You Have Two Names

Feb 10th 2012

Every one of us has two given names. I don't mean first name and surname, or first and middle. I mean two entire names, each one of which represents our complete identity. These two are a sound and an image, or a spoken name and a written name.

We think of these names as being one. My name is Laura, whether I type it to you in this blog or speak it to you on the phone. But in fact they are two, linked but distinct.

Let's say your name, spoken, is "IZ-ə-behl." That's a familiar and fashionable classic. It's usually represented by the letter string Isabel or Isabelle, but in the past decade thousands of girls have also been given the written names Isabell, Isobel, Izabel, Izabelle, Izzabelle and more.

Or let's say your name, written, is Helena. That's a timeless choice, straight out of Shakespeare. It's traditionally represented by the sound heh-LAY-nə...or HEHL-in-ə, or heh-LEE-nə.

Are those IZ-ə-behls and Helenas all the same names, or are they all different? Surely the answer must be "both." They are the same names in one modality, and different in another.

Now imagine if both modalities were up in the air. That was the challenge in a question posed to The Name Lady last year. A grandmother was frustrated that her son and daughter-in-law were pronouncing her granddaughter's name wrong. They had named the girl Aida and pronounced it as two syllables, EYE-də. Grandma thought it should be eye-EE-də, like the opera. Some Name Lady readers felt that the real issue was that the name was spelled wrong; it should have been written Ida.

Think about that for a moment. If you can't decide whether a name is spelled wrong or pronounced wrong, what is the child's name, exactly? Again, I believe the answer must be dual. In that case, the name was the sound EYE-də and the letters Aida.

In today's naming climate, this distinction is far from academic. As we move from a world of Robert and James to a world of Jaylon and Kael, fewer and fewer babies receive names with clear single spellings and pronunciations. And for a name-seeking parent, that means making two decisions.

The standard impulse, even for creative namers, is to think of the sound as primary. Parents choose a spoken name, then tweak the spelling if desired. (Picture doing it the other way around, selecting a string of letters then cooking up a sound to match. It doesn’t feel right, does it?) It seems to me, though, that this strong privileging of sound is out of step with today’s naming reality.

Think of how many first impressions today are made in writing. A college or job application; a social network introduction; an online dating hookup. Is Khrystyna or Xristina really "just another spelling" of Christina? Don't those written names make wildly different impressions? And if so, isn’t it time that the written name be given its due in the selection process? Each part, sound and image, will fully represent your child for life.


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By ABC (not verified)
February 9, 2012 12:48 PM

I think spelling is incredibly important, and different spellings do make wildly different impressions, depending on your experiences. For example, in my circle of friends, there is a negative connotation associated with names ending in 'i' that traditionally end in 'ie' or 'y' (e.g. Kati, not Katie; Brittani, not Brittany). I'm sure that's not true for some people, but for me, there's no way I'd swap an ie or a y for just an i. And when I see those names written down, I cringe a little. And to show you just how fickle and subjective I am, I have an aunt named Kristi and her i-ending doesn't bother me even a little. See? Subjective. But something to consider!

By Fritinancy (not verified)
February 9, 2012 1:17 PM

Excellent post, Laura. I see a parallel trend in my own world of corporate and product names: a business will select a name for its sound or meaning, then fiddle with the spelling to get an available URL. One of the most bizarre examples I've seen is Nyoombl, which the founder insists is pronounced "nimble."

By Caren Carrillo (not verified)
February 9, 2012 1:33 PM

My parents named me "Caren". If you're reading it, it just looks like they decided to name me Karen with a C (pronounced CAYR-ihn). However, my folks decided to change the spelling to signify that they were using the European pronunciation: CAHR-ihn.

It facinates me that people who see my name written first have a lot of trouble adjusting their pronunciation of my name. They have it in their heads how to pronunce it, so they have a hard time changing, even if they get to know me fairly well. Contrastingly, if their first introduction to my name is when I extend a hand and introduce myself, the response is frequently, "ooh, that's really pretty", and they rarely have trouble remembering the pronunciation. Ultimately people's first interaction with my name tends to be their perception of it for a long time.

