Friday, January 15, 2010

Spelling Bea

Tell me something: what possesses parents to screw up the way their children's names are spelled? I've noticed lately that it seems to be more and more common for people I know to spell their names in the oddest ways. I'm not talking here about names that have always had variations in the ways they're spelled, like Katharine/Katherine/Catherine or Sara/Sarah or Ann/Anne (why does it seem that more female names than male names have variant spellings? I've never seen a Robbert or a Timothie). No, I mean taking a perfectly straightforward name like Karen, one everyone knows how to spell, and deciding that one "r" isn't good enough, turning it into Karren, or, perhaps that Catherines shouldn't be the only ones having to say "Catherine with a 'C'" and deciding Caren is a much better way to spell the name. And then there is Carron, a spelling that is fine, I suppose, if you want your daughter to be one mere "i" away from being a crow or the flesh upon which that crow feeds.

Does anyone else live in fear of having to send out congratulatory cards/gifts for new babies when you have not received a formal birth announcement? Friends will call and say, "The baby is here! Her name is Jennifer." In the old days, I would have happily scrawled "Jennifer" across the middle of the pastel-colored (not pink, if I can help it, even though I love pink) envelope. Now I have to worry, "Is it 'Jennifer' or is it 'Jenyfer' or maybe 'Genefer'?" Who wants to get it wrong, to be the one whose gift card doesn't make it into the baby book because she obviously couldn't be bothered to get the baby's name right?

Maybe I'm just annoyed because I'm finding myself having to spell my first name all the time now, which is something I never had to do until I was in high school. Isn't "Emily" the standard spelling? One would think it would be the spelling that comes to mind most often. But no, after knowing me as "Emily" since I began attending the school, someone suddenly decided in the middle of my junior year of high school that I was "Emilie. I got my first introduction to Kafka, having no idea who he was, because I didn't seem to be able to convince anyone that yes, I knew how to spell my own name, that they had it wrong. It took me a year (and multiple crossings-outs and writing it properly in thick, black ink) to become "Emily" again (thank God. I would have hated to have a diploma that read "Emilie." Check out my junior year yearbook, though. There it is: Emilie).

Granted, Emilie isn't that odd a spelling. My mother laughed when I informed her with teenage indignation that no one could spell my name, telling me that someone must have decided I was French. That wasn't really such a far-fetched thought. Many thought that my last name Michie was French, pronouncing it "Mee shee". And really, how could someone whose family spelled "Mickey" "Michie" really complain about the way people chose to spell names?

But still. It's annoying. Recently, I have come across people who have spelled my name Emmalee or Emmily. All right, that first one is phonetically correct and maybe someone was named after her Grandma Emma and Grandpa Lee, or some such thing, but "Emmily" makes me think "Em-Miley," which makes me think of "Smiley," bringing to mind that old Sesame Street character Guy Smiley -- that's almost as bad as being a crow your whole life.

I just don't understand it. If you want your child to be so unique, then choose a name that doesn't happen to have been one of the top-ten most popular names for girls for the past twenty years. Don't take a name that has a perfectly fine, acceptable spelling and screw it up so that your poor child is forced to have to spell it everywhere she goes. I promise you: life is going to be rough enough for your child as it is. You can make it a little easier by allowing her to be like the others, by letting her be a "Karen" or a "Jennifer" or, yes, even an "Emily."


Anonymous said...

I only found out after I left home and needed my birth certificate for something, that my name was spelled "Lilian" and not "Lillian." I've spelled it that way ever since, but it's misspelled more often that not, even sometimes by my publishers (fortunately not on the final galleys!)

Melwyk said...

I agree wholeheartedly! Especially when the 'unique' spelling is especially ugly - like Melony appears to my eyes. I hate it when people spell my name that way -- I start to feel strangely round and fat when they do.

litlove said...

I know just what you mean - students now appear with the oddest variations on their names. I hate to say it, but a newspaper article I read (and no one has to believe them) said it was a combination of class divides and the celebrity culture - lower income parents wanting a moment of extravagance, as it were, and hoping their child would stand out. Or perhaps ecstatic new mothers and fathers just forget how to spell?

ZoesMom said...

I agree that it is silly, but I don't know if it is a new trend. Just ask my friend from elementary school, Aimee.

Stefanie said...

As someone with a not very common variant spelling (in the U.S.) who grew up telling and continues to have to tell people how to correctly spell my name and then have them not care and spell it incorrectly anway, I had to giggle. A lot.

I've run across other Stefanie's but not many. I will tell people who are about to spell my name that it is "Stefanie" with and "f" and they give me a blank stare and say huh? And then I have to spell it out but I have to spell it quicker than they write it otherwise they will use a "ph." I am therefore hyper-conscious about how to spell people's names because I know what it feels like to always have it spelled wrong even by family members.

If, however, I should one day find myself living in Germany I will have no problems since the common spelling there is with the "f."

knitseashore said...

As Debra not Deborah (parent choice), and Debby not Debbie (my choice as a kid), no one ever spells my name correctly, including my grandmother. I hope no one ever writes Debi; egads.

I don't mind if people spell names differently if it's common eg Rebekah or Rebecca, Catherine or Katherine, as you said, but I'm loathing things like Khloe instead of Chloe or Ashlee instead of Ashley. I don't think there's a heritage thing like Stefanie vs Stephanie so much as what litlove said, people wanting to be different just for the sake of it.

And if people will stop naming their kids after state capitals (Madison, Jefferson, Austin, Augusta, etc) that would suit me fine too.

Emily Barton said...

Tai, "However you want it." That's a great answer. I could have used a little of that when I was being so offended in high school.

Lilian, and I'm one of those who has been guilty of misspelling your name (sorry!).

Melwyk, oh, yes, how awful to have people make you feel round and fat! (And what an odd way to spell the name.)

Litlove, I hope that article was wrong. What a sad commentary if it isn't.

ZM, you're right, because I know a Denisse who is quite a bit older than I am.

Stef, funny, I don't think of "Stefanie" as being such an odd variant. (But then, I didn't think my own married name was an odd variant until I discovered how many ways others spell it.)

Ms. Knits, oh yes, Khloe and Ashlee (as if those names aren't beautifully original enough). And, I agree: what is this trend with state capitals?

mandarine said...

Maybe it's for Google uniqueness. If you want your child to be the only one on Earth coming up in Google queries with his/her name, better make sure he/she is the only one. Either you give a very uncommon first name (like mine, at least where I live), or you go for a very uncommon spelling of a common first name. He/she will still get the hassle of having to spell his/her name, but at least it will sound normal in a conversation.

- What's your name ?
- Kristen
- Christelle ?
- Nope, Kristen, with a K and an N
- ??
- It's supposed to be from Brittany
- ... are you a boy or a girl ?