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For people with difficult-to-pronounce names, a common reaction when they introduce themselves is a quizzical look and maybe a follow-up question: How do you say that again? Studies show that the way we pronounce our names can shape how people see us and even our ultimate success in life. Ethnic names are sometimes changed or Americanized, or replaced with nicknames, raising questions of how that affects that person’s identity. What impact does this ultimately have on the person who changed their name, and on our culture as a whole?

John Travolta calls Idina Menzel "Adele Dazeem" at the 2014 Academy Awards.

How Do You Say That? The Trouble With Pronouncing Names 27 May,2014forum

Guests:
Rita Kohli, assistant professor of elementary education at San Jose State University
Ritu Bhasin, people strategist and diversity specialist at Bhasin Consulting, Inc
Yangsook Choi, illustrator and author of "The Name Jar"

  • Alamedayoung

    My last name is “Young.” I’ve spent my whole life explaining it. “Y-o-u-n-g” “Opposite of Old” If my very simple name confuses people, god help everyone else.

  • Marci Montgomery

    I had this issue my whole life and finally went to court and changed my first name. It was a huge relief, especially when traveling and waiting for the TSA or passport control person to mis-pronounce my name — not their fault, but still painful. My given name was spelled “Marcali” and was meant to be pronounced “Mar – se – lee.” But the soft c isn’t obvious with that spelling, which possibly my family did not realize. Perhaps families should have guidance when naming their offspring!

    • ES Trader

      right on !

  • Marion Snyderman

    I’m a woman named Marion, which I often have to repeat for people to get (Marilyn? Maryanne?). Also it’s the man’s spelling, Marian being the spelling for a woman, and I was assigned to the men’s dorm when I was a freshman at Cal, gotten a draft notice, etc. But it’s a nice name and I wouldn’t think of changing it.

  • Guest

    The country with the world’s lowest birthrate is actually Taiwan with a fertility rate of 1.07 per woman as of 2013, not Japan.

  • W-M

    With my last name, Wisniewski (anglicized as Whiz-new-ski), it is difficult to convince people that it is as common in Polish as Smith is in English. It means something like: of the cherry region and apparently they grow cherries all over Poland. Thus, I am always expected to be the relative of any Wisniewski from anywhere that anyone has ever met. I am from the Grand Rapids, MI clan. As far as getting people to pronounce it correctly, I always tell them to let it loose like a sneeze. And of course, for anyone from the Slavic world it is badly pronounced. A proper rendering is Vee-schneve-ski.

  • Alicia

    A lot of people mis-pronounce my name, mainly because there are so many ways to spell and pronounce it. My name is Alicia–spelled in the manner most commonly used by Spanish-speakers–but is pronounced as “Alee-sha”. Understandably, this creates some interesting variations. This used to annoy me greatly, but not so much anymore…I think I’ve gotten used to it. Side note: When I was in college I especially relished the opportunity to study abroad in Costa Rica because I fantasized about finally being free of having to correct the pronunciation of my name. Much to my dismay, everyone thought my real name was “Alice” and that I was just adopting “Alicia” to accommodate the language!

  • Chris OConnell

    You were mis-pronouncing the previous guest’s name. The “s” sounds like a “z” so It should be pronounced: “Wise Man.”

    • north of the Benrath Line perhaps, but not in the south where the s is not voiced

      • and my mother’s maiden name is Koch, not pronounced to rhyme with crotch or to sound like coke.

  • SJ

    The opposite effect exists when Americans travel to Asian countries – western names are hard to pronounce to non-English speaking folks. But I have not seen Americans changing their names when they move to a non-English speaking country.
    I wonder if this is a reflection of how accepting the western world is of other cultures?

    That being said, I think unless non-American’s stop changing their names, American’s aren’t going to have the opportunity to even try and enrich their vocabularies to include ethnic names. So please stop changing your names.

  • ES Trader

    14 % better chance of employment? Somehow that doesn’t surprise me, government cannot legislate prejudice which is why when in Rome….unless one is going to become a very scarce commodity like an internet mogul, pro athlete, rap star etc……….its smarter to learn how to wear Brooks Bros.,suit, tie a tie, speak standard American English and get a degree in a marketable major.

    As Michael Lewis tells his teacher/sister in “Liar’s Poker”, there is a reason teachers are under-paid relative to bond salesman.

    By the way this is from a person with a Japanese name that some have difficulty pronouncing. By the way Michael, you have pronounced my name well !

  • Michael Gadoua

    Since I can remember, teachers fumbled with my name which was embarassing. By 8th grade, I tried to intercept them and avoid the attention with a weird name by answering “here” when they paused tried to pronounce “GADOUA.” I think it affected me to the point where I want to change the spelling.
    Many change the spelling to make it easier to pronounce – the U is turned into a V or an L.
    Even my wife finally made a comment about it.
    [My students call me “Mr. G” – I’m wondering if I should help them pronounce it.]

