The name game

How silly I was. I thought that once I’d gotten my new name all sorted out in my head, it’d be smooth sailing. I hadn’t realized that Rodolfo’s name would continue to provide plenty of opportunity for mistakes nor that those mistakes would bother me so much.

My name is phonetic. Em. I. Ly. And yet it’s still provided plenty of difficulties for native speakers of Spanish, a phonetic language. I’ve chalked that up in many cases to Chile’s lack of diversity. Growing up in California, I heard names from all different ethnic backgrounds as well as some that I’m sure were made up. I’ve seen Katherine, Catherine and Kathryn shortened to Katie, Katy and even Kaydi. And that’s just the tip of a Titanic-sinking iceberg. So while I have definitely made my share of name-related spelling errors – Ashley? Ashleigh? – I’d say that I’m familiar with a wide range of names and how to spell them. More importantly, when I have a question, I ask. And I listen to the answer.

I long ago learned that most Chileans don’t do either as evidenced by the people who respond to e-mails I have signed “Emily” with “Hola Emili” or who can’t help by add an N after I’ve finished E-M-I-L-Y. I will admit, however, that I thought that this was a Chilean problem. Call me unfair, but Chileans do sort of have a penchant for not listening – and that’s something Rodolfo told me on one of our first dates, so take it up with MY Chilean if you’ve got a problem with it. Lately, however, I have discovered that lack of listening is a worldwide epidemic.

When we had our US wedding reception, we sent out invitations calling ourselves Emily MaidenName Rodolfo’sLastName and Rodolfo PaternalLastName for him. I figured this would be a convenient way to let people know what I would like to be called, plus it would help clear up some of the confusion gringo friends and family have had over Rodolfo’s last name situation what with both a paternal and maternal last name (reminder: paternal comes first, and if you’re only using one, you use that one). I have had plenty of people ask about Rodolfo’s last name over the years, and I’ve had multiple conversations about my own last name since getting married.

Well you can perhaps understand then why I have been surprised to receive cards addressed to Emily MaidenName, Rodolfo MaternalLastName and just about everything in between – in one case just “Emily and Rodolfo” because our last names were too complicated. On the one hand, who cares – thought that counts and all that. On the other hand, I don’t go around