Wednesday, February 28, 2007

My name escapes me

The startling revelation by Mike Beversluis that he has always mispronounced his own surname raises an almost, but not quite, entirely uninteresting philosophical question.

Is the pronunciation of your name a matter of complete personal freedom, or does the ancestral baggage attached to the surname give you a certain obligation to be objective? After all, the surname is an heirloom held only briefly in your hands.



16 comments:

monix said...

Imagine having to introduce Messers Farhquar, Cholmondeley and Beauchamp to a gathering in the village of Woolfardisworthy!(Far, Chumley, Beechem and Woolsery)

There is an ongoing debate as to whether the people who live in Woolfardisworthy have the right to change the spelling of the village name to match the pronunciation. It would certainly take up less space on the road map!

Oroborous said...

The pronunciation of your name, among the common people, is a matter of complete personal freedom.

Among my siblings, we pronounce our surname three different ways.

For the non-elite, a surname is less of an heirloom and more of an inherited tool - useful, but not priceless.

Also, the question of how precious is a surname is a very masculine question - ask a women what is the cost of changing it. In almost all cases, it's nothing.

Susan's Husband said...

I must disagree strongly with Oroborous. Changing the pronunciation of your surname is no different than redefining words to suit your personal preferences. A name is about communication and that's not possible if people change things on a whim. If you want to legally change your name, that's fine. But just shifting around the way it's said is annoying.

monix said...

I can't agree with oroborous that there is no cost for a woman in changing her surname. Your name is an integral part of your identity and even after 30+ years, I think of myself as a Graham rather than a Nixon.
Some of my friends have reverted to their maiden names now that it is socially acceptable for a married woman not to use her husband's surname.

Mike Beversluis said...

Brit & Oro - it reveals the amount of social conformity present in all sorts of issues, too.

Dutch people tell me how to pronounce my name for the same reason the Swiss send hygiene inspectors around. If someone inspected my apartment like that, I'd punch him, but every scientific instrument I've bought from a Swiss company has been a mechanical jewel. Conversely, there are a lot of kids named Moonshine who wished their parents were less individualistic. And when have hippies built anything requiring precision? Rembrandt is a good example of the Netherlands splitting the difference.

Also, most things get Americanized when the arrive, which is part of starting a new life too. Which is part of optimism, because you think you can do things better than before.

Monix - funny spellings do help to sort out the locals and visitors. I know within 2 seconds of answering the phone if it's a telemarketer. Which is a little funny because it's only three mostly phonetic syllables. Spanish speakers just plow right through.

erp said...

I'm guessing Woolfardisworthy isn't pronounced Woolfard-is-worthy.

When I first read Mike's name, I thought it French mangled going through Ellis Island and mentally pronounced it Běrvěrs and luis as in Spanish. I never thought of Dutch which is almost as difficult to pronounce as Irish or Welch.

David said...

In college, a group of us went to a particular Chinese restaurant about once a month. Being good Yuppies in training, we made it a point to order beer native to whatever cuisine we were eating. In the case of this restaurant, that meant Tsingtao.

We quickly noticed that, if we ordered "Ching Dao," the waiter would say "Ah, Sing Tau." If we ordered "Sing Tau," the waiter would say, "Ah, Ching Dao."

Pronunciation of proper nouns is largely an us v. them game.

monix said...

erp:
Woolfardisworthy is pronounced 'woolsery' and we can't blame the Dutch.

Oroborous said...

I'm not suggesting that one constantly change the pronunciation of one's name; I agree that there must be consistency for there to be effective communication.

However, nobody in America is bound by how their parents pronounced it, or even by that which was given at birth. (Echoing one of Mike's points).

Other cultures may have more strict customs. I know that in Canada and Sweden, parents must submit their childrens' prospective names to the government for approval, and some names get rejected - they actually tell citizens "you are not allowed to name your kid 'X'", which I find to be ludicrous and highly invasive. And pointless, which adds insult to injury.

Some of my friends have reverted to their maiden names now that it is socially acceptable for a married woman not to use her husband's surname.

Whereas my wife has told me that even if we get divorced, she's keeping my name, and I know a couple of women who have done the same - divorced, retained name.

Duck said...

I knew that name approval goes for places like Sweden, Iceland and Germany, but Canada? Really?

Peter Burnet said...

I know that in Canada and Sweden, parents must submit their childrens' prospective names to the government for approval, and some names get rejected - they actually tell citizens "you are not allowed to name your kid 'X'",

Wow, the older you get the more you learn. Oro, where does that come from? The only thing I can think of is that Quebec has certain politically correct restricted options for surnames, but I assume you aren't talking about surnames.

David said...

O: I once knew a woman who got married, took her husband's name, got divorced, kept her husband's name, got remarried, still kept her first husband's name and then, while married, changed back to her maiden name.

erp said...

David, and your point is ....

Oroborous said...

My apologies, Peter, it appears that it's not all of Canada, just Quebec, at least as of February 2, 1998:

"...[a] story from the Ottawa Citizen about Guy Lavigne, Quebec's registrar of civil status. The seven buttinskies--sorry, staffers--in M. Lavigne's office reject about 20 of the 85,000 names of newborns submitted annually, including Goldorak, Lion, Cowboy, Gazouille, and Boum-Boum."

erp:

That women are fickle.

But you know that.

David said...

erp: No point. O had mentioned divorced women who keep their married names and I thought I'd mention this amusing story.

erp said...

Just teasing David.

Women aren't fickle because they may not want to change their names every time they marry and divorce! Sheesh, changing your name once on every document from your driver's license to Social Security to your insurance to the deed on your house is a colossal pain in the neck, but changing it serially as you pick up and discard one guy after the other must be a mind boggling exercise in bureaucracy.

She made the right move reverting to her maiden name and sticking with it.