By Kotryna (not verified)
February 9, 2012 1:38 PM

I was just thinking last night about how I consider my name, Kaitlyn, simultaneously the same as Catalina and Aikaterine, but different from Caitlin. Spelling matters!

February 9, 2012 2:01 PM

my husband and I both liked the name Alicia, but wouldn't consider it for our daughter because we weren't sure whether to pronounce it Al-ee-sha or Aliss-ee-a. We thought the latter, but we thought she'd be driven mad by the former.

By melanie1 (not verified)
February 9, 2012 2:08 PM

There is another woman at church that spells her name exactly like I do and yet pronounces it differently. I was introduced to her verbally and later was reading her name off of a list and it didn't even click that this was the same person because I naturally pronounced it like MY name. It has been an adjustment to not just think of her as pronouncing her name incorrectly as, after all, it is her name. On the flip side, there is a girl that spells her name Kyr4 and no one can ever remember if she pronounces it Keera or Kira and she doesn't seem to care much as it is always being mispronounced. I like thinking of them as two separate but linked names because the way you pronounce your name and the way you write it is both up for to your own personal choice and neither is the "right" choice.

By JB1112 (not verified)
February 9, 2012 2:20 PM

I love this topic! I've always thought of my name as being two--for me, the written "Julia" is lovely, but the spoken name is just okay.

Or maybe I have 2.5 names, since most of the world can't manage to read or hear that final "a" and I become "Julie"--a totally different name to me, and one that I don't much like.

By Amy3
February 9, 2012 2:44 PM

@Laura, I have another spin on Aida. My 10-yr-old daughter was reading a story aloud to me in which there was, to my ear, a character named Ada. It was only once I looked at the book that I realized it was Aida. I would have said eye-EE-da; my daughter said AY-da. Of course, she's also pronouncing Venia from the Hunger Games series as Vienna. I tried correcting that one, which I'm fairly sure would be VEE-nee-ah, to no avail!

I think this issue of spoken vs written is why I shy away from names that don't have an obvious pronunciation when you see them written (e.g., Keren's Alicia example). I like for it all to sync up.

February 9, 2012 2:50 PM

My husband always makes a big deal out of this and how people can use letters in ANY combination and pronounce it ANY way they want. I tell him this is not true but maybe now with the invention of Abcde it is becoming more of a reality.

I do agree that certain spellings are interchangeable and some are not. I wouldn't think twice about Isabelle vs. Izabelle on a resume or Brian vs Bryan but Christina vs Xtina is a bit out there. Can we label this the Prince Syndrome? How were you supposed to pronounce his name when it was a symbol anyway?

By Linz3 (not verified)
February 9, 2012 2:52 PM

I had this issue with naming my first daughter, Keira (KEER-ah). I loved the name, but wanted a spelling that would help it be pronounced correctly. I hoped to avoid her being called KIE-rah or Key-AIR-ah. Inevitably, though, she gets called all kinds of combinations and we just try to politely correct the person--or the speller, too. I know some folks get persnickety about "invented" spellings, but sometimes parents are just trying their best to make their child's name special and manageable.

By Frank (not verified)
February 9, 2012 3:10 PM

When naming our kids, those were my top two rules I contributed to the naming process:

1. When hearing the name, there should be no question about how to spell it.

2. When seeing the name, there should be no question about how to pronounce it.

As someone with a last name that fails both of those rules, I certainly didn't want to burden a child with a first name that caused the same problems.

By AmyRenee (not verified)
February 9, 2012 3:37 PM

Even the example given in the post of Robert has multiple pronounciations: rob-urt in English speaking countries, roe-behr in French. Many names have the same or similar spelling in different languages, with a different pronounciation. When I worked in New Mexico, I had a student Jorge, who wanted his name to be pronounced as "George" in school but his family used the Spanish pronounciation of "hor-hay" (that's how it sounds to my ears, please don't flame my phonetic spanish!) I also know a Michel who's parents are French and call pronounce it like "Michelle" but with his American friends he introduces himslef as "Michael". I am perfectly fine with pronouncing names the way they would be pronounced in a parent's home country, but I think trying to push foreign pronounciations for names when the parents aren't foreign ("Rafe" for Ralph for instance) is obnoxious & pretentious. When I named my son "Owen" I had an Irish friend ask if it was spelled Eoghn - to her, that is the standard spelling of the name pronounced "oh-en"

February 9, 2012 3:47 PM

I disagree that the sound is primary, at least not for traditional and biblical names. The tradition is written -- is "Leah" to be pronounced "LEE-ah" ("Liː-ə" in IPA, modern) or "LAY-ah" ("Leɪ-ə" in IPA, from the Hebrew)? My bet is that most parents of Leahs are choosing the letters first, then the sound.

