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  • madeleinedejean


Names are actually very important.

They tell us marvelous things about ourselves. They give history.  Therefore, as someone who loves history, I love to search out names and discover their history. And that includes my own name, my father’s family’s last name.  Some of it is very much in danger of being lost forever because it is very long.  My father’s family’s name is de Jean-du Bousquet.  That last part is as important and was added more recently, sometime in the 1500s.  It is too long for most people today to possibly understand, so we usually go by the shortened version: de Jean.  And you would think because we gave up the second part to the demands of modernity that we would now be left alone and allowed the use of the de Jean.  But it has become fraught with lack of understanding.  I am called many things, many are funny. 

Many just make me want to lie down and cry.  And this story is about some of those times.  This story I call, “The Story of ‘Duh’ “.  The Story of Duh is really two stories.  THE STORY OF DUH and the STORY OF DEH/DAY.

One day, Molly, the 4 year old daughter of a friend in Denver, was in her mother’s office sitting at her mother’s desk and she found my business card.  When her mother came into the room Molly looked up and said: “So Madeleine’s name is Duh?”

When her mother related this to me, I wrote the following story to tell Molly about my name.  And so his is the Story of Duh.  Now it is for all of you and Molly too.

In 2009 Madeleine’s Master Bath was being renovated.

It was a Friday in August in Palm Springs, and the bath was almost done.  The contractor was finished cutting and setting the stones in the floors and shower and counter tops.  And now it was time for the grout.  The stones had shades of orange and plum, and I had already requested a grout in a plummy color.  Late that Friday morning, as the last stones were being cut, the sub-contractor announced he had not yet gotten the grout and for him to get there and back would negatively impact finishing that day.

I immediately said I would go to get the grout.  So he told me directions to get to Dal Tile in the high desert, about an hour away, and that I was to request “Mawbeh” color.

I was quite surprised because I had never heard of mawbeh, so I asked him to repeat that name.  He said again “mawbeh.”  And showed me the chart.

“Oh,” I said, “that’s ‘mauve’.”

“Yes,” he replied, “that’s what I said, “mawbeh”.

An hour later I was almost there, but I missed the turn.  So I called the number of Dal Tile and the person who answered gave me directions.  He had to do it three times because I misunderstood his pronunciation of the street.  When I arrived he felt like an old friend we had spoken so many times in the last fifteen minutes to get me there.

“Hello,” I said.  “I’m here for the grout.”

“Okay lady, what color do you want?” my newest friend asked.  He did not sound quite so friendly.




“We don’t have that color, lady.”

“Of course you do.  My sub-contractor was here a few days ago and assured me you have it. Mauve,” I repeated a little louder.

“No lady.  We don’t carry that color.”

I remembered my difficulty with the sub-contractor, so I tried to remember how he had pronounced Mauve.

“Mawbeh?”, I tried.

“Oh lady why didn’t you say so in the first place?  Of course we have that Mawbeh color. “  He took out the chart and pointed to it. And kind of shouted,”Mawbeh,” just in case I might start that foolishness of Mauve again.

“That’s it,” I told him.

“Okay lady.  One more question.  Do you want it scented or unscented?”

“Scented?”  He nodded vigorously.

“It comes scented?”  He kept nodding.  “How very nice.”  I looked at the chart again and noticed these colored grouts were made in Provence in France.  No wonder I thought.  The Provencal French love to scent things with their wonderful natural aromas.  Provence.  Things were definitely looking up.  I could already picture myself walking into and on a lavender or peony scented bathroom floor with all that mauve grouting exuding heavenly aromas.  “What scents to you have this Mawbeh in, sir?”

“What did you say lady?”  He was getting that mauve vrs. mawbeh look again.

“What scents does it come in?” I repeated.  “Does it come in lavender?  Or maybe rose?  Or perhaps peony?  What are the choices of scents?”

That was when I thought I heard someone in a back room choking.

The guy here was definitely not on that lavender page with me.  He screwed up his face. “What are you talking about lady?”

“Well, sir, you said it comes scented or unscented.  Yes?”

“Yes lady. Do you want it scented or unscented?”

I thought about what he said for a moment.  And I was sure someone in a back room was choking.

“Sir, my question, before I can answer yours, is:  what scents does this mawbeh come in?”

“Lady I do not understand what you are talking about.”

I figured I had better try again to be clearer about this.  Then I got an idea. “Could I smell the choices?”

“Smell them?”  He really was getting loud now.

And, yes, definitely someone in the back was choking.

“Yes, sir.  Could I smell the choices so I can give you the answer?  You know sir that scented grout you have comes from Provence where they also are famous for making wonderful scents.”

That someone in the back was about to die for sure. He or she was choking. By the deep choking sounds it was a man.

“Provence?  What is provence lady?  No. You cannot smell the grout.”

I began to understand I was back in the mawbeh/mauve situation again. While we both were speaking English we really were not saying things in the same language.  So I tried a new way to get the answer.

“Could you please write your question down, sir?”

“Write it?”

“Yes, sir.”

“What do you want me to write?”

The man in the back was choking again.

“Could you please write, ‘do you want it scented or unscented?’”  I handed him a pen and piece of paper.

He began to write.

