Amadeus, the fabulous fate of Latin cooking

JI am Baptist here in France. In Germany, I would be Baptiste. The same goes for Italy or the Czech Republic. We all carry, with us, our civil identity, written on cards, passports, papers. But Queen Marie-Antoinette, born in Austria, do you really think her name was Marie-Antoinette? There was a time when the first name did not cross national borders, it was translated.

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Because before the XIXe century, they were letters of passage signed by the king or attestations which partially established the identity, but the testimonies of others had a greater force. The chain of witnesses made it possible to travel from city to city, at the cost, as with the Arab telephone, of identity reformulations.

Identity fluidity

There is a great page on Wikipedia on “The Names of Mozart”. Wolfgang, of course. But the day after his birth, he was baptized, Catholic, under the first names of “Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus”. And when his father announces his birth, he is “Joannes Chrisostomus, Wolfgang, Gottlieb”: we fall down, but we keep the custom, and we translate Theophilus, “the one who loves God”, by its Germanic version Gottlieb, ” he who is loved by God ”.

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Later in Italy, Mozart would call himself Wolfgango Amadeo. Wolfgang (“the one who walks with the wolves”) seems untranslatable, we add an Italianate -o, but Gottlieb becomes Amadeo very well. On the register of the parish where he gets married, the -d and -m are reversed: it is Wolfgang Adam Mozart. And sometimes, apparently for fun, he writes letters in kitchen Latin which he signs Wolfgangus Amadeus Mozartus.

It is this second name that will eventually prevail, to the point that it will suffice for the title of the biographical film by Milos Forman (1984). Wolfgang is gone, the joke has survived. Today, this fluidity of identity is in conflict with civil status. Our first names are fixed: they no longer depend on our choices or on the nicknames we are given. The papers are authentic. Name: Mozart, first name: Joannes.

Baptiste Coulmont is professor of sociology at the Ecole normale supérieure Paris-Saclay, author of “Sociologie des prénoms” (La Découverte, 2014, 130 p., 10 €) and, with Pierre Mercklé, of “Why top-models do not smile . Sociological chronicles ”(Presses des Mines, 2020, 184 p., € 29).