By AmyRenee (not verified)
February 9, 2012 3:48 PM

I've also had a friend named Erin who told me I was pronouncing her name wrong and that I was saying it like the boys name Aaron. She kept saying both names over and over, but to my ears there was only a tiny difference and I couldn't make my voice distinguish between them. She was extremely frustrated with me that I couldn't say her name "right". She also pointed out that I was saying an acquaintance's name wrong - I wanted to say Tara as "TARE-ah" as my cousin says it, and she insisted it should be "Tahr-ah". I've also heard arguments over Sara - Sarah is definitely "Sare-ah", but I've heard Sara as both "SARE-ah" and "Sahr-ah"

By EVie
February 9, 2012 4:03 PM

I think I actually do generally fall in love with names based on their orthography before their sound, which sometimes presents its own set of problems. A couple of years ago I fell in love with the name Maribel, which I think looks beautiful on paper. But when I spoke it aloud to my husband I realized that the pronunciation kind of trips me up—that "i" that looks so pretty in the name comes out as a schwa (MAA-ruh-bel), which is just not as nice to my ear. I also don't like it pronounced like Mary-Belle. The Spanish pronunciation is beautiful, but we're not Spanish speakers and couldn't really use that.

Similarly, I love Martin as written and as pronounced in the UK, but I don't really care for how it sounds in most American accents (MAR-'in), in which the t gets replaced by a glottal stop. Since we can't go around insisting that people speak in an English accent, that's probably out.

By hyz nli (not verified)
February 9, 2012 4:43 PM

I generally agree with Frank--unity/clarity of spelling and pronunciation are a pretty high priority for me in naming, as a person whose FN and LN do not meet these criteria. My FN is one of those discussed above, and it is like fingernails on a chalkboard when someone addresses me with one of the pronunciations I don't use. I will consider names where there is a clearly predominant pronunciation and/or spelling (i.e. we like Sylvia even though Silvia is an accepted variant, but shy away from Helena). I just don't like the awkwardness that surrounds the uncertainty.

As to the Name Lady discussion, I side with the readers who say the parents picked the wrong spelling (or the wrong pronunciation, although I would tend to privilege a pronuncation choice over a spelling one). I agree with Laura's statement that, as a matter of fact, "the name was the sound EYE-də and the letters Aida," but I don't think it was a great choice.

If people want to choose between recognized alternate spellings, or make up their own reasonably functional spellings, that's their perogative, but I think it's hard on a child when you want a name to be spelled like one traditional name (Aida) and pronounced like another (Ida). It's like saying "we named our child Jones because we like that spelling, but it is pronounced just like Jon--the o is short and the s is silent." In the abstract, it's not an untenable way to get their desired pronunciation, it's just a common (and intuitive, and phonetic) way to get to a much different pronunciation. Another example--I know a kid named Tristian (spelled that way because the appearance was preferred, but pronounced as Tristan), and the mother is genuinely surprised that people often "misspell" the boy's name as Tristan, or pronounce it as "TRIST-ee-an" or "TRIS-chen" or even "TRIS-tayne"). In a similar vein, I feel sad for kids whose parents ineffectively chose a non-standard spelling in order to signify a non-standard pronunciation. I see questions on name boards all the time to the effect of "I like Lila but I want people to pronounce it as lee-lah, so which spelling do you think is better, Liela or Leylah?" Sigh.

I don't think this is just a matter of individual creativity--to me, this sort of thing often indicates an incomplete grasp of phonics and/or cultural context. And as in art or music, I think it's advisable to know the basic rules of the form before improvising or creating your own.

