Please Don’t Call Me Theresa

Therese Raphael
Please Don’t Call Me Theresa

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- My name isn’t Theresa. I’m starting to think it is.

I live in London and write about Brexit, which is either the subject of most conversations or the topic people studiously avoid. As in, “It’s a Brexit-free zone here.” No name says “Brexit” louder than Prime Minister Theresa May’s.

“We saw you on TV; they called you Theresa,” an acquaintance teased a while ago.

“Theresa?” a receptionist calls out my name.

Maybe it was inevitable that when the New York Post took note of one of my columns on Friday, its writer referred to me as “Bloomberg’s Theresa Raphael.”

Even the instructor of my weekend Pilates class has started calling me Theresa, as in “Theresa, relax your shoulders!” Which is especially alarming because she’s French and my actual name, Therese, is a French name.(1) She never used to get it wrong, and would even say a few words to me in French as she ticked my name off the attendance list.

Nobody could possibly confuse me with the world’s most famous living Theresa. I don't look like her or sound like her or think like her. She would not have been pleased to have been called the "servant prime minister," as I did in a recent column. But she and Brexit loom so large that those distinctions don't matter.  

People have always tripped over my name a little bit, but living in and writing about Theresa May’s London has raised the struggle to a whole new level. I spent some of my childhood in the suburbs of Atlanta before it became cosmopolitan, and where being called “ter EEZ” or “ther ACE” was an everyday thing.

It didn’t work to tell people that the correct pronunciation is “tehr EZ,” so I devised other strategies. The first kid to ask me my name at a new school in Maryland when I was 12 got a different answer: Terri. It stuck. Only my parents and relatives used Therese after that.

Only I hadn’t reckoned on moving to Brussels, which I did after college. Brussels is predominantly French, so Terri sounded a lot like the French male name Thierry. It brought confusion and odd looks, so I awkwardly split the difference, using my real name in bylines and in Francophone company and my nickname with American colleagues and friends. I answered to both.

Londoners, those “citizens of everywhere” whom Theresa May once decried, had no trouble with Therese. Once I was invited to a dinner of euroskeptic thinkers and politicians and seated next to the media mogul Conrad Black. He glanced at the place setting and said something like, “That is a wonderful name.”

Brexit has brought me back to square one: suburban Georgia in the 1970s without the southern accent.

Maybe Theresa May will one day be sainted for saving Brexit, or scotching it, or entered into some record book for not taking “no” for an answer. Whatever, it’s a name that will hang in the air a long time after she’s left the stage.

So I guess there are worse things than being confused for a Theresa. I feel for guys named Boris or Jacob. For them, living in Brexitland might prove a different kind of hell.

(1) The French spell it Thérèse, with an accent aigu and an accent grave, but outside France that would be pretentious, and, anyway, I’m American and British.

To contact the author of this story: Therese Raphael at traphael4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jonathan Landman at jlandman4@bloomberg.net

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Therese Raphael writes editorials on European politics and economics for Bloomberg Opinion. She was editorial page editor of the Wall Street Journal Europe.

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