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    Are you assuming that all given names are well thought out, worthy, or desirable. What if parents just screwed up? There are some who take a common name like “Alan”, but decide to pronounce it uniquely – “Ah-Lahn” for Alan is not going to be easy on most. The multi-syllabic, foreign-sounding names are easy for me to remember and pronounce. I have a friend named Eva who constantly corrects people from saying Ava, instead of Eee-va. That is not a racialized issue, that is a simple memory issue how how someone’s name is pronounced. So racism isn’t the issue as much as memory, IMHO.

  • Jackie

    Can your guests comment on names that are difficult to pronounce versus names that are unusual, such as foreign language names, last names or proper nouns used as first names? I notice that more and more people are choosing names that are unusual or foreign for their children regardless of their own language or cultural heritage. Some of these names are unusual but not necessarily difficult to pronounce. Are the negative impact observed by the studies cited limited to pronunciation or do they also apply to unusual names?

  • ash siddiqui

    i’m south asian with a relatively rare (but not obscure) arabic name – ‘Ashfaque’, we moved countries a lot growing up, and i’ve been teased since i was in 4th or 5th grade. when i came to college in the US i decided i would just go by ‘ash’, I only introduce myself with my full name to people i meet in the Bay Area from South Asia or from the Middle East.

  • Roy Whelden

    Purely academic question: are the most common Anglo Saxon names, like John, James, William, etc. easy to pronounce in any universal sense, or are those names easier only within the Anglo Saxon culture itself?

    • Vinita Ranade

      I think there will be differences, at least in India there will be. There is a chance that John would be pronounced with the wrong ‘o’ sound (like in post). And I’m talking about it being pronounced by Indians being exposed to the name the first time, not every Indian. And William would most likely be Villiam. James might make it though.

  • jdoubleu

    Creative names don’t just impact wages, promotions, etc., it also can (despite laws) result in housing discrimination… I had a colleague named “Gwonda” who could not get landlords or leasing companies to return her calls to lease a condo in SF. I have a WASPy name and called several places on her behalf — and calls were returned within minutes.

    In the “real” world, I’m happy with my boring WASPy name. Creative parents need to think about this. When I visit China, Korea, etc., for work, I find most people have “Western” nicknames for use outside of their countries. (I’ve traveled to 50+ countries for work and I’ve seen this a lot!)

  • Judy

    I think that it is just common courtesy to pronounce a person’s name the way it is supposed to be pronounced- period. By not trying, one is basically saying that the other person’s identity doesn’t matter.

    • Whamadoodle

      Well–to TRY to pronounce them the way they’re supposed to be pronounced, sure. But, for example, the Czech language has a letter that COMBINES a rolled “r” sound with the “zh” sound in “pleasure.” Try making both those sounds at once. Can you do so?

      And remember, that’s just one letter. Now try integrating that letter into a word. You can’t be telling me that you’d be able to pronounce every single name, in languages from Czech to Gujarati to Hindi to Cantonese, in every one of the world’s hundreds of languages, the way they’re “supposed to be pronounced-period.” Or if you can, you’re a VERY rare person, so it would take the “common” out of “common courtesy.” Isn’t what you’re asking unrealistic?

      Again, TRYING to do so, out of courtesy, I agree with. I do my best. I bet most people do, though I’m sure that many don’t.

  • halberst

    What about over pronouncing foreign names in English…you know like on NPR’s Latino USA? For example how they pronounce Spanish names with the Spanish accent but ignore all other language pronunciations (like I don’t think Maria Hinojosa is going to pronounce Frankfurter with a German accent?) Is that a micro-aggression against Anglos?

    • Matt

      I don’t know if it is a micro aggression, but is annoying.

  • Rene Pena-Govea

    As a public school teacher with a hyphenated last name, I make a special effort to learn to pronounce each student’s name especially if that student comes from a different ethnic group than I do. In return, I expect my students to pronounce my full last name, telling them that I honor both of my parents by representing my feminist mother’s last name and my father’s together, and that because I have learned their names, they should learn my full last name. I kind of cringe when teachers just say, Call me Ms. P-G

    • Razib_Taif1

      No way come even close to the tonal uses in mandarin or aspirations in Indian languages. You are fooling yourself if you think that you are still even physically capable of saying their names correctly. The ability is usually lost after childhood.

  • Rucker

    Ha, what a relevant show! I’m a woman in my 30s with a doubly unusual name– first name is Rucker and surname is a very common first name (thanks to officials at Ellis Island who decided to shorten my ancestors’ surname). I’ve learned a few things navigating the world with this name: 1) it’s a fantastic cocktail party conversation as to the origin, 2) the onus is on me to provide a helpful mnemonic, preferably with a strong visual, so others can remember it (I say “it’s Rucker, like Trucker without the T”), and 3) I continue to be SHOCKED at how many full-fledged adults try to persuade me that my name must be backwards. In other words, how people choose to react to unusual names really shines the light on who THEY are and how they see the world.