February 9, 2012 4:52 PM

Mark wrote: "I disagree that the sound is primary, at least not for traditional and biblical names. The tradition is written -- is "Leah" to be pronounced "LEE-ah" ("Liː-ə" in IPA, modern) or "LAY-ah" ("Leɪ-ə" in IPA, from the Hebrew)?"

On the other hand, there are thousands of woman named Leigha, Liya, etc. specifically to get around the ambiguous pronunciation. And biblical names are an interesting case since of course they're all transcriptions, and the transcriptions can change from one translation/edition to another.

But in general, regarding traditional names, I think it's key to remember that English orthography used to be far more malleable than it is today. (The many spellings of Shakespeare are a famous example.) English records through the 17th Century are packed with names like Wylliam, written elsewhere as William. Back then the sound was quite explicitly primary.

By hyz nli (not verified)
February 9, 2012 4:57 PM

EVie, just saw your comment, and laughed at the thought of you insisting that everyone refer to and address your hypothetical son in an English accent. It sounds like an SNL sketch (or a Monty Python one, if the accent were something other than English, I guess). I had a similar thought process very early on in my naming fantasies--I love a lot of German and Eastern European names, but since the American pronunciation is not as nice and it would probably be both pretentious and impractical to insist that everyone else pronounce them correctly, I had to drop them. It was hard enough having a dog named Elke--it was constantly pronounced as "...el-kee?" at the vet's office and kennel, and it drove me batty. I wouldn't do that to a kid.

By hyz nli (not verified)
February 9, 2012 5:01 PM

*post 16 above, I meant prerogative. Derp. I really should proof these things.

February 9, 2012 5:03 PM

Mark (post13) makes an interesting point. That coupled with post 14 make me want to say that we learn the correct pronunciation of the orthographic representation. So therefore, in a kind of chicken vs. egg way, the written name comes first.
Erin is not Aaron nor is it Airen but they mostly come out sounding the same because that's the way we've learned them. People have not been taught that the first is EE-rin or
Er-in so if a person pronounces it as so I think that's a bit off. It's just that the English language has so many sound combinations though. Since I would want my child to not be burdened with sp/pron issues, I would spell it Erin for a girl and Aaron for a boy and maybe Airen if I were more of a "float my own boat" kind of person since these are relatively expected or commmon.
Persons working on their genealogy have to face this issue when researching relatives and their immigration. There are many times when the surnames are alternately spelled. You have to be flexible and allow yourself the possibilities of multiple combinations for certain sounds otherwise you may never find your ancestors. Differently accenting syllables is also a bit tricky sometimes. My classic example of is how when I was younger I used to pronounce Persephone (Per-Seff-O-Nee) as
Persa-phone rhyming with telephone. This kind of relates to your recent post regarding the punctuation marks.

February 9, 2012 5:10 PM

@hyz -- funny I know a Tristain. At the same time I worked with her, and two guys named Triston and Tristan. So confusing.

@Caren -- I think that's really interesting about whether people 'get' your name if they see it written or hear it first. I have a similar problem with an acquaintance named Stefani. I saw it written first, and always want to pronounce it like Gwen Stefani, even though she pronounces it like Stephanie.

I think spelling is huge, so we went with the "traditional" spelling of Eleanor. And, of course, her name gets misspelled all the time. Ironically, never Elinor, which is the other spelling we considered. Usually it's something like Ellanore or Elanor or (my personal favorite) Elaneaor.

February 9, 2012 6:39 PM

I totally agree. The name Brianna comes to mind. the "bri-ah-na" and "bri-a-na" cause so many people to argue over pronunciation. Then there's spelling issues: Briana, Brianna Bryanna, Briannah, Breeanna...I have seen that and more. Although it's all the same name to me, some people like to draw the line.

I think the line is drawn when the original name is very very different from the alternate spellings or pronunciations and I think it depends on your point of view. For example: Hannah and Hana are two different names.

By zoeruth (not verified)
February 9, 2012 6:53 PM

My boyfriend has two cousins whose names drive me nuts. Shana pronounces her name "shawna" when it looks like "shan-na," and Adele is pronounced "a-day-la" instead of the obvious "a-dell." I cannot look at their names and make a connection to who they are!

