Sunday, November 6, 2011

You Say Po-tay-to, I Say Po-tah-to....

There was a boy in my third grade class named Ian MacDonald. According to a quick Google search, there are apparently at least 50 Ian MacDonalds and more than 100 Ian McDonalds still kicking it in the United States, so I don't think revealing his name decades later is any breach of ethics.

Anyway, what was unusual about this boy was not the commonness of his name, but the fact that he pronounced it Eye-an, not Ee-an. This was back in the 1970s, when Debbie (not Debi), Michelle (not Myshel) and, yes, Karen (not Carin), were a dime a dozen, so being so bold as to give a kid a name with a nonconforming pronunciation was way out there. But he was the first (and only, until college) Ian I had ever met, so Eye-an it was. I lived the innocent life of the blissfully ignorant.

Several years later, when I was attending an all-girls' school that, needless to say, had no one named Ian, I met Sophia. I won't give her last name because a Google search indicated there were only two people with her name, both in Ohio. Although I find it quite unlikely that she ended up in Ohio, I will err on the side of discretion.

Anyway, what was unusual about this girl, was not the apparent uncommonness of her name, but the fact that she pronounced it So-phy-a, not So-phee-a, as parents of children nowadays are accustomed. As with Ian, I remained unfazed, because I had never previously met a Sophia of any ilk, so could not have foreseen back then what stress and frustration lay ahead for my friends.

I have a fairly common last name that has two conventional articulations. The one my family uses, apparently, is more of an East Coast style, and the other more of, I suppose, an Un-East Coast style. But I get the impression there are some fancier East Coast folks who share my last name but opt for the other pronunciation. Thank you for asking but, no, I am not related to these people, although I am sure they are perfectly nice people, despite their apparent perch atop the social ladder.

My husband and children have a distinctly uncommon last name that is botched by 65% of teachers, 85% of sports coaches, and 100% of the telemarketing public. Unlike my un-fancy relatives, a targeted Google of his name brings up several authors (including his father) and what may be a polka musician, if that is not too much of an oxymoron. A governor or Georgia and a really skinny country singer are also distant relatives, but from sides of the family that did not inherit the family name. They have names that leave no room for error.

Growing up with a name that is usually mispronounced is indeed a cross to bear for many of us. My older child, not yet exposed to the gazillion incarnations of enunciations that exist for even the shortest of names, thinks those who screw up his five-letter last name must be intellectually dim (yes, true in many cases). He has only one decade under his belt to develop the sneer-and-condescending-smile combination that effectively corrects the inarticulate boob who spouts the erroneous utterance.

However, my family may finally gets its revenge. Now that talking to people--which provides them the opportunity to put an incorrect spin on our names--is being replaced with written forms of communication, there is less chance that our delicate ears will be offended by a ruffian riff. My anecdotal observations indicate that many kids of this generation have names that are more or less conventionally uttered. The future victims, I am afraid, are the sweet and innocent whose names have a variety of international incarnations, like Sophia/Sofia/Sofie/Sophie or Aiden/Aden or Isabella/Isabelle. They may grow up like the generations of wounded-but-resolute victims of verbal mispronunciations. But, hopefully, these sure-to-be text-savvy kids will develop a thick skin and a stinging retort for the IMers who misspell their names. And the LOLs will be on them.

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