  • Denise Sawicki

    When I was a little girl in the 60s, we moved from Chicago to an extremely ethnically homogeneous suburb, where my phonetically simple, 3-syllable Polish surname was somehow impossible for teachers or kids to pronounce or even try to. It made me feel embarrassed about my name, my European ethnicity, and myself — something that remained for decades, until a few years ago when I reclaimed my maiden name and found that in Silicon Valley post-2000, no one has a problem with saying it! Around here, people are generally eager to learn correct pronunciations of even the “hardest” names, to our ears, at least.

  • Cris

    My name has a “jota”, it’s a Spanish name. My teachers and others never pronounced my name correctly despite living in San Jose! Um……

  • darqmyth

    1 – does anyone know the difference between bullying and teasing?

    2 – When I was in Asia, Mexico and Central America people had no problem giving me a nickname and being an insensitive American, it didn’t bother me in the least.

    3 – When you say difficult to pronounce it is not pejorative, it is a statement of fact, if my first and primary language is Mandarin or Cantonese, Guiseppe Cavallieri would be difficult to pronounce, so why is it such a insult and sin if someone whose first and primary language is English finds Anand Neelakantan or Xiao Feng difficult to pronounce.

    • Narayanan

      Difficulty is acceptable, but indifference is not! Many seem to be proud that they can’t pronounce names correctly. It is like saying, “I am too lazy, I give up without trying.. I don’t give a damn about your name”

      • darqmyth

        If you haven’t noticed, many are proud that they can’t pronounce anything correctly.

        • Narayanan

          Understood but I referred to the other majority. Even a professor in a well known business school (that prides itself in 50% international student body) went on record to say, I can’t pronounce with a smile. He was definitely not an exception and I have seen many insisting on me to have a “nick” name. Why should I?

          Edited: I add pronunciation friendly break-up of syllables to help and many seem to appreciate that as well.

          • darqmyth

            An individual jerk is a jerk and represents his own jerkdom. He was obviously lazy and uninterested in his students (at a University…WHAT A SHOCK). Don’t make the mistake of conflating one jerk with others who are just people doing the best they can with limited knowledge and experience.

    • silk skirt

      I hate to see people change their names to cope with, to please, those who cannot. A lot of time, they can.

      Many Chinese changed their last name from Zhao to Zao, from Zhang to Chang, believing it is hard for the westerners to pronounce it. Really? Don’t you know Steve Jobs? How come you can pronounce Jobs but not Zhao? It is just Jobs without the “bs”. And you can pronounce John but not Zhang? It is the same sound!

      Oh, your last name is Wong? I knew it was spelled as Wang, and it should be promounced as Wong, why not just tell people how it should be pronounced. For God’s sake, Jesus from Mexico still has the name Jesus, why do you have to change? Be confident!

      • Matt

        We can pronounce Jobs because it is spelled phonetically. We know what sound the j, o, b, and s make. If Zhao wants his or her name to be pronounced like Jo, then Zhao needs to understand phonics and change the spelling of his or her name to Jo. It’s that simple. Somebody gave that Chinese person with the name pronounced as Jo bad advice when they told him/her to spell it with a Z. Chinese has its own written language that doesn’t have z’s and j’s, so this is a case of really poor translation into written English.

  • Nicky Ovitt

    I’m always interested in this topic. I grew up with a name that ALWAYS caused the questions: How do you pronounce it? Where is it from? What does it mean? This was so difficult as a child. I hated my name which was Newa (Knee-wah.) It came from the 1960’s Disney movie about a bear and a dog; Nikki, wild dog of the North about a bear, Newa and Nikki, a dog. My parents were young hippies and thought they were giving me something special but it created so much discomfort in my youth. I think it made me more shy and self conscious and yes, kids did bully and tease me for it.

    Today, I see firsthand how I’m apt to dismiss a child, or adult with an unusual name because it’s just more difficult to remember or pronounce. I was adamant that I would name my child an easy and memorable name. She knows the story of my name and loves having a name that is not very common yet memorable and easy to pronounce— it’s Ramona.

    In my early 20s I legally changed my name to Nicky (which was also my nickname as a kid). Now I love having a name that is not questioned—I want to meet someone and instantly move on. Not have a conversation about such a personal matter.

    Lastly, I keep learning of ways that my days as Newa influenced my friends. One has written a book about a main character with the name and another has titled an illustration The Littlest Newa.

    To extended family I will still be known as and answer to “La Newa” but again, adding the preposition “la” describes well how the name was perceived.