By Erinne (not verified)
February 9, 2012 7:03 PM

Interesting to me that Erin/Aaron have been discussed so much. My name is Erinne, and I'm kind of surprised at how many people don't pronounce it like Erin. I definitely stuck with the "must sound like it's spelled and be spelled like it sounds" rule for my own daughter after a lifetime of being called "Ernie." I really like hearing a difference between Erin and Aaron, but I only hear it from non-American English speakers.

February 9, 2012 7:40 PM

Erinne-That's a pretty looking spelling. I would pronounce it Erin but with a bit more emphasis on the -in part so that it was like Corinne which is another name that has been talked about on here before. Are there any other pronunciations you've gotten? Erin-nee? Er-ine? Just curious.

hyz-Your Layla story is funny. I wouldn't say either one like Leela. Liela=long I and Leyla=long A

By Guest2 (not verified)
February 9, 2012 8:23 PM

Some of the pronunciation issues are created because parents are trying to spell names phonetically using their own phonic system (an autodidact's phonic system).

But I do think that many of the pronunciation issues are a result of the melting pot America (and other Anglo nations with heavy immigrant populations) represents. Helena is a perfect example. This is an old name. One with an established tradition (Latin) that precedes its Shakespearean use. Its pronunciation is equally old and divided. The traditional English pronunciation is full of soft vowels: HEHL-in-ə. The traditional German pronunciation uses a long E: heh-LEE-nə. Where the currently fashionable pronunciation (heh-LAY-nə) comes from, I am unsure. (My Spanish friends say eh-LEH-na.) The more languages we are influenced by, the more our phonic understanding of these names expands.

By BelleNight (not verified)
February 9, 2012 8:31 PM

I know a girl named Violette, pronounced as Violet. As a french speaker I have to pause and think before addressing the child to avoid saying "Vie-oh-lette" and getting a less than friendly glance from her mother. If I had never known the spelling of the child's name it would not be such a struggle.

By Catalina (not verified)
February 9, 2012 9:40 PM

Haha, I feel exactly the same with the opposite name. As a Caitlin I identify more with Catalina than with Kaitlyn/Catelin/etc. Maybe it's from constantly having to spell out my name that I feel very connected to the spelling and maybe protective? It's almost like other spellings are competitors but other versions of the name's origin are not.

By Lisa Corriveau (not verified)
February 9, 2012 10:18 PM

I think of different spellings of names that sound the same to be the same name. I find it a bit annoying, honestly, because it's still the same name, it's just really hard for everyone else to spell now. I'm glad the name my parents gave me is easy to spell & pronounce. People rarely pronounce Lisa different from how I say it. However, even if they do refer to me as Leeza, I wouldn't correct someone. I consider it more or less the same name. Meh.

I think it's a bit ridiculous when people with names that can be pronounced multiple ways get annoyed at the pronunciation. I can never keep it straight whether they are Andrea (ON-dree-uh) or Andrea (AN-dree-uh) or Andrea (on-DRAY-uh).

By Kathleen B. (not verified)
February 9, 2012 10:35 PM

Guest2, the German pronunciation of Helena is "he-LEH-nah" (not "heh-LEE-nə").

February 9, 2012 10:57 PM

Apropos of this discussion here is an article on the results of a recent study which demonstrated that people (and corporations) with "difficult" names face a certain level of discrimination," and conversely those with "easy" names have an advantage.

Something to think about when naming a child....

My son's name is Edward after my father. I would have named him for my father even if my father's name had been Nebuchadnezzer, but I must say that Edward is a no-problem name, no spelling problem, no pronunciation problem. He publishes his books (which sell to an international audience in a number of different languages) under Ed, and that is even less of a problem.

My name Miriam has one English spelling and one Standard English pronunciation, but I still get Marian, Marion, Maryanne, Marilyn for reasons which are phonetically understandable. E.g., historically the -m of the Old English dative case merged with the -n of the accusative, and since the inflection no longer provided any information it eventually dropped off, leaving only a nasalized schwa which was even more useless and soon disppeared. The -s ending of the genitive and the plural did not participate in this change, and so we still have those endings today, but the nasals of the dative and accusative are so long gone that most English speakers do not know they ever existed. So no surprise that to a lot of ears Miriam and Marian sound alike.

