Some years ago I worked in the admissions/student support section of an English language school. Unsurprisingly, we had students from all corners of the world and it was necessary for us (and them) to understand how naming could be different from culture to culture.
Like many Irish people who have a traditional Irish name, I am often amused, and sometimes offended, by the difficulties non-Irish have with pronouncing them. One of my colleagues was called Gráinne (pronounced Graw-nya) but the majority of the students referred to her as “Grainy”.
I was not surprised when the American TV series “Ringer” was cancelled after one season – the star was unable to pronounce the name of the character she played (Siobhán, properly pronounced as shiv -awn). If one more person calls me “Dearrdreeeee” (à la Coronation Street), or Deedrah or spells my name “Deidre”, I will not be responsible for my actions. Get it right, please… it’s deer-dreh.
Then there are the the international permutations of the Muslim Prophet’s name: which is transliterated as Mohammad (primarily in Iran and Afghanistan), Muhammad (in Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, and Malaysia), Muhammed (Arab World, primarily in North Africa),Mohamed, Mohammed, Mohamad and Muhammad (Arab World), Muhammed, Muhamed (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Muhammed, Muhamed, Muhammet, or Muhamet (Turkey and Albania). (from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammad_(name))
My niece, @urbanfoxe worked in Qatar as a junior school teacher and was often non-plussed when, after school, the mums/nannies would turn up in full abaya and mask, to collect their little Mohamed, or Mohammed.
Getting back to my language school days. One of my first surprises while working there was, having followed the Spanish Ministerio de Educación ruling that their scholarship students must never share a host family with another Spanish speaker, on the grounds that it would interfere with their English language immersion programme, we received a complaint that, (for the sake of this is not his real name) “Juan Alberto Garcia Rodriguez”, was not placed in a host family with (again, a made up name) “Rafaela Adriana Rodriguez Garcia” – turns out they were sister and brother, and their parents wanted them to be together. Quite often in Spain, I learned, the father’s surname is placed first and the mother’s second, for a boy, and for a girl, it’s the other way around.
I also had all the fun of attending at the airport to meet and greet a student from China who had missed one of his flight connections. This led to me hanging about the arrivals hall in Dublin Airport for several long hours one Friday night, holding a sign that said “Wong Wei”.
East Asian students liked to adopt a European-sounding name for their sojourn in Ireland. They often chose a name that represented something or somebody that was important to them. Some of the names were lovely, for example a young lady called herself Peace and a male student called himself Happiness. Happiness supported his studies by working at the school as a handyman, while Peace joined the office staff for work experience. This led to many bemused looks from visitors to Reception when we were heard to ask questions like “Did anybody see Peace today?” or “Where is Happiness?”
To go off on another tangent – the naming of pets. I’ve got five furries here, all adopted as adults, so I didn’t name any of them. They all arrived “pre-named”. The only thing I changed was the spelling of Izzy’s original name – she was originally called Issey Miyake (after the perfume). She is so dedicated to more, shall we say, natural aromas (e.g. badger poo) that it had to be the worst misnomer in canine history. Little Jet-Black is actually Little Very Dark Brown Stripes With Flecks Of White Here And There, but that’s more name than he will listen to. The last pet I got to name was Floyd. I only called him that because my mum could not face the idea of the neighbours hearing her calling “Geronimo” in for his dinner every day.
When I was small, we used to have a collie called Flash. At the time there was a radio commercial for a cleaning product also called Flash. It involved a loud jingle which went “all around the house, all around the house, spring clean with FLASH!” The jingle ended on a crescendo and and he would invariably come running to find out who had called him. To make matters worse, the only word our budgie ever spoke was Flash and he repeated it endlessly– the poor dog sometimes didn’t know if he was coming or going.
More years ago than I care to mention here, I used to date a chap called Tim. We had a mutual friend called Shelley. Time went on and everybody drifted apart, but occasionally, one or both of them would drop by to say Hi!
In the space between one of these visits, I adopted my much-loved beautiful collie, The Elder Statesman – who was given his real name by my nephew. Being a fan of the Enid Blyton “Famous Five” books at the time, he was called Tim. Around the same time, my brother and his family moved in, bringing their lovely lady collie, called Shelley. I had nothing to do with it. Both dogs being rather boisterous, whenever anybody called to the house, there would be much shouting of “SIT, Tim” and “DOWN, Shelley”. So just imagine what the two chaps thought on their next visit.
You might enjoy the article where I found the picture I used for this post: When names get ridiculous