  • Ben Rawner

    Growing up in NY I loved the way my name was pronounced by the Interbational group I was surrounded by. Many different languages have a different way of saying, and I embrace them all.

  • Woolfian

    The fact that I am inclined to apologize for this remark, although I shall refrain, is telling:my name is Joseph, and I usually introduce myself as Joey. I am astonished and annoyed when, as happens so often, I introduce myself and am immediately called “Joe.” I once attended a training for teachers where we were admonished to pronounce the names of students correctly by a woman who then called me Joe. This isn’t cultural; this is just stupid. By the way, I demand that students teach
    me to pronounce their names correctly, for all of the reasons you’ve articulated here. Thanks for this important work!

    • Fay Nissenbaum

      Ha – have a friend named Frankie, who gets irritated when people call him “Frank”. It’s to be expected, really.

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    Let’s guess Michael won’t touch the American third rail, African-American names. If parents make up a name with a spelling that’s never existed, folks will have trouble pronouncing it.

  • Susan

    I work with people with learning disabilities including dyslexia. As many as one in five people in the U.S. is on the dyslexia spectrum. People with dyslexia often have a very difficult time with names. I want to put this out there because often people who really struggle with hearing the phonemes in words will really struggle to repeat a name that they don’t know or which, when pronounced by person whose name it is, has phonemes that are not in the native language of the person with dyslexia. So it is not always an unwillingness to try but instead a real difficulty that the person has struggled with their whole life. Unfamiliar names can trigger anxiety in a dyslexic person and cause them to adopt coping strategies such as giving a nickname that is pronounceable for them.

  • My father has a traditional Latvian name and as far back as I can remember I’ve seen people appear intrigued and even drawn to him by his unusual name when meeting him. I haven’t seen him have any difficulty finding work or building new friendships, but now that I’m listening to your show I’ll be calling Dad and asking him if he had difficulties he believes were due to his name during his childhood or if there are challenges he faces now that have occurred outside of my view.

    • awetempest

      I have a Latvian name also, I can’t even pronounce it correctly. I think it has created slight difficulty socializing and getting jobs; but my name is so rare that I take pride in it.

  • Nathan

    My name is Nathan. The Spanish language has no ‘th’ sound, and when I lived in Costa Rica and then later Mexico City I tried various ways to get around the inevitable fumbling exchange of names. ‘Natan’ and ‘nataniel’ both worked ok. In the end, modifying your name seems to me to just be part of assimilating into a new culture.

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    Bravo for the caller suggesting people enunciate clearly. Mumblers or super-fast talkers should not expect people to get their name right if they don’t.

  • Khulan Erdenebaatar

    I have lived in the US for over ten years, and I am yet to meet a non-Mongolian who could pronounce my name correctly. I understand it’s a hard name to pronounce, so the mispronunciation does not bother me. But I am bothered by the well meaning people who insists on pronouncing my name correctly and keeps on trying. I do not enjoy repeating my name so many times that the rest of the conversation becomes awkward. Furthermore, this exchange highlights the difference between us which is not always desirable. I just wish people would stop trying pronounce by name correctly, when I say, “It’s close enough”.

  • Sandra Angelo

    My name is Sandra and I am from Latin America. My college classmates used to call me “Maria” because it was easy to remember an iconic “Latin” name such as Maria. My son’s name is Angelo (g as in germ) because our ancestors are Italians…..well, his teachers and many of his classmates are calling him An ge lo (g as in “hello) No appreciation for ancestral respect!

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    The show has not touched on whether names that look anglicized should be pronounced that way or by Spanish pronunciations. Then there’s the example of Cabrillo Street, often pronounced the spanish way – “Cah-bree-yo”, which in fact is a Portuguese name, and is pronounced with the “L” sound. So are names pronounced as they are in country of origin or by where they are now?

    • Vinita Ranade

      Wow, did not know that Cabrillo was not Spanish. I’m guilty of mispronouncing it and correcting people who pronounced it with the ‘L’ sound too! Thanks for sharing!

      • Fay Nissenbaum

        Yes, and I even called the Portuguese Consulate to verify that, Lol.

    • Whamadoodle

      Trip out–I have lived in and visited San Francisco for ages, and never knew that either! Thanks for the interesting note.

      • Fay Nissenbaum

        Yep – Cabrillo, properly pronounced in Portuguese has a very subtle “H” sound after the “L”, as in Ca-BRILL-ho. Very subtle.

  • Lisa Cline

    My husband’s first name is Jon, which even our very good friends continue to spell with an ‘h’, his last name is Maienschein which of course people have a hard time both spelling and pronouncing. My last name is Cline – so simple yet I always have to tell people to spell it with a ‘C’ instead of a ‘K’. So, there are all kinds of reasons for getting names wrong regardless of ethnic issues.

