Monday, November 19, 2007

What's in a name?

Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame)'s post about the extent to which your name determines your fate in life. Okay, so it's probably not wise to take anything that Adams says seriously (I can't believe how many people do - his comments are littered with people who seriously need to get out more), but it got me thinking anyway.

A long time ago I was going to be famous. And I was going to need a suitable name to go with that fame. While I was at drama school, I gave serious thought to what that name should be - I was a bit concerned about the possible impact of my indisputably Afrikaans surname.

Then I decided not to be famous anymore, so my name became a non-issue. Oddly, almost as soon as I decided not to be famous anymore, I was asked to present a series on national television. I was caught off-guard without a catchy name, so I went with the default: my own. Fortunately, my Afrikaans surname was not beyond the skill of my audience to pronouce since the programme was in Afrikaans!

However, I discovered that I had a hidden talent for being a dreadful television presenter, so decided to carry on not being famous. For many years, I succeeded at this. This was fortunate, because I went and traded in my Afrikaans surname for a German one courtesy of my Swedish husband (yeah, I know!). The problem is that my German surname is dangerously close to the Afrikaans word for ice cream. As a consequence, our business contacts (and even our friends) didn't bother trying to pronounce it correctly, they just opted for the convenient and familiar approximation. In fact, our friends usually referred to us as "the ice-creams". But this was okay, because I wasn't famous.

Then I started blogging.

Don't get me wrong, I'm still doing very well at the not-being-famous thing, but I find that my name is being spoken by a growing group of people with a variety of accents and mother tongues, and it's causing some problems. Even people who have heard me say it out loud for years and years don't get it right, so what chance is there for those who have only ever seen it in print? BTW - If you're interested in the correct pronunciation, I will add a piece on at the end of this post. In this space, I encounter names like Vicki Davis, Cammy Bean, Wendy Wickham, Doug Belshaw, Clark Quinn. No problem. Excellent names. Easy to pronounce - no surprises.

But I'm not the only one with problems. I used to have trouble with Mark Oehlert's surname, but had the opportunity to ask him during an online session, so now I've got that one sussed (it's A-lert, by the way). But I confess that I have no idea how to pronounce the surname of someone I've come to regard as a friend: how the heck do you say Jarche, anyway? Zhahsh? Zhah-shee? Jarr-chee? How do say Guhlin? Is Wegner pronounced Germanically as Vegner or is it anglicised with a W sound. Fortunately, I have the inside track on Eylan (EE-lan) Ezekiel, since I met him in person before I ever saw his name written down!

So, in case you care, my name is Karyn Romeis. CAR- inn row-MACE.

If I ever decide to stop not-being-famous, you have the definitive version!

13 comments:

Cammy Bean said...

Thank you for explaining this! I had always assumed your S was silent, with a Latin flair -- Ro-may.

Karyn Romeis said...

You're not alone in that, Cammy. That one would be top of the (very long) list of pronunciations we get. Next would be the inexplicable three syallable row-MAY-iss.

Doug Belshaw said...

Thanks Karyn. The three syllable one was the default version my 'reading voice' threw up every time I came across your name. I now know better! :-)

Karyn Romeis said...

I know exactly what you mean about that reading voice, Doug - mine says Harold's surname in three different ways before allowing me to move on to the next word!

Names matter, and I do always try to get them right, if I can.

I have a friend in Cape Town called Jacques, pronounced "Frenchly" as a single syllable with a soft J: Zhahk. Lovely name. Some years ago, he installed a cutting edge speaking gizmo onto a new computer he had bought, programmed it to have a sultry female voice and booted up. It greeted him in a US west coast accent: "Hi Jakes". He was devastated!

Harold Jarche said...

You're asking for my trade secret, Karyn ;-)

One way I have been able to tell very quickly if a caller is known to me is how they pronounce my last name.

Pronunciation of my last name comes with a little history. The name is German; my parents immigrated in 1956 (we think that the name has Huguenot roots, and comes from "Arché" or Archer). In Germany it is pronounced either yar-ka or yar-chay. When my parents moved to the wild woods of British Columbia, no one could pronounce their name so they decided to completely anglicize it. Therefore, on my side of the family, it is pronounced jar-key.

There, the secret is out.

Mark said...

You'd be surprised how many ways people find to pronounce "Berthelemy" - even though it's actually written phonetically!

Karyn Romeis said...

Harold - Sorry to have deprived you of your ace-in-the-hole, but wow! That wasn't even on my list of possibilities. I figured on the French connection, but kind of assumed that that had something to do with being Canadian... just goes to show.

Karyn Romeis said...

Mark - I'll bet I wouldn't! ;-)

Anamaria Camargo said...

Hi Karyn. I was happy to see that I've pronounced your name correctly. In fact, I think any Portuguese speaker would pronounce it exactly the same.

BTW, Mark... what's the stressed syllable in Berthelemy? I've always stressed the 'the'...

Karyn Romeis said...

Anamaria - Just in case Mark doesn't pick up your question, you are exactly right. The emphasis is on the second syllable and the "th" is soft as in "thin", not hard as in "this".

What I find with Mark's name is that people not only mispronounce it - they often scramble it completely. Poor guy gets called things like Bethlehem and Bartholomew.

Anonymous said...

Boy do I relate to this - both my names are a nightmare!! Gráinne conole!!!!!

Karyn Romeis said...

And how do you pronounce those, Grainne? I've often wondered. In fact, I realised after I had published this post that yours would have been a great name to include as an example of a fellow "sufferer".

Janet Clarey said...

Giving feedback for an online Masters class, I actually mentioned this as a problem. I had many classmates from around the world with names I wasn't sure how to pronounce. Makes me wonder if they should have had a pronunciation guide within the profiles...