What’s In A (Poorly Spelled) Name?

Okay, so since we first moved to Jordan, I’ve wondered what’s up with people’s translations of their names to English.  I know that in the US we’re old hats at coming up with odd spelling for common names (like that makes either the kid or the name unique), but Jordan has an even bigger problem.  They misspell their names and don’t even know it.  People seem befuddled when Westerners misread their Western names.  But, most often this occurs because they have used an exact translation of each letter of the name.  Guess what, it doesn’t work.

I thought about this because this morning on one of the morning shows the host (a Westerner) asked a contestant on his show the following question: “So is your name Dinah (pronounced Die-nuh) or Dina (Dee-nuh)?”  The response?  Deanna (Dee-an-na).  Whoaaaaaaa… Hold on there.  How could you possible be spelling Deanna that he’s unsure if it’s Dinah or Dina?  Really, what are you thinking?

This isn’t the tomayto/tomahto discussion of whether Zaid or Zade is more effective.  This is poor spelling plain and simple.  And I will grant you that the name Anne (and all of its offshoots) are hard for Arabs, but really, get it right.  It’s one thing to name your kid a Western name, but spell the thing right, darn it.  I am providing here a partial list of names that are routinely (always) misspelled and how the name as spelled would be pronounced.

Suzanne: Suzan (Sue-zun)

Marianne: Marian (Mary-un)

Joanne: Jawan (Jah-wun, Juh-wun))

Leanne: Layan (Lay-un, Lay-anne)

Leia (yes as in Star Wars…): Leya (Lee-uh, although people will think you just don’t know how to spell as Leah is spelled Leah typically)

Yeah, so I see now that most of the problems come from the whole Anne ending.  They don’t seem to get that translating only the letters in Arabic won’t get the sounds you’re expecting.  So for those planning to use a Western name, show it to a Westerner and ask how they’d pronounce it.  If it isn’t what you were expecting, ask them how to properly spell the name.  Take it from someone who spent her entire younger years (okay and older years as well) correcting people, having your name said wrong constantly is annoying.

Dale Carnegie wrote in his book about winning friends, “Remember that a man’s name is to him the sweetest and most important sound in the English language.”  I would say it actually applies to any language.  So, I find myself wondering… What’s in a Name?

Happy Naming Conventions!


6 thoughts on “What’s In A (Poorly Spelled) Name?

  1. OMG! As an “Anne” I would like to add the verbal problems with the name. Here is an example of how a phone conversation to make a salon appointment goes.

    Salon: “OK, appointment at 5:00 PM. What is your name?”
    Me: “Anne”
    Salon: “En?”
    Me: “No, Anne”
    Salon: “In?”
    Me: “OK, how about ANNA?”
    Salon: “OHHHHH! Anna! See you at 5:00!”

  2. Hmmm … you’re forgetting the French influence. Syria and Lebanon spell Arabic names according to French pronunciation. Sh sound in English is spelled Ch in French and as far as asking a Westerner to spell the name, I don’t think my American college roommate is a reliable source as I used to correct his English papers. When I was in LA, I took some papers to a notary public then she told me to go to “Ben Nice” to have her signature authenticated. Who the hell is Ben Nice and where do I find him? After several to and fro conversation, I realized she was saying “Van Nuys” which is an LA suburb. This was an oriental young lady and her pronunciation was not up to par so to speak. And let’s not forget vanity. There’s an African American actor that spells his name Mikelti instead of Michael T

    • Joe, I’m not forgetting the French influence, I’m just skeptical that it plays any role whatsoever… For instance, “Marianne is a national emblem of France and an allegory of Liberty and Reason.” You see Mary Anne (or Marianne) in English is spelled (in French) Marianne. Not Marian ;). Marian is clearly a directly translation of Arabic letters, meem-aleph-rah-yah-aleph-noon. In Arabic it would be pronounced Marianne. Not in English…

      And while many Americans have abysmal spelling skills, names are a huge exception. There are people who intentionally do weird things to their kid’s names (Madysyn anyone?) but we pretty much all know how common names can be spelled. And we certainly know when we read one that’s written wrong :). As for how we pronounce place names. don’t get me started. I lived in 2 states with towns named Lafayette (Lah-fee-ette, perhaps). One was pronounced laff-ee-ette and one luh-fay-et.

      For many, many years African Americans have led the charge in doing strange things with names. I have known a Fredtonio (think someone’s mom liked two different names?) and a Frozenia. So… I’ll leave that one alone ;).

  3. Oh yea!. When I have my passport checked, with one of my really weird Welsh names, they don’t get it (most Americans don’t either) and since that is supposed to be the name of my father in their understanding, confusion reigns.

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