  • youraverage

    My last name is Ho. It’s a Vietnamese last name after a king. It’s funny when people ask for my last name, especially in professional environment. There is a little pause and people don’t know to response to it! I love my last name and I am proud of it!

    • Razib_Taif1

      You can never go wrong with Ho. Keep it.

  • Has anyone raised the issue of Chinese in North America who adopt Western first names? I teach at a university and this is very common. However, I tell the students that I would prefer to use their real Asian name, in the appropriate reverse order as is the rule in China.

  • a certain local news reporter who always gives a latino emphasis to the city name San Jose, recently gave the sports results for an international soccer match and called Real Madrid “real” as in really nice.

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    Thanks, Michael for mentioning Rigo CHA-CONE! Maria Hinojosa actually puts me off with her hyper-aware “Ladino-USA” pronuniciation.

    • halberst

      Me too. I find it so funny that she will only do the hyper Spanish pronunciations but ignores all other languages “proper” pronunciation. And for some weird reason there is never any distinction made between legal and illegal immigration.

      • TrainedHistorian

        Not weird at all. It’s an intentional strategy on her part to cast everyone against illegal immigration as “anti-immigrant.”

  • Victoria

    My last name is Mikulewicz, prounced Mee-Koo-leh’-vich. I realize it is difficult for a westerner to pronounce initially, but I try to explain that in most Eastern European languages, the W is pronounced as a V. Also, when you see a name that ends with “wicz”, it is almost always pronounced as “vich”. Once you learn that, it becomes very easy to pronounce these names fairly correctly.
    We have learned certain rules in of name pronunciation for French names, German names, and English names, etc. Why not learn a few simple rules for the names of other cultures?

    • Razib_Taif1

      Because there are like 30,000 of them ….

  • Elizabeth

    Regarding pronunciation… if a person is a native English speaker, pronouncing names from other languages with non-English sounds may well be difficult. I don’t dispute there is a privilege associated with having a name with origins in the dominant language. Still, I think there should be some understanding that names that are hard for them to pronounce and if they are making the effort, we should appreciate that.
    Think of it this way, my name is Elizabeth, a very basic English name. People with other native languages say my name with all kinds of accents and pronunciations, but I know what they are saying and don’t correct them. Wouldn’t I be considered culturally insensitive if I insisted they pronounce my name correctly? I would never say their mispronunciation is a challenge to my identity.

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    I have a friend name from India named “Sweta” and she gets laughs from all the ways it can be said.

  • Ingrid

    My brother was named after our two grandfathers : Hector and Adolfo. In high school he must have been teased a bit by kids that didn’t know him (I picked up the phone once and some girls asked if it was true that Hector was a greasy Mexican.) He is actually blond and fair and we are not Mexican. He got an MA in business from USC and had a great first job for a year and a half. Due to company mergers, he was laid off and from then on all his job applications were ignored. After 9 months of fruitless job searching he changed his name to Eric and with the same resume, got interviews immediately. It made me sad that he was no longer my little brother Hector but he embraced it and moved on. I still call him Hector though.

  • Danielle

    My name is Danielle. When I travel to Latin countries or visit with my boyfriend’s family (they are Spanish speaking), I am referred to as Daniella. In my travels all over the world, and in with all the different people I meet from other cultures, the sound of my name changes. I am never offended by this, or feel as though they are trying to change my name for their convenience, but accept that this is the way my name is translated in this country/culture I am in or around.

  • Gail Kong

    My last name is Kong. As a young adult I got lots of guffaws: “Oh. King Kong. Ha. Ha.” Later when giving my name on the phone, the listener got completely befuddled as soon as s/he decided it was a “foreign” name and insisted that I spell the name a couple of times. (I’m 3rd generation Chinese American.)

  • Jo Desmet

    How about as simple as “Jo” ? So I live in the US, and often introduce myself as “Yo”. Funny to think that then suddenly they think I have an Asian background.

  • Kiki

    “Often” is pronounced like “soften”. I find it difficult to hear a guest’s point of view when the topic is proper pronunciation and the guest isn’t speaking properly.

  • Michael

    Hi,

    My own family, typical of earlier generations, had their first names changed because the teachers could not, to save their lives, pronounce them. Marianthi became Marge,
    Efemedia became Mary, and Zaharula became Dolly. Stella stayed Stella. Go figure, and remember that a generation or two going back, most Euro-Americans had names that were tongue-twisters!

    …ps– I am a language teacher, native English speaker, familiar with several
    languages, especially through the grace of my largely international
    students.
    Names are important, deserve respect and also a decent stab at getting them right.

