How do you pronounce your name? Uhh…”JOE”?

Apparently, apathy is a big trend here at Northwestern. (I know, I know…and I don’t care.)

I understand being apathetic about world politics, what goes on in your dorm, or even what you have for dinner.

But the way people pronounce your name? If you care about one thing, kids, this should be your issue.

Lately, I have run into a problem with the way that people pronounce their name in their native language versus the way we Americans can say their names.

I’ll illustrate with four examples (if you’re reading this and your name is mentioned, feel free to comment with thoughts on how to rectify this problem):

1. Seva. He’s Russian. When he says his name, in his Russian accent, it sounds like “S’yeh-va,” but the syllables are said so quickly and Russianickly that they sound like one. When Americans try to say it “properly,” they’ll say “See-ehva.” I have talked to Seva about this, and he does not like that pronunciation. I told him that I, an American who is proud of her accent, could not physically say his name the way he likes it. Would he rather I say “Seh-vuh” or “Say-vuh”? “Say-vuh,” he says.

          -Side note #1: When I asked Seva to try to pronounce his name in an American accent, he first could not do it. Upon further trying, he made Americans sound incredibly stupid. I forgot how, though.
          -Side note #2: This is pretty much the best story I’ve ever heard. Let me first introduce the players. Seva: you may remember him from such stories as person #1, and side note #1. Jason: an AEpi friend of Seva’s. Random older guy in AEpi (we’ll call him ROGIAEP): sorry, I forgot his name. You can’t win them all.

            ROGIAEP [to Jason]: “So, tell me, do you pronounce your name ‘Seh-vuh’ or ‘See-ehva’?”
            Jason: “It’s ‘See-ehva.’ AND, it’s ‘Jason.'”

2. Yeji. She’s Asian, in my journalism class. First day of class:

            Journalism professor: “How would you like me to pronounce your name?”
            Yeji: “I don’t care.”
            JP: “Well, is it “Yeh-jee” or is it “Yay-jee”?
            Yeji: “Either one is fine.”

          But why don’t you care? You should care! It’s your name! It’s the only thing you’re guaranteed to own for the rest of your life…well, hopefully.

3. Suzanne. She’s English. Like, from England. She’s the news editor at The Daily Northwestern on the nights I copy edit. She pronounces her name “Soo-ZON,” the British way. Consequently, when calling her, most other [extremely American] people in the newsroom also call her Soo-Zon. I refuse to butcher my American accent in such a way. To me, she is “Soo-zan” (rhymes with “you man”). If I pronounced it the British way, it would be a disgrace to my American ancestors who fought to get independence from England. (What? My ancestors lived in Poland? Oh…)

4. Shari. My beloved next-door neighbor from Long Island. Shari fits under this category of people speaking in foreign tongues because, quite frankly, she is from New York. She says “I sawer the sign” instead of “I saw the sign,” and “fah-ren” instead of “foh-ren” (foreign). Her name, she says, is pronounced “Shahh-ree.” My Chicagoan mouth cannot bend that way, my friend. I say and will always say “Share-ee.” She says “Shari” and “sharing” differently, when in fact, they are the same word.

So…a few things to keep in mind.

            -If your name is foreign, and you live in America, deal with it. It will be mispronounced. But don’t try to think that your American friends will figure out the proper way of saying it. Come up with an easy American way to stay it, stick with it, and like it! That’s the best we can give you.
            -You also should care about how your name is pronounced. Unless it’s too complicated and you have not done bullet point #1.
            -If you’re from the east coast, when you’re in Chicago, you may as well be from another country. ASSIMILATE!
            -When in doubt, take the easy way out: “Hey, you! Can you pass the salt?”


7 thoughts on “How do you pronounce your name? Uhh…”JOE”?

  1. Screw you. I typed up this great comment, and then you deleted the post right before I posted it.

    So here’s the best I can do to reproduce it, though it sucks now:

    As Americanist as I am (it’s a word, check Merriam-Webster under “chauvinist”), I still have not gotten this far. Perhaps it’s my love of cool sounds, but to me, Dr. D is still “Dim-EEV” and not “DIM-ee-ehv” as some are inclined to say. Possibly to avoid getting killed by her (and any Chilean mob there is), I call Magda “Mag-duh-LAY-nuh” and not “Mag-duh-LEE-nuh”, because that’s her name. And even though Ross Broms and I both think it should be “LO-puh-tin”, I still call Sarah’s last name as “Lo-PAH-tin”.

    But I totally agree with you on that “fahren” v. “fohren” thing. I think that “fahren” is a German word. Let me look it up… Indeed it is. It means “drive.”


  2. You seem to have conflicting theses here, my friend. You want to pronounce peoples’ names with your American accent, then get frustrated when people pronounce them “wrong.” There’s no way for an American accent to pronounce a lot of foreign names because those sounds don’t exist in our version of English and it is very difficult for us to get them out without years of training. That’s why Yeji doesn’t care what way you pronounce it, because they’re probably BOTH way way off.

    What really gets my goat is when names that people are perfectly capable of pronouncing go all haywire. Take poor Sadaf, for instance. In 7th grade our gym teacher called her “sigh-eef” for a long time. There’s a D there for a REASON!

    And it’s all well and good to preach assimilation when you’re the one who doesn’t have to do anything. Lia, it’s a Christian country. Just quit the Jewish thing and ASSIMILATE!

    I don’t mean to go all bitchy on your post, but I’m a language nerd and these things get my hackles up.

  3. Alright, alright. But the assimilation thing–that was a major joke. Sorry if my sarcastic tone didn’t come through there. (Because for the assimilation line, I was talking to the people from the east coast, telling them to assimilate into midwest culture.)

    But I appreciate your thoughts.

  4. In his last week’s D’var, entitled “the mission of Judaism,” Rabbi Raskin discussed many things about Judaism, including the fact that most young kids do not know many ten-letter words, but Jewish children all know the term “assimilate.”

    The mission, by the way, is “Ethical Monotheism.” We were told to remember this.

  5. You are very Lia-centric, I’m afraid. Just because you are not capable of pronouncing Shari or Seva correctly does not mean no one is. You can’t claim Americans as one category, and then note that there are different pronunciations within America, but then determine yours is the correct way. Obviously it isn’t correct because you can’t pronounce Shari and Seva! Maybe Chicagoans are better at pronouncing certain things; I myself have no problem pronoucing Shari correctly, and my “S’yehvah” isn’t Russian, but its not American either. I also pride myself in having a decent French accent and at least not sounding American when I speak Hebrew. So just because you can only do imitate one accent and pronounce things one way, and it’s a hardcore Midwest/Chicago one, is no reason for other people to change their names.

    Also, I understand that the difference in pronoucing Shari and sharing is confusing. But then why do you pronouce them like Sherry? That makes no sense! If you find it abundantly clear that Shari and sharing are the same sound, well then I find it abundantly clear charity and cherry are NOT the same sound.

    I hope you take a linguistics class where they have you pronounce things you are not able to or hear differences that you are not able to. Unfortunately, you probably will just tell the linguistics department and textbook that they are wrong and they need to assimilate to you. Good luck with that.

  6. Unrelatedwaffle, you are wise beyond your years, and also probably better able to pronounce things than Lia apparently is.

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