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Being a Jones was always a rather ordinary experience. Being a Jones in Paris, before the universal advent of television, was something else. The ordinary people, the clerks and receptionists, those with little or no linguistic preparation, the people who took orders and jotted down names — the lady at the laundry, for example — could neither spell nor pronounce my name once they saw it spelled. They looked at me suspiciously until they began to recognize my face, as if I might be pulling the wool over their eyes. It was almost like being Polish.

Besides serving next to a black Jones who insisted on calling me his brother, I also served alongside a young man from New Jersey who went mostly by his given name. His family name was an odd collection of consonants. Every so often we had formal roll calls. The company would be ordered to fall in. The sergeant in charge would march swiftly to the center of the formation, turn smartly and begin calling names in a military staccato. His pace was matched by a practiced and rhythmic "Here!" coming from different parts of the formation. Name — Here!, Name — Here!, Name — Here! My Polish comrade-in-arms was an unexpected land mine for a young NCO finally in charge. At first light one icy morning, summoning his most manly, most authoritarian voice, he called, Name — Here!, Name — Here!, Name — Here!… Until he tripped over the cadence. In that split second, based on a lifetime of complications and confusions surrounding his name, my friend yelled, Here! And the roll call continued. It continued after the laughter subsided.

The first unanticipated problem I had with my name in French was that J is G. That is, the letter J is called G and the letter G, after a fashion, is called J. Not an enormous problem, I suppose, just a simple substitution. A lot like Alpha, Bravo, Charlie. The real problem was the seemingly innocuous letters that follow. The French were baffled by the ones. The French either do or don't pronounce the ending letters of words. That's the closest I can come to a hard and fast rule. In deciding whether to pronounce or not to pronounce, being a native speaker of French puts one at a distinct advantage. My mother-in-law's method for helping me learn which was which was to have me pronounce everything with or without the ending several times out loud until I realized which was correct.

Of course, ones presents no problem for a native speaker of English. Either it's ones, as in ones and twos, with an understood w in front of the o, or it's ones, as in Jones, with an understood w squeezed in after the o. But, in French, it might be pronounced something like own (the s being silent) or oh nez (the s becoming z) even oh ness (giving it a sort of Spanish flair). But, combining those with the J or G of Jones presents an unexpected range of alternatives. It could start with the sound of ge in edge and produce Joan, which doesn't sound right. Or, Joe Nez, which for some reason seems only tentatively acceptable. Joe Ness. Wrong again. Hoe Ness might work, if I came from Madrid. Using the same ge from edge, but eliminating any vowels, adding only n and z, produces Jnz, the sound I learned to produce in that momentary pause where they wondered what to do with this jumble of letters they were presented with. And that made things easier. But the French aren't as easy as all that. When I came back for my laundry, and when after a few visits I was finally recognized as being that pleasant young man who smiled and nodded more than most, I was greeted with, "Ah, Monsieur Onaise." And so I became, and so I was, for the duration of my tenure as a Pole in Paris, that nice young man Évon Onaise.
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