    Michael (Clark), Berkeley, ca

  • reeta

    My name is Reeta (Rita) and it’s the ‘t that’s mispronounced..the Hindi ‘t’ isn’t the English ‘th’ as in Aretha. So, I would rather the say it as “Reeda’, the American ‘Rita.’ Sadly, even Indians say it incorrectly..they assume my name is the English ‘Rita’ as in the Beatles song. I can’t win for losing.

  • doctormrmd

    I’m of anglo background and was raised in the US but lived for many years in Mexico. I never had any problem with people “latinizing” the pronounciation of my name. It seems from a practical standpoint it was easier to adjust to the Mexican norm rather than asking everyone to change for me.

  • Guest

    I’m from northern India and my name Sangeet (pronounced “sung”-“eet”) has been butchered by Indians and Americans alike. I spent two years in LA being referred to as “sun”-“jeet”. Forget the vocal pronunciation, I’ve received emails(where my email address clearly spells my name) even from people seeking a job from me who then say “Hi Sangeeth” (in south India), “Hi Sangeeta” (which turns it from male to female), “Hi Sanjit”, “Hi Sanjeet”. It seems people ignore my email id and spell out the names as they pronounce it in their head.

  • Chemist150

    One should not be too offended by someone not being able to pronounce their names if they try. I for one am tone deaf among other things that don’t allow me to hear subtleties of speech. I struggled when I was young and had to take speech therapy classes and to expect me to as an adult say a Chinese name is ridiculous after a certain point.

    People spend their whole childhood learning one language and not everyone processes speech the same way. Sorry but I’m not taking a semester course on how to pronounce your name. There is a lot of things that I want to learn and learning every rule to every language is not one of them. I speak English and say “cactuses” under English rules instead of “cacti” of the Latin rules which should actually be “cactoi”. Multiple languages is not my skill set. I’ll try to get as close as possible and I fully accept the “l” in place of the “r” in my name when others from Asian backgrounds pronounce my name.

    • Razib_Taif1

      Not only ridiculous but impossible for most people older than their early teens to develop the correct accent.

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    Italian food has long been popular, but manicotti and mozzerella are still mangled in some many ways.

    • Eva

      Not to mention bruschetta. (shudder)

      • Fay Nissenbaum

        heh – see my “eva” post below. for some reason, my friend Eva, gets her name pronounced most often as “AVA”, instead of the “e” sound.

  • annienchandler .

    My given name is “Eneida” (the Spanish version of Virgil’s “the AEnid.” When I arrived in the US from Cuba in the early 60s, my name was promptly “butchered.” My teachers would call me “Aneeta” – or in a way that rhymed with “Oneida,” ad nauseum. Only my closest friends pronounced my name correctly. As often is the case in Latino culture, my family calls me “Ene” for short – which was even worse, as then I would be called, “EEnee,” — which led me to spell my name, “Annie” which is closer. I vowed to give my children easy names: Michelle, Ashley and Chelsea!

    • Fay Nissenbaum

      You haven’t said how your name should be pronounced. Come on, don’t leave me hanging!

  • Lee

    Very timely topic. I understand where the guest is coming from but my experience tells me it was easier to shorten my name. My name Leonie…french. shorten to Lee to benefit of others…what this discussion has made me decide is that I will request those closest to me to use my full name…as it is my true identity. (still c shortening of difficult names very helpful i most not all cases.)
    Lee

  • Whamadoodle

    I never understood people who fume and fulminate against immigrants who find English hard, so I don’t get fuming against people who find other languages hard either. Languages are hard! For some people. Languages are easy! For others.

    So surely the solution is to take it good-naturedly when a well-meaning person who’s bad at languages stumbles over yours, and for those who are better at languages to be the ones who bridge the gap?

    The world has hundreds of languages. I just don’t buy this postmodernist idea of making everyone feel like horrible cultural imperialists if they can’t perfectly pronounce every single one of them. Could any of the folks on the show do so? It’s unrealistic to demand. Again, I’m happy to give ESL speakers a break for finding pronunciation tough, so let’s give English speakers a break too.

  • halberst

    Some of this just seems over the top…Like most Americans I have a non-English last name. But I’m not upset when somebody can’t properly pronounce it. In fact despite the fact that I can properly pronounce my name, I say it the way English speakers do. And I don’t get upset when the lady at the register at Safeway butchers my name, or when the delivery guy leaves a message completely misspelling it. We are a nation of immigrants and our primary language here is English. I can’t expect everybody to learn my heritage’s languages, and they can’t expect that from me. No problem.

    I went to school overseas decades ago, and my first name (Michael) was usually pronounced in the German way (Mee-khi-el). Somebody also addressed an envelope to “Meik” which is phonetically the way Mike would be spelled there. New country, new language, new pronunciation. No problem.

    I fail to see where’s the harm. Except where people intentionally make fun of others names.

    • Whamadoodle

      Well said–I agree completely. People are too ready to jump down one another’s throats.

