January 29, 2018

Why Can’t You Get My Name Right?

My last name is not a common one. I guess you could call it unusual, but, as surnames go, I don’t think it’s weird. It sounds like it looks, as long as you know that in German ie and ei combinations are always pronounced as though the first letter isn’t there. (Think diesel, for instance, or leitmotif.)

I often have to spell my name for someone, either—think about that word and its pronunciatory variations for a moment—in person or over the telephone. I will say “D-E-I-M-E-L,” or, to prevent mishearing, “D-E-I-M, as in Mary-E-L.” The latter form is to prevent may name from coming out Deinel, which sometimes happens.

However carefully I spell my name, people write it down or type it as Diemel as often as not. Apparently, many people have so internalized the i-before-e rule that they write (hear?) ie even when what was said was ei. Meticulous pronunciation is incapable of preventing people from making this error. Sigh!

I was buying light bulbs today at an electrical supply house that stocks a particularly wide variety of lamps. (I’ve been swapping out compact fluorescent bulbs for LED ones.) I don’t have or need an account there, but, for some reason, the company needs a name to put on an invoice. I spelled my name in the usual way. What got typed into the computer was Dimeling.(See below.) I have no idea what combination of aural perception, cognitive processing, and neural communication produced this mangling of my name. The counter man set a new record for faulty transcription!

Light bulb invoice

1 comment:

  1. Hi Lionel. Once when I gave my name to a hostess at a restaurant, "Robison, party of four," the hostess replied, "thank you, Mr. Robinson." That of course happens to me sixteen times a day, but for some reason this time I said, "without the 'n'." A few minutes later she called us to our table. "Robinso, party of four. Robinso."


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