October 13, 2013

"Have you saddled your child with a name that needs constant spelling-out?"

Asks Elizabeth Scalia, and I wonder what name does not need constant spelling out? My older son is named John, a very common name, and yet earnest educated people never assume it's not Jon, and some even expand the name to Jonathan, which feels like a rebuke — as if we should have chosen something fancier.

And you'd be surprised how often younger folks would spell John "Jhon." I assumed that was a combination of 3 things that they did know: 1. "John" contains an H, 2. There are very few English words with an HN combination, 3. Many common English words begin with a consonant followed by an H (e.g., the, she, child, ghost, phone, rhyme, who).

And, look, it's Jhonny Peralta, playing for the Detroit Tigers in the American League Championship Series. What's that Jh about? Is that the way to keep the Spanish last name from causing people to pronounce "John" as "Hone"?
"It's weird, I know," Peralta said. "My father spelled it that way in the Dominican (Republic). A lot of people actually spell the name that way in the Dominican. When I first came up to the Indians, fans would shout, 'Hey, JAY-honny!' It's not a problem. It's OK however people say it."
That's a relaxed attitude, and who's to say where that relaxed attitude came from? Perhaps having a name that needs constant spelling out causes a person to grow in patience and understanding over the years.

And I say that as a woman with the simplest common girl's name that must constantly be spelled out.

38 comments:

rhhardin said...

The jh indicates voiced, like Annh.

St. George said...

Mormon baby names.....

African-American baby names

Race has nothing to do with it...

Ron said...

In my baseball blogs, when Peralta homers, commenters go "Jhome Run!"

amr said...

Forget first names, my parents "saddled" me with a surname that sounds like "Resh" but is spelled like "Boesch" (but not with the "b").

betamax3000 said...

Phrostitutes Often Have Jhons.

betamax3000 said...

There was Always Such Confusion as To Whether it Was Adolph or Adolf That Parents Just Stopped Using the Name.

betamax3000 said...

Geoffrey Dahmer. British. Liked Meat Pies.

bearing said...

There aren't many names that have no common-enough alternate spellings. At least if the name is short (like Ann/Anne) you don't spend much time on it, and if the two most common spellings are far ahead of the pack and differ by one letter it is even easier ("John-with-an-H.") Yes, that is easier than spelling it out, because the names of so many letters sound the same that spelling itself generates confusion. Whiskey tango foxtrot.

Pronunciation varieties may be a bigger deal as people get introduced to each other more and more using text. I know you only from your blog, with your name on the masthead, and so it would be the height of carelessness for me to refer to you as "Anne Althouse." Perhaps it will be the Jeannes, Ninas, and Thads of the world irritatedly typing, "Jeanne pronounced like 'genie'," "Nina like neena, not 9-a," or "Thad, the h is silent."

richlb said...

It's always easy to have a lax attitude about the spelling of your name when it's on a check with lots of zeros in it.

Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

At one point I might have felt a touch guilty about naming my daughter (now 2) 'Roosmarijn', a name common in my Netherlands in-laws' family, but I've been asked so many times how to spell my own last name, HALL, that I realised the problem is generally one of widespread ignorance and illiteracy more than the names themselves.

More interestingly, I wonder if people actually understand what names mean. Mitt Romney's son and his wife (speaking of Mormon names, St-George) recently adopted a black baby and named him Kieran. In Gaelic (my middle name is McNeill) that means "little dark one".

We'll never know if it was intentional or not, but Mormons do have a dry sense of humour.

Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

Interesting afterthought. Having lived for 13 years in a French-speaking country I have a terrible time with names like 'Jean', which for me is a man's name. Boys are also often named 'Marie', as in Jean-Marie or Marie-Joseph.

Ann Althouse said...

"little dark one"

Why don't we worry that it's wrong to think it's wrong to name a dark-colored person after darkness?

It's so hard not to be wrong when there are sins hidden everywhere.

But why do people think it's just find to call someone with light coloring "Blondie" or "Red"?

Maybe more things should be regarded as wrong?

Would you prefer more wrongs or fewer wrongs?

It can't be that the currently identified wrongs are exactly the right number.

codeweasel said...

Ted.

I've never had to spell it.

Christy said...

A cousin and his wife gave all their kids made up names. I've never been able to remember all their names much less spell them. And I've wondered if her exotic name didnt get one of those blue eyed blondes the free ride to Georgetown. Although she is wicked smart.

Jay Vogt said...

Advice to prospective parents~

Looking back, it was a mistake of a minor order to saddle our first kid (daughter) with an unusual spelling/pronunciation combo: Laragh (the "Lar" rhymes with "Far"). Strangely, we thought the "gh" at the end would help people with the pronunciation. It did not. Young and naive we were.

Word to the wise. . .

We did go full catholic and give an obscure saint's name as her middle. We don't use it intros though.

LarsPorsena said...

St. George said...

Mormon baby names.....

African-American baby names

Race has nothing to do with it...

10/13/13, 7:21 AM
__________________________

The local paper never uses race descriptors when describing the arrest of felons.

Don't need it. All you have to do is read the name and none of them are on the Mormon list.

Bruce Hayden said...

Saddled my kid with four surnames - two English and two somewhat Germanic. Both 1st and 2nd names would normally be spelled differently. But the other way works fine, going from spelled to spoken. Still happy with what we did - probably nothing marks you as a WASP better than using English surnames as given names (which may be why my last name has become somewhat popular as a first name).

Things have changed though quite a bit with naming during my lifetime. My brothers were all named with top 10, usually top , names, over the previous 100 years. Three were the names of Apostles, and three had been names of English kings. One who had the name of both is my brother John. Need to ask him whether he has ever had it misspelled or mispronounced. Seems incredible, esp given how common the name use to be. Never did I figure out why my parents started with a Scottish surname, and then switched to names of kings and Apostles for their boys.

subduedchick said...