    • MattCA12

      Very well stated. To expect people to pronounce YOUR name correctly every time is merely the latest symptom of our utterly “me” oriented society. My first name is easy enough, but I’ve gone through life having to spell and correct the saying of my “European centric” surname several times each day. I just deal with it and move on.

  • Renee Custich

    It is so funny because my name is Renée (a relatively common name in the states) but, living in Germany, I am always ”Herr” (Mr.) because Germans have never heard of a woman with the name Renée. It is also interesting that my last name is Croatian but I pronounce it Americanized. Living here has given me a whole new outlook on that last name and I find myself pronouncing it the Croatian way so people can understand it.

  • Saif Al-Badri

    A very interesting subject. Im from Iraq and my name is ‘Saif’ just like the word ‘safe’ so I was lucky somehow with that harmony. I do not expect people to say my name correctly and I dont feel bad about it, simply because its an arabic name that means ‘sword’ (Im very peaceful though 🙂 ). I try to spell it for them to make it easier. I do use it as a funny conversation starter sometimes when I say, Im ‘saif’ from Iraq ‘literally’ hahaha.

  • annienchandler .

    Eneida is pronounced “eh-NAY-da” 🙂

  • Razib_Taif1

    Neither guest has pronounced Michael Krasny’s name correctly as well. Interesting that both opted for the ‘anglicized’ version.

  • Chris OConnell

    At first, I thought this was silly but it was a good show and topic. And Wonder Bread boy can understand it by raising a certain geopolitical issue, namely the country of Iran. Most Americans, including very high government officials and so-called experts, pronounce it like they just ran a race: “I ran.” They get both syllables wrong. The pronunciation is ee-ron. No doubt some do this on purpose because they do not want to respect Iran which goes to the deeper point of this show (even if unintentional).

  • AsokFC

    A guy calls in. Explains how to pronounce his name. And the very next caller mispronounces it. Nice.

    Krasny, bless his heart, consistently mispronounced names too. Payola? Also “Vinitha” and “Viswanath” were glaring. Ritu or Rita should’ve corrected him.

    • Razib_Taif1

      ironic how Ritu and Rita both mispronounced Krasny and Michael the entire time as well with there anglicized versions of his eastern european name…

  • Strandwolf

    I remember that back when Ed Koch was mayor of NYC I encountered someone with same last name–could have been a retail situation where I was processing his credit card and I addressed him as “Mr. Kotch” or perhaps looked quizzically at it and ran the trial balloon so to speak, recalling previous ‘koeshhh’ audits–I nearly got my head torn off–can’t recall which of the alternative pronunciations the guy went with–I just wanted him out of my life ASAP, LOL. He seethed with hostility at me, while I felt, how the hell am I supposed to know? In retrospect I think he may have been a non-Jewish German-heritaged guy to elicit such a vociferous reaction to my mangling HIS pronunciation of Koch.

  • Matt

    The woman who says that because she named her kids Indian names they are American names because they were born in the US to parents who were born in the U.S. is wrong. That doesn’t mean they are American names. If I, an American, call my American-born son, Giuseppe, that doesn’t make it an American name, it is an Italian name. I think this woman feels so strongly about these name issues that it is distorting her view of reality. It is an example of someone wishing to thrust her idea of politically correct on others, and she is so intent on that that she ignores reality. Immigrants come to this country and learn a new language and new cultures. If you wanna stick with a name that is difficult for Americans to pronounce, and you want to give those names to your kids, that’s your choice. But why cry about the difficulties that a name like that creates when it is simply human nature, the difficulties someone has with new words and names from other languages? It happens in every culture in every country. It is not peculiar to the U.S.

    • Carole

      What do you regard as an “American” name? Native American? English is the principle language spoken in the USA, but I do not see how English names are any more or less American than Italian or Indian ones. Obviously we have a population in the USA of immigrants from multiple nations.

