What’s in a name?

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Photo credit: duncan

*No Friday letters today because I couldn’t actually think of a single one…*

Recently, Linda over at Expat Eye on Latvia was talking about some of mistakes her students make in English – both the amusing ones and those annoying ones that come up over and over, no matter how many times they’ve been corrected (you should really read her post by the way, some of the things her students come out with are hilarious!). This got me thinking about something that really annoys me when Germans speak English… their absolute insistence that we pronounce the letter “a” as if it were an “e”. The classic example was when somebody from the student residence I used to live in started telling me about “Nettley Portmen”. What? She is not covered in nettles. Her name is Natalie! No nettles involved, thank you! Also, it’s Portman. With an A!

Coincidentally, my friends and I were talking about something similar the other day… namely most Germans’ complete inability to cope with my name. This is an actual conversation that I’ve had more than once with native German speakers:

Me: Hi, I’m Bev.

German: Beth… like Elizabeth?

Me: No, Bev. Short for Beverley.

German: Aaah, Bethany! Pleased to meet you, Beth.

Me: No, it’s Beverley. Like Beverly Hills Cop.

German: Ohh, right! (Pause) But… isn’t he a man?

Me: *Stunned silence*

To be fair, I’ve only had the “but isn’t he a man” comment about twice. The rest happens almost every time I meet a German though. And don’t even get me started on the trouble that the e between the l and the y causes! (Yes, there really are three e’s in my name. No, that does not magically change the pronunciation… I’ve only had this name for 30 years, I do know what I’m talking about!). Ironically, all three of my siblings have names that would be perfectly normal in Germany (although my middle brother’s name would be pronounced differently here). My name is as English as they come, but I’m the only one who lives abroad…

Do you ever have trouble getting people to understand your name abroad? How do you deal with it?

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37 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

  1. Ha ha, you should just start calling yourself Eddie Murphy πŸ˜‰ I can see the similarities! My name is easy for most nationalities, except I do get called Leeeenda sometimes! Funny post! πŸ™‚

  2. My name seems simple enough to me, and I’ve not had a problem with it in England, but in Scotland people seem to get confused, and are not sure whether I am Elaine, Eileen or Aileen. it’s obvious to me that they are all prounced completely differently ….. Ee-lane, Eye-leen and Ay(rhymes with day)-leen. πŸ™‚

  3. My last name is commonly spelled with two sΒ΄s in the US. Here? Just one. And, since my Dad is German, that is how it is spelled. I CAN NOT EVEN TELL YOU how many times I have spelled my name for someone (at the motor vehicle department, making a doctorΒ΄s appointment on the phone, whatever) that people say “Just one s? Are you sure?”
    Yes, I am sure.
    IΒ΄m happy to not have that problem here.

    1. I constantly get told “oh, that’s unusual!” when I tell people my name is spelled with “ley” at the end. NO, it’s NOT unusual… it’s English!! The ly spelling is American!! Nothing against Americans, but I am not one so why should I use the American spelling?! But even in the UK a lot of name items only have the ly spelling… or just don’t have my name at all.

  4. My first name is good to go, but my the only places on the planet that can deal with my last name are Portugal and it’s former colonies. Only once in the history of my life has a stranger gotten my last name right, and they were Brazilian so it doesn’t really count.

  5. YES!!! I mean NOOOOOOO! Stop pronouncing “hat” as “hΓ€t”!!!!!!! I’m so tired of this. And there’s no correcting it, sigh.
    Unfortunately, the Queen does speak like that. And so did middle class English people in the 50’s, I should imagine.

      1. I’m not even sure whether they are taught it… when I was working as a language assistant, there was one teacher who would pronounce things correctly but the pupils insisted they heard something else!

      2. I’m quite sure my teachers pronounced it in that annoying way… though my memory may be flawed. I mean, both sounds exist in German, so surely we can hear the difference… it’s baffling, this. Hmmm…. maybe the ‘open a’ doesn’t exist in German. A German “a”, as in the word “hat” (Er hat) is different to the “a” in the English “hat” (Her hat).

      3. Jan also had a teacher that insisted “a” was pronounced “e” and as then completely stumped when he asked “if man is pronounced men, how do you pronounce men?”. They’re not all like that though… and I’ve seen Germans listen to native speakers pronounce a word then repeat it the exact same way they did before!
        German: CΓ€t
        English native speaker: No, it’s cat
        German: Yes, thΓ€t’s what I said. CΓ€t!
        English native speaker: NO, C-A-T… cat.
        German: How is thΓ€t different to what I said?

        Grrrr!

      4. LOL!
        It doesn’t help that the last syllable of “woman” and “women” is pronounced the same. Unless you’re from the West Indies πŸ˜‰
        I’m going to do a post related to this… I’d already been mulling over a few things in the Spanish context…

      5. They don’t sound the same to me though… it’s like wu-mun vs. wimmin.Maybe that’s my weird messed up accent though?

        South Africans pronounce a’s and e’s weirdly. Their a actually is closer to an e. But I doubt many Germans have come into contact with South Africans though! And in New Zealand an e sounds like an i…

        Yes… do a post. I’d love to see it!

    1. I would have thought Polly would be easy! Polina is kind of cute though πŸ˜€

      Maybe I should just start letting people call me Elizabeth πŸ˜‰ Except no because I hate the way Germans pronounce that, too.

  6. Too funny! My husband does a good job pronouncing things in English correctly with two exceptions: debt and herbs. He says the b every time and I laugh every time. I can’t help it. And no matter how many times I tell him, he still does it. I’m sure I’ll have those things when I start speaking German.

    1. My boyfriend is really good at English, so when he does occasionally pronounce something wrong it completely confuses me. He can definitely pronounce my name though πŸ˜‰

      How does you husband pronounce “herbs” wrong?

      1. In that case, he doesn’t pronounce herbs wrong… he’s just speaking British English πŸ˜‰ Only Americans keep the “h” silent. In the words of Eddie Izzard: “You say ‘erbs, we say herbs…. because there’s a f**cking h in it!”

  7. People often hear my American pronunciation of my name and then when they write it down, they write “Sahra”. What the hell kind of name is Sahra? I could understand Sara instead of Sarah, but not this.

    1. Sahra? Lol, that’s funny. Surely you can see that no name could possibly spelled like that?

      I only recently found out that Sarah and Sara are pronounced exactly the same way in America. I know an English Sara and her name is prounced like Zara but with an S sound at the start instead of a Z.

  8. Ja! My name is Elen (just like Ellen), but most Germans either perceive/write it like Allan (“But isn’t that a boy’s name?!) or read it like Eln. And they say the name just generally sounds like the word Elend, which isn’t exactly pleasant πŸ˜€

    1. This reminds me of Germans trying to pronounce the name Erin… it comes out like Aaron, which also gets the “but that’s a boy’s name!” comments.

      The “Elend” thing is just rude though!

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