think you’re a native.
Denise’s email is email@example.com. By the way, that’s strong chicory coffee mixed with steamed milk and a side order of fried doughnuts covered with confectioners’ sugar – Café Au Lait and beignets.