      • Matt

        I don’t have hard and fast rules for what are American names, but generally they are ones that Americans are familiar with and the pronunciation of which comes easily. John, Jerry, Susan, Judy, Bob, Jim, Edward, Lily, Anne, William, Eugene are a few examples. Italian names would include Giovani, Giacomo, Giuseppe, Matteo, Silvana, Eleonora, and many others. If you go to Italy, you find lots of people with those names. Why? Because those are Italian names. You don’t find lots of those names in America. Why? Because those are Italian names and this is America. Italian names go along with the Italian language. American names go along with the English language, because, as you correctly noted, English is the principle language spoken in the US. The people who signed the Declaration of Independence and who wrote the Constitution had names like Thomas and George and Patrick. Nobody named Giacomo or Giuseppe or Ashiana or Ling Yi or Palyvathucal was involved in creating those documents or in the founding of the country. Though now the people of our nation come from all over, our nation was founded by English speakers and with ideas rooted in English culture and law. People come to this country and adopt and adapt to our society and its customs and often names go along with that. The US has had tons of immigrants from Germany over the years. But you don’t find lots of Americans named Heinrich and Helmut and Gerhardt. Why? Because those are German names and they go along with the German language. I hope this has helped you to understand what makes a name Italian, or German, or Chinese, or Korean, etc.
        Parents have the freedom to name a child whatever they want. Moonunit, Starchild, Roti, Ritee, Hop Sing, Sivanthan, etc. Johnny Cash had a famous song called “A Boy Name Sue” which talked about the consequences of such an unusual name. So, I think it’s just common sense that names are very important and can affect people in so many ways. If parents want to give their American kids names that are hard to pronounce for most Americans, they can, but they need to take responsibility for their choices rather than bitch and moan about people having a hard time pronouncing it and all the other ramifications. Complaining about the difficulties a difficult-to-pronounce name presents is like complaining about children being noisy and always wanting to play: it’s human nature.

  • bunghole

    interesting subject. very uninteresting viewpoints and guests.

    it is impossible for everyone to produce, distinguish sounds from all other languages.

    that a name is correlated to socioeconomic status or subtle subconscious cues should be explored further.

  • bear_in_mind

    I’m sorry, but this segment was possibly the biggest pile of P.C. crap I’ve ever heard on PBS airwaves. My family emigrated to this country over 200 years ago and I still pronounce and spell my name to others every single day of my life. I don’t whine, feel sorry for myself, or expect every person I meet to admire, genuflect or ask deeply relevant questions about the origin of my name. Instead, I help them understand how to pronounce and spell my name. I approach them as if they’re imbued with kindness and goodwill. To do otherwise is to approach the world as a victim, seeking recompense and “justice” for every perceived slight, real or imagined.

    • Matt

      This is a very wise statement. I hope the guests on the show read it. I share your sentiments exactly. PC crap whining.

  • Guest

    I find the discussion of mispronouncing and misspelling names interesting because I am a native English speaker born in the US… with two fairly unusual names. My first name is Italian, and has a “ce” in it which in Italian is like the English “ch” sound. Many people who aren’t familiar with my name will pronounce it with a soft c, like at the end of “France”. For people who have only ever heard me speak my name, when they write it out for the first time, will often write “Franchesca”. Thus, often, I am referred to and receive things addressed to “Fran”, “Franny” or “Frannie”, though I introduce myself with Francesca because I prefer it to the nicknames. As a young child, friends would call me “Fran-Jessica” because they couldn’t quite get their heads around the “ch” noise and so I sometimes I had to correct their parents when would greet me as “Jessica”. I was never angry or upset; I actually thought it was kind of funny.

    My last name is a French nightmare. Two words and lots of extra consonants. No one ever spells or says it right. In fact, I had to carry a driver’s license around for a year with my surname spelled incorrectly.

    While I understand the frustration with incorrect pronunciation, because it does get really annoying to constantly correct people when they’ve spelled your name 100 different ways on a form and you have to keep repeating the spelling, I also accept that it’s part of the baggage of having a unique name which doesn’t follow English phonetics.

    In terms of my family history, when my great-grandparents came to the US via Ellis Island from southern Italy, they were forced to change their names so they would be easier to pronounce… Concetta became “Candy” and Francesco became “Frank” and the “ch” sound in my grandfather’s surname was dropped for the soft c which was easier for English pronunciation. For them, they used their birth names within their Italian immigrant neighborhoods where pronunciation was easy and the names familiar, and only introduced themselves by their anglicized names to people outside their community.

    I think that constant correction actually makes my names part of my identity in a way that if they were never or rarely mispronounced would not, and for that, I’m glad. I wouldn’t change anything about them.

    I have a friend with an extremely long Indian name and we always laugh because I can’t spell her name and she can’t spell mine! More interesting, she immigrated to the US as a small child and chooses to use an easy-to-pronounce nickname while I, as I said before, always use my full name though I am third generation born in the US. I think ultimately, people are more accepting of European names even when they’re difficult to pronounce when they at least resemble common English names. (i.e. Francesco to “Frank” or Wilhelm to “William” or Nikolai to “Nicholas”) When names are totally unfamiliar, it can be hard to make the pre-cursory judgments that all people make when meeting new people for the first time, such as “Is this person a boy or a girl?” For some people unfamiliar with a name’s country of origin, it can be hard to glean even that from the name… even though it might a very common first name in the country in which it originates.

    Ultimately, I don’t think there’s an easy solution to the debate because pronunciation varies so widely within languages, countries, and dialects that inevitably misspellings and mispronunciations will occur. The best we can do is try our best to pronounce names the way the person who is introducing themselves pronounces their own name and think critically about how we, as individuals, respond to people with unusual or unfamiliar names.

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