Curious about spellings

I recently discovered that the name Brain made the top 1000 list from the years 1965 to 1989 and at its peak reached a rank of 597. I assume that this is a misspelling of Brian, but really?! Goodness! Do any of you know if there is a foreign name that could account for this spelling? I think I'd change my name if I had to go through life being named Brain.

Other strange spellings that I've always wondered about are Micheal and Jeffery. Are they misspellings that made their way onto the charts and are now considered to be legitimate alternate spellings, or are they foreign spellings of Michael and Jeffrey? What other alternative spellings of common names break phonetic rules? I know about Neveah, but I'm curious to hear about others.


By mk
March 15, 2015 1:09 AM

There are so many chances for misspellings: data entry errors, misreading of people's handwriting, writing names down incorrectly because the person isn't sure of the spelling. Very easy for a mistakes to happen. Brain's peak matches Brian's, so it makes sense.

March 16, 2015 9:57 AM

I've always understood Micheál to the be the Irish spelling of Michael, pronounced MEE-hall. (Any Irish experts able to confirm/deny?) I don't know about Brain and Jeffery though!

March 16, 2015 11:30 PM

The one I know of pronounces it exactly like Michael.  I've also encountered a Racheal, pronounced just like Rachael/Rachel. 

March 17, 2015 4:18 AM

The only Micheál i've met pronounced it in precisely the way you describe (MEE-hall) and was an Irish man.

Jeffery could be a choice.


Brain is just unfortunate, and is surely a data-entry fail! 

March 18, 2015 4:26 PM

I agree with mk about Brain. The same phenomenon is responsible for many of the top hit names showing up for the opposite sex as well.

Micheal I'm inclined to think is a mix between people who were using the Irish spelling (and accents got stripped, as they do in the SSA data), possible data misentries and also I think parents just spelling the intended name wrong. Jeffery and Brain just  have the latter two -- and it's hard to know how many are parental errors versus data entry errors after the parents delivered the form. But there are two celebrities who have come out with "my name was misspelled on the birth certificate" stories, Keira Knightly and Oprah Winfrey (who were intended to be Kiera and Orpah), so I think it is a phenomenon that happens, especially with stressed out sleep deprived new parents.

Another point in favor of the misspelling angle - the name Michealangelo makes it into the data for two years.

March 18, 2015 4:45 PM

Jeffery seems like a very likely parental misspelling (or spelling choice) in at least some of the cases, since it looks more like it sounds in a lot of U.S. dialects--like jewlery instead of jewelry or realitor for realtor. It doesn't even really look wrong to my eyes; I skip right over it. I imagine (almost?) all of the Brains were typos, though. If not, talk about a name to live up to!

March 18, 2015 9:17 PM

I find that I often type brain when I meant to type Brian, so it doesn't really shock me, but you'd think that the poor parents would have realized when they saw the name on the birth certificate and changed it before everything was made official. I'm sure the people who come around with the birth certificates are a circumspect lot lest they insult parents, but I do wonder if some of the little Brains got renamed Brian when the person gently said, "You do realize the name you are pronouncing Brian is spelled Brain?" I'd consider that a public service announcement! But maybe most of the Brains were data-entry errors at the Social Security end of things. But still ... sheesh! Can you imagine those poor guys and all the annoying conversations they have had over the years?!

March 19, 2015 3:20 AM

We got our birth certificates in the mail... I'm guessing some parents don't look over them and just put them in the baby file, or else they don't realize they can correct errors?

March 19, 2015 10:19 AM

That's interesting. We got the birth certificate in the mail, but a woman came around to collect the paperwork and went over the spelling with us. These women (we had a different one for each kid) were very meticulous, especially with our daughter's name as the woman helping us was unfamiliar with the middle name. This probably varies from state to state and from hospital to hospital, and I imagine the procedure for registering a home birth is much less controlled.

