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Friday, 18 October 2013

Say my name but say it right

A few weeks ago, I’ve read Homa Sabet Tavangar’s “Growing Up Global” and it is a book I can recommend to everybody who raises globally-minded children. And also to those who don’t. In the first chapter, Homa writes about the importance of pronouncing names correctly. It has made a huge impression on me for so many reasons.

The Dutch pronounce the “G” sound in a throaty way so it sounds like “ch”. My friend Annegien pronounces her name using that throaty “G” sound, because, to quote her: “That’s my name”. She doesn’t change it so that it would be easier for me to say.

My parents named me Olga because it is a Slavic name that is also easy to pronounce. But they didn’t realize that I would be moving to the Netherlands, and my name would be mispronounced in a way that I am not comfortable with. My name isn’t “Olcha”. It is not what I call myself; it is not the name my parents gave me.

But then I realized that I’ve been already changing my name when I speak English, and it almost sounds like “Oh-g-a”, instead of Olga (the Polish “o” is pronounced like in the word “cord”, and the “l” is clearly pronounced, more like in Italian or Spanish).

While I can and did get used to the English pronunciation of my name, I think it’s because I feel like a citizen of the world, and when I pronounce my name that way, it mirrors that feeling. I’ve been called many things in many languages: Olguita by my Spanish friends, Olgalein by my husband, Oleńka by my parents, but these were all expressions of affection. But when the Dutch tell me: “In Dutch, it’s Olcha”, I consider it very patronizing.

The same goes for my children. K’s name has a “R” sound in it. I am fine with her name pronounced the Dutch or English way because my husband pronounces it differently than I do (I roll my R’s, he doesn’t). I am however not that fine with J’s name being pronounced the English way- like the Dutch sometimes do, because it should be a “Y”- sound, not “J” and both me and my husband use the “Y” sound to say her name.

So how should we pronounce our names? I think it is a matter of choice. I know that many Polish people have changed their names because they were unpronounceable for English speakers. I believe it is OK to translate your name if you feel comfortable doing it and if it’s your decision. But let’s not do it for other people’s sake!

Instead of dismissing a name with a meaning and history with “I can’t pronounce that!” or ”But in our language that name is pronounced like that”, let’s at least try to get it right.

And to give you an idea how the "G" sound is pronunced, I'm enclosing this video: 

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  1. Ok I love this! We Flemish Belgians pronounce our G much softer then our neighbours the Dutch. Apperently it is very a very difficult letter to pronounce, at least that is what my non-dutchspeaking co-workers tell me.
    My own name, Tinne, is pure Flemish. And is always mispronounced, most of the time it is Tina or Tin.

    1. Thank you, Tinne! We've been to Belgium and we've noticed the "G" sound is pronunced in a much softer way- I was very proud of myself when I noticed that difference! It is hard becasue many languages don't have it, including English. How is the double "N" pronunced? Is it very clear that there are two N's or does it sound like one "N"? As for my name, in Polish there is a word, olcha, it is a tree (els in Dutch), but it is still not my name! My mom and my mother-in-law have the same name but the spelling and the pronunciation are slightly different and we always pay attention to pronunce the names as they should be pronunced.

  2. Oh I hear you sister! We had decided well before moving to the Netherlands to name a child Giorgio or Giorgia. Two years later, heavily pregnant, we suddenly had the panic - how would the Dutch pronounce the name? We asked around quite a bit and were much relieved to hear that they would pronounce it correctly. But those moments of panic...so silly and yet so, so justified...no?

    1. Absolutely! Especially with a name like Giorgia you need to be careful to make sure that it won't be pronunced "Chiorchia". Which sounds.. ridiculous, right? But then again, it isn't fair: if a child is English-speaking, the name is pronunced correctly, if a foreigner isn't English-speaking, their name gets Dutchanized against their will!

  3. I have been called many variants of my name, but very rarely does anybody get it right. I never realised 'Stephen' would be so difficult, but in Brazil the 'ph' causes problems (and I know one person who seems to think my name is Stevensson, despite being told a number of times. In Poland the initial 'e' was always elongated far too mucn and in Taiwan they had problems with the 'e' and the initial consonant cluster.

    The thing is though, that my Irish family alos pronounces it differently, as do the few Jamaicans who are related to us. So if even they get the name 'wrong' what hope has anybody else got? For this reason I no longer get too worried when somebody mispronounces my name. Indeed, it kind of reminds me of a programme I used to watch as a kid called 'The International Storyteller' who had diferent names in different countries according to the story he was telling. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUeWsgPRI08

    1. Hi Steeephen :D (sorry, just had to do it!) thanks for your comment. I think it is OK to mispronunce a name when the one wearing it think it's OK. And also, I think that it is different with family, especially when they're from different cultures. For example, even the Germans pronunce my name slightly differently, but then I don't mind. If English-speaking people do it, I don't mind either because I often introduce myself that way: Oga. But when the Dutch do it it bothers me because in this case they decided how they're going to call me, not myself.

  4. Can so relate to this - you do not want to know what a mess the Duth make of my maiden name. And Amanda becomes more Amonda.... We were very careful when naming our sons to think about how their names would be pronounced in England and in the Netherlands. We avoided any 'g' sound because English family would never say it the same as the Dutch family. Whilst we avoided that names were said wrong on one side of the family we haven't yet sorted out the spelling issues we have - particularly our surname!!!!

    1. Hi Amanda, thank you for commenting! Yes, sometimes it's the little things...they may pronunce the name just a little bit differently, but it drives you crazy becasue it's still not your name! Good for you to think about this issue before you moved here- I think it helps to have a Dutch husband in this regard. We have thought of classic names that would be easy to pronunce but even that didn't help!And then yes, there is the spelling! Especially my son's name is often misspelled, and my eldest daughter's name is often spelled with a "C' instead of a "K".

    2. I have found a way of spelling my name in such a way English speakers don't mispronounce it.
      My nephews and nieces (British/Dutch) have names that can be pronounced in both English and Dutch and are slightly different in both language, but that is to be expected. They have dual citizenship and dual names. The difference is subtle and they dont even want the Dutchies to pronounce their names the English way and the other way round. They just see the way their name sounds in a different language as part of that language.


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