Erinne, I am one American English speaker who clearly distinguishes between Erin (with an 'e' as in 'get') and Aaron (with an 'a' as in 'at'). I am from the Mid-Atlantic, and I, unlike many Midwesterners (and others), have the Mary-marry-merry distinction. Unlike many Americans I see (or rather hear) nothing funny (or embarrassing) about someone named Harry Ball.

An example of the written-spoken issue under discussion is Mariah Carey. She was apparently named after the song, "They Called the Wind Maria." Here from Wikipedia is an interesting tidbit of how the wind got its name:

In George Rippey Stewart's 1941 novel Storm, he gives the storm which is the protagonist of his story the name "Maria".[18] In 1947, Stewart wrote a new introduction for a reprint of the book, and discussed the pronunciation of "Maria": "The soft Spanish pronunciation is fine for some heroines, but our Maria here is too big for any man to embrace and much too boisterous." He went on to say, "So put the accent on the second syllable, and pronounce it 'rye'".[19]

The success of Stewart's novel was one factor that motivated U.S. military meteorologists to start the informal practice of giving women's names to storms in the Pacific during World War II. The practice became official in 1945. In 1953, a similar system of using women's names was adopted for North Atlantic storms. This continued until 1979, when men's names were incorporated into the system.[20] Although Stewart's novel is set in 1935, the novel and its impact on meteorology later inspired Lerner and Lowe to write a song for their play about the California gold rush, and like Stewart, they too gave a wind storm the name Maria, which is pronounced /məˈraɪ.ə/.[19] The lines throughout the song end in feminine rhymes mostly using the "long i" sound /aɪ/, echoing the stress pattern and vowel sound of the name Maria.

Singer Mariah Carey was named after this song.[21][22]

Presumably Ms. Carey's parents felt the 'h' would indicate the pronunciation they intended: M'RYE-ah. The novelist Stewart was correct in saying that the pronunciation M'REE-a is Spanish (and also other continental languages). M'RYE-a is not, however, Stewart's invention. It is the traditional English post-Great Vowel Shift pronunciation. And if you are reading Fielding's Tom Jones, the hero's ladylove is So-FYE-ah for the same reason.

By Allie P (not verified)
February 9, 2012 11:16 PM

Good luck with that. Even the simplest and most traditional names in the world (like Anne/Ann) have various spellings.

February 10, 2012 12:08 AM

Miriam-that story is interesting. I would definitely pronounce Mariah as Mah-RYE-ah and Maria as Mah-REE-ah unless told otherwise. However, I never would've thought to apply that rule to other names such as Sofia/Sophia. I suppose this is why my friend spelled her dd's name Mya in order to get the My-uh pronunciation rather than Mia=Me-uh.

February 10, 2012 2:06 AM

@zoerhenne, I also have a friend who named her daughter Mya to get the My-uh pronunciation.

I definitely also have issues with names not sounding like their pronunciations should. I am fine with names that are just pronounced differently in other languages, like the Jorge and Michel examples above. I do struggle with the names that just don't seem to make sense in any language though, usually just creatively spelled for effect.

I do think that ultimately the spelling will determine how people initially pronounce your name, especially when taking into account accents. For example, Erin in Australia is very very different to Aaron. My name, Nicole, is pronounced here differently to in the US or in France.

By HJ (not verified)
February 10, 2012 2:25 AM

Ironically? I work with a Miriam who pronounces it MY-ram. I daily fight the impulse to tell her she's doing it wrong.

By Elizabeth :: Bébé Suisse (not verified)
February 10, 2012 5:35 AM

The name Emily is on my shortlist for any future daughters I may have - I love it. But only with that spelling. I have a friend, Emmalie, and every time I pronounce her name I see in my mind those three syllables. Being aware of her spelling, the name doesn't sound the same to me when spoken aloud.

February 10, 2012 10:09 AM


heh-LAY-nə isn't just currently fashionable. Plenty of accents in English feature vowel raising before a single consonant (and a nasal one at that). Consider the effect of silent E--similar effects are at work.

If the goal is to maintain an EH sound in the name, it can be accomplished orthographically by doubling up the trailing consonant: Helenna.

February 10, 2012 11:36 AM

This is such an interesting topic! I do find that once I know the spelling of a person's name, I mentally picture it when I say their name. I know an Erik and an Eric, and they sound the same of course but when I'm talking about them I always picture the "k" or the "c" and in a strange way it helps me define their personalities.

I know several people, kids and adults, with names we've been discussing that could be pronounced a couple of different ways- Alisa, Ciera, Helena, Lila, Leela. Once I know how they pronounce it, I haven't had any problems.

(For the record, they are: a-leese-a, KEER-a, Hel-LEAN-a, LEE-la, and LEE-la.)

By Juli (not verified)
February 10, 2012 12:03 PM

It's interesting to contrast the English (particularly the American English) spelling-pronunciation divide with a phonetically-written language like Hungarian. The law in Hungary requires that the spelling must match the pronunciation of a name: you can name your daughter Jennifer, but you have to spell it Dzsenifer. This means that the question of name spelling is largely constrained to family names, which preserve lots of archaic, non-standard orthographies. It also means that while there's still a duality of spoken versus written given names (some names just look better than they sound, or vice versa), the two groups are much more congruent and one-to-one than they ever have a hope of being in English.

JB1112, I concur about Julie being Not Me -- which is weird, because in Hungarian I'm almost always Juli (YOU-lee) -- Júlia (YOU-lee-ya) is my mom. But I adore the sound of Julia, with either a 'y' or a 'j' sound at the beginning. (I abhorr the Spanish pronunciation, though. It just sounds so WRONG.)

Frank: those are excellent rules, though a tad difficult to follow in a world where people actually ask how to spell Julia or David. I had similar criteria for my child: the name had to be easily recognizable in both Hungarian and English (though not necessarily in identical form), and it had to be easy to pronounce and spell. (Our surname utterly fails all of these criteria in English, and even in Hungarian there's the dratted hyphen to trip people up.) Our final choice does have some spelling ambiguity in English (one N or two), but that's a small detail that I don't obsess over.

By hyz nli (not verified)
February 10, 2012 12:20 PM

I've seen some Myas, too, and I never know what to make of the spelling--since Maya and Maia are both traditional spellings that yield the my-uh pronunciation, it seems like the different spelling should be a clue that the parents want you to pronounce it differently. In practice, I wait to hear someone who knows the child say their name first, but if I had to guess, I'd give equal weight to the possibilities that it's a creative spelling of Maya, or a creative variation of Mia (i.e. mee-uh), or something foreign where they actually want a mm-ya pronunciation (like Ryu or Kyo).

February 10, 2012 12:36 PM

hyz-It's funny you say its creative and throw out the Maya example. My friend struggled with the spelling and asked many people for advice on how THEY would spell it. Many felt that even with the known version of Mayan people that that spelling for a girls name would have people pronouncing it as May-uh. We also felt that adding an H wouldn't help. Btw, her dd is almost 12.

Also, a link to a new celebrity baby who I'm sure struggled with similar spelling issues. I like the way she modified the name but wish people would stop thinking Elliott (in any spelling) is for a girl. She spelled it Elliotte.

By hyz nli (not verified)
February 10, 2012 1:03 PM

Hmm, zoerhenne, maybe it's just an issue of exposure. I grew up knowing girls (and dogs, cats, and horses) named Maya and Maia, so it's a very normal name to me that I'd think most anyone would know how to pronounce. But maybe I lived in a Maya pocket?

In any event, in that instance where there's a traditional spelling yielding the pronunciation I wanted but that some people might not know, I'd be inclined to stay with the standard spelling and just deal with educating people (like, I'd keep Penelope or Imogen, and not make it Penellopie or Immajen or whatever).

The Elliotte spelling makes it look like it should have a French pronunciation--something like elly-OTT (tilting the emphasis towards the last syllable, as in Vivienne or Juliette). There was an Elliette at Ivy's school, and I think that leads to a nicer feminized pronunciation, but I agree with you in preferring that people would generally just leave this one for the boys.

In random news, we were visiting a new daycare today, and I spotted a little boy named Linden. This was one that was a bit farther down our list for boys because I was afraid it was simultaneously too new-fangled/androgynous and too stodgy (like Lyndon)--a tough feat to manage--but I love it and was so excited to see it on this sweet little guy today.