“Yes, I told him.  Just like that…’do you want it….”  He had gotten to the crux of the matter now. He began the word…’s’ I was expectant…  and he finished with…’anded.’

“Oh,” I was very disappointed, but I now understood. “You want to know if I want it sanded or unsanded?”

“That’s it lady.”  I heard a definite laugh from that back room. “Well? Do you lady? Scented or unscented?” A guffaw from the back.

“Well I don’t know that answer sir. I have to call my contractor.”  So I took out my little phone and dialed. Sadly the contractor must have been on his phone because it went to voice mail.  I left the message and asked him to call the number of Dal Tile and tell the answer the guy who was staring at me.

After I hung up, the guy told me whether I wanted scented or unscented the grout would cost the same.

So I handed him my credit card and told him to write up the order for three, scented or unscented, in the interest of saving some time. I had to get back.

A few minutes later, while I looked about at all the interesting brushes and sponges and various things contractors love to look at, the phone rang.

About thirty feet away from me, that man picked it up.

“No sir, there’s no one here by that name,” he said. “No, sir, I am not mistaken. There is no Madeleine here.”

I looked up and ran to the desk, waving at him. “Here I am” I was almost shouting. “It’s me.” I jumped up to get his attention.

He hung up and turned to me.  “No, Jean,” he said.  “that call was not for you.  It was for someone named Madeleine.”

“Sir,” I I was now shouting, “sir, look at that card in your hand.  It says Madeleine de Jean.”

“Jean,” he quizzically looked at me.  “So? Two last names?  Which last name do you go by?:   Madeleine? or Duh?”

The man in the back room was laughing out loud now.

“Sir, that is not my last name. My name is Madeleine.  My first name. My last name is de Jean.  I am French and the French a long time ago distinguished themselves one from another by saying who their father was. In my family the then father must have seen someone named John, pronounced ‘Jean’ in French.  And so my ancestor took his father’s name ‘de Jean’, of John.”

There was silence from the back room.

The man stared at my credit card and looked at me with a dazed stare. “Whatever,” he said.

I called the contractor back, and he told me “sanded.”

“Scented” I told the Mawbeh man.  “Scented Mawbeh. Three please.”  I was learning a new language.

As he was ringing it up, the man from the back, the choker, appeared — a big smile on his face, his hand outstretched.

“I’m Robert the owner. And Madeleine, I want to thank you for coming in today.  Fridays are usually so boring and slow. But you made it a great afternoon. Please come any Friday. Next time we will invite all the neighbors and let the two of you entertain us all.”

The guy at the register handed me my credit card, the same dazed look on his face.

I thanked them both and ran to get that scented mawbeh grout to my contractor before he had to pack it up for the weekend. I wanted to walk on that scented mawbeh floor that night!.

And this story is to tell you that we might think we speak the same English, but sometimes you have to be real sure you are getting your message across.  And names have lots of history in them.  Duh or de, Jean or Madeleine, Molly Dugan or Dugan Molly.  Our names are very important and interesting too.

SO this is the story I told my friend to tell Molly. But I am finding today there are many grown ups who have the same problem.  They have no idea what my name is. I am too often called Jean.  And Duh. And sometimes I am called nothing but a huge silence after looking at my business card or my credit card.

The history of my name is very important to me. And to history too.  We, I, do not want that lost to the world of Duhs.  Too often I must seem strange when I ask people to Please spell my name correctly. To separate the de from the Jean. To decapitalize the de.  It seems so strange to most.  It is very important to me.  A rose by any other does not smell quite as sweet to me.

Now, that could be the end of the Story of Duh, were this an ordinary Duh Story.  But, yes, there is more.

This time the story goes further back in time, back to where I was born in Southwest Louisiana.

As I said my father’s family’s name is de Jean-du Bousquet.  They arrived in the late 1600s -early 1700.

And lived and worked for the crown in both Opelousas , Louisiana and in New Orleans.  In the late 1600s there was apparently lucrative trading with native tribes and the tribe in Opelousas was the Opelousas Indians, or a branch of the SW Blackfoot Indians.  The Chief bore the hereditary name, Chief Opelousas.  About seventy years after the de Jean-du Bousquet’s arrived in Louisiana, the Acadian’s arrived.  By then Louisiana was a province of Spain.  And there were many Spanish speaking people about. Also there were in SW Louisiana, in bayou territory, also many coming from Mexico.  Pretty soon in Bayou country the “’Cajun” arrivees began incorporating some of the pronunciations picked up from those Spanish speakers.  And somehow, though my father’s family did not come from Canada, nor did they live in real ‘Cajun territory’, suddenly the Duh of their name, became Deh Juan, as it would have been pronounced in Spain or Mexico.  So our name de Jean, pronounced in France as Molly rightly did, Duh Jean, became instead in ‘Cajun country, “DEH Juan.”  Later is was ameliorated to DEHJon.  Or DAYJon.

So once more the story of trying to keep the pronunciation of one’s name intact, as well as the spelling, is a difficult thing the farther from the motherland and the farther back in time it goes.

So please understand when I might ask you to spell my name correctly, and or to pronounce it correctly – as it is in France.  This is the Story of Duh. And Deh too.

Madeleine de Jean.


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