Parents are always so concerned about giving their children a "unique" name, or a more common name with a unique spelling. In 9 years at a small Catholic school, my son was the only Bob there, and even his much larger high school only had a handful of them. My daughter wanted to name her baby "Lucia," but even she and the father couldn't agree on how to pronounce it! I convinced her to go with the classic "Lucille," and it fits the little redhead that was born perfectly!

subduedchick said...

Parents are always so concerned about giving their children a "unique" name, or a more common name with a unique spelling. In 9 years at a small Catholic school, my son was the only Bob there, and even his much larger high school only had a handful of them. My daughter wanted to name her baby "Lucia," but even she and the father couldn't agree on how to pronounce it! I convinced her to go with the classic "Lucille," and it fits the little redhead that was born perfectly!

~ Steven said...

I'm distantly related to two presidents. You'd be surprised how many people do not know how to spell my surname. I've adopted the answer years ago, just like you learned it in school.

~ Steven said...

I'm distantly related to two presidents. You'd be surprised how many people do not know how to spell my surname. I've adopted the answer years ago, just like you learned it in school.

Bruce Hayden said...

I found St George's lists interesting. Nothing seems to show an attempt to be other and not being willing to assimilate more than the names you give your children. Probably doesn't harm, and maybe may help Mormons, esp living in Mormondom. More than many sub-groups, they seem to be clannish, often preferring to deal with their own than us Gentiles (and, yes, very much like Jews in that respect).

But, I have long questioned the wisdom of Black first names. I think, given their lower than average education and professional accomplishments, that seeing a Black name often results in involving racial stereotypes. Just the opposite maybe of the stereotype you see evoked with, say, an English surname as a first name. Not maybe nice, but probably reality.

betamax3000 said...

Naked Bhob Dylan Robot Says:

The Alternative Spelling of Dylan is Zimmerman.

virgil xenophon said...

The all-time classic involving "white" names is "Ima Hogg" (who was a real-life rich (Texas Tea, natch) Houston socialite and art collector and the daughter of the Governor Of Texas. (I met one of her relatives once at a bar in Lafayette, La. The family seemed to humorously roll with it--this gal even had a drawing of a full-sized porker engraved on her checks.)

But the ABSOLUTE worst case I personally knew about--one that would hands-down invoke a verdict of justifiable homicide for killing one's parents--was a guy from my hometown with the name of "Roe Haddock." Top THAT anyone!

Hammond X Gritzkofe said...

http://www.snopes.com/racial/language/le-a.asp

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Hey, I have three names that all need to be spelled. "Michelle" -- one l or two? "Dulak" -- well, before my marriage, when there were just the two names, people assumed from the "Michelle" that the surname must be French. I got a lot of mail addressed to "Michelle du Lac." (It got onto telemarketers' call lists spelled correctly, though; I could always tell when I was talking to a telemarketer, because they always pronounced it "Dullock.")

But "Thomson" is the worst. People just can't imagine the name without a p in it. And if you explain that there's no p in it, as often as not they transmute it into "Thomas," or "Tomson," or something even stranger.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

I've run across "Jhon" before, though not in this century. There's a piece in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book by William Byrd titled "Jhon Come Kisse Me Nowe."

tmitsss said...

My own burden is a Huguenot name in an English world. I survive.

PeterK said...

Can't tell you how many times people see my name - Peter- and call me Paul

Marc said...

Long ago gave up correcting 'Mark' to Marc. The most regrettable consequence is that I now sometimes get junk mail addressed to me, and to 'Mark'.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Marc,

I had a friend in grad school who changed his middle initial every time he took out a subscription, so that he could see from the subsequent offers who each publisher was selling his info to.

Vinnie said...

I've read Althouse every day since the beginning (and love it!) but I've only commented once and I spelled your name Anne -- sheesh -- and from someone who grew up in
1950's California with the name Lavinia. Always, and I mean always, I have to spell it out (and usually explain it). But, you know, I've grown to like it more and more.

Kirk Parker said...

A friend of mine taught in an inner-city school.

First day of class, he's calling roll in one of his English classes, checking off who's present and who's not (first day of class, you expect a lot of adjustments.)

One of the names that gets no response is "Lamonne". After he gets to the end of the list, he goes back and re-calls the missing names. Still no one answers to "Lamonne".

Then he asks, "Is there anyone whose name I didn't call?" Chap raises his hand.

"And you are...?"

"Lamont!" [said with a fairly noticeable aspirated T at the end.]

"Lamont?"

"Yeah -- L - A - M - O - N - N - E ... ... ... Lamont!!!"


Freeman Hunt said...

Our oldest son has an exceedingly rare (in this country) name, and everyone always spells it right on the first try. Same with pronunciation. Everyone says it timidly the first time, and they always get it right.

Alex D. Novak said...

Somewhat related to the relaxed attitude ascribed to Peralta, my given name in Hungarian is Sandor with an umlaut above the A. Not easy to pronounce.

My attitude turned to "anything but late for dinner."

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Alex D. Novak, is it an umlaut, or an ongarek? I've never seen Sandor except with an acute accent on the "a."

Alex D. Novak said...

Michelle: You'd have to ask a speaking Hungarian, but I think you're correct. I seem to recall an umlaut as a child. My sister says no. There is no umlaut in the Hungarian alphabet that I looked at.

Another childhood memory dashed. Still it's difficult to pronounce.

Crazy Jane said...

Even the most dense newspaper reporter learns within a couple of days to make every source spell out both the first and last name. Assume nothing.