March 26, 2015 5:23 PM

We definitely had no such services in the hospital. I remember filling out the paperwork for kid #1 together with the spouse very very carefully lest we introduce errors (we kept thinking "surely someone will want to check this for us, right?"), but kid #2 I threw together the paperwork while talking to insurance about a pump to be delivered to a new hospital, watching an infant CPR video, updating relatives about the medical saga of the baby, and discharging 4 hours after delivery... I am actually shocked there were no errors, in retrospect, because that was the worst kind of multitasking. Kid #3 the spouse must have filled out the paperwork while I was wrangling the big kids at home, as I have no recollection whatsoever, though perhaps I had to stick a signature on something at some point.

I'd bet the Brains are disproportionally 2nd+ kids whose parents were also trying to keep toddlers and preschoolers entertained while filling out the paperwork. ("No, sweetie, no, please don't push the buttons on the bed again! Hon, we definitely picked Brian, right? Ooops, the baby's crib has wheels, yes, that IS a clever design, darling, no, you can't drive it down the hall! With an I not Y, right? Oh, of COURSE you can have another pudding, you fabulous big sister you! Does that look right to -- No, the baby doesn't want a spoonful! Good, we're done, let's get out of here!")

Anyway, I'm pleased that some hospitals/states have a degree of built-in checks!

By mk
March 19, 2015 1:14 PM

Agree, I think a lot of people probably aren't thinking that the misspelling is now the official spelling. It's easy to not realize until you are in a situation where you must use your name exactly how it appears on your birth certificate. Or they quickly look at it and see Brian. Or they misspelled it later on when they registered their child for a social security number.

Micheal though can definitely be the Irish spelling. There were some articles about Liam Neeson's son recently, and he spells it Micheal.

March 19, 2015 8:18 PM

I have a handwritten birth certificate copy containing a pretty significant error (my father's name is listed as Daniel rather than David), and I did not notice for YEARS.  (I also have one that is correct.) It wouldn't surprize me if many parents gloss right over a Brain/Brian mixup, which is much more subtle.  Especially if you are a whole-word reader -- your brain pretty much fills in the letters as you expect them to be.   

March 19, 2015 3:00 PM

I like to imagine that these are data entry or spelling errors that got corrected as soon as parents noticed, but not before they made it into the public record. Perhaps when filing tax returns, if the IRS kicks it back for the spelling discrepancy.

On the other hand, I'm now imagining a scenario where a Brian grows up unaware of the error until he first receives his SS card, and then loving the idea that he has actually been "Brain" all along--it's like a secret identity :-).

March 19, 2015 3:18 AM

You're right about Jeffery - I don't really snag over it as much as I do others; your jewelry vs jewlery comparison is I think very apt.

Brain is indeed such an easy typo, and it looks so very different from Brian to me because it is also a word, but I'm guessing that dyslexia would explain it as a parental error in a handwritten form. Plus I know that sometimes the hospital paperwork is completed in a mad rush amidst medical drama and pumping instruction and super-fast discharge and in those cases I'm frankly surprised that there aren't MORE egregious errors. I know that with our first we both really pored over the form and double checked everything to make sure it was spelled right, but that didn't represent how subsequent form fillings-out went.

March 20, 2015 3:20 AM

My dad's name is Brian and I remember him getting mail for Brain all the time. I didn't realize it was so widespread! I've also thought it could have been an autocorrect problem if not a typo.

March 20, 2015 3:22 AM

Well, it wouldn't have been an autocorrect problem during the years stated in the OP, but the aforementioned mail I remember was from the late 1990s.

March 28, 2015 3:40 PM

I have a list here of girls names from the new school my daughter attends in the mid-atlantic region. this is from a 1st grade valentine's day exchange list.

Brianna, Eric, Mirabella, Jackie, Jimier(m), Kyle, Jaiden, Kaden, Zenyce, Kimberly, Emma, Amariyah, Faith, Isabella, Kaylee, jayden, Josiah, Mekirah(f), Adrien, Cristy, Cambria, Cristianna, Isaiah, Ashlynn, Alaynna

How about those names and spellings? What a mixture of styles.