By rhodolady (not verified)
February 10, 2012 1:40 PM

You would think it is simple - Ha!
My name is Marjorie...
From pronunciation it is written Margery, Margerie, Marjory, Marjery, or Majorie.

February 10, 2012 2:34 PM

I have this issue with my niece's name. It's spelled Mia, which to me is supposed be pronounced Mee-ah. But, they pronouce it My-ah. I have been calling her My-ah without any problems. But, to me the written form and the spoken form are two different names and I have not been able to think of them as being the same name.

February 10, 2012 2:35 PM

I have this issue with my niece's name. It's spelled Mia, which to me is supposed be pronounced Mee-ah. But, they pronouce it My-ah. I have been calling her My-ah without any problems. But, to me the written form and the spoken form are two different names and I have not been able to think of them as being the same name.

February 10, 2012 4:40 PM

This discussion reminds me of a piece by the Pulitzer-Prize-winning syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts that I read long ago. In it he discussed why he named his daughter Onjel. The intended name was Angelle, but he was concerned about mispronunciation, so he went with the "phonetic" spelling Onjel. Frankly I was gobsmacked. Who in the likely circle of friends and acquaintances of a sophisticated author like Pitts would not know how to pronounce Angelle? My handyman, who was a high school dropout and, frankly, not the sharpest knife in the drawer, had a daughter Angelle, spelled and pronounced correctly. And in any case, when I see the spelling Onjel, my first thought is to pronounce the initial syllable like the preposition--and that's not the pronunciation Pitts was aiming for. IMO all Pitts accomplished was to make the daughter of a prize-winning author look like she had parents who couldn't spell, and I don't think that was his goal.

By hyz nli (not verified)
February 10, 2012 4:57 PM

Miriam and CountryLizB--both good examples. The Pitts story is rather painful. The funny thing is, I don't think I've ever known someone named Angelle or heard the name spoken, yet it seems immediately pretty clear to me how it should be pronounced. Ahn-jel/ahn-zhel, or worst case scenario, an-jel (a as in apple) would be a first guess. The appearance is clearly French, so my only question would be how closely they stick to a true French pronunciation (see Martin topic above, lol). Onjel, on the other hand, seems to divorce the name from both its meaning and heritage, leaving only an imperfect representation of its pronunciation.

By namesnob (not verified)
February 10, 2012 5:04 PM

If you pick a made-up or unique spelling or pronunciation for your kid's name, then you NEED to expect people will get it wrong, and I think you then have no right to be annoyed when people do. Speaking especially as a teacher, please, please remember this when picking a name!!

February 10, 2012 5:21 PM

I was going to comment about Elliotte too. (I want to pronounce Elliotte all drawn out like E.T. did in the movie... ell-eeee-OTTTT.)

My cousin's son is named Eliot and they pronounces it EL-yot. Meanwhile, at my daughter's daycare there's a female Eliot. Her parents want the name pronounced EL-ee-ette, because they call her Ellie. Which leaves me dumbstruck.. why didn't they just spell it Elliette or name her Elisabet instead of forcing an atypical pronunciation.

By Bexxy89 (not verified)
February 10, 2012 11:12 PM

I have a weird thing where I picture how a name is spelled every time I say it. I look at my husband as see "R-O-S-S" in my head, my dog is "J-O-U-R-N-E-Y", so when people use non-traditional or atypical ways to spell a name, it screws with my head, because I'm seeing it and I want to pronouce it differently.
My twin sister however, is a name-changer. We grew up with Standard versions of common names (Rebecca and Heather). Her older son, not so bad... Jayson (J-suhn)... but her 7 month old daughter.. Airyca, pronouced like "Erica". my sister thought it was more literal than Erica (which she insists should be Err-ee-ka or Erie-Kah, not Air-ik-ah)
Now because this is the spelling I see most often of the name everytime someone says "Erica" I see "Airyca", and when, as a secretary, you write it down for your boss this way, it doesn't look good... not to mention the pediatrician, much to my sister's chagrin, keeps saying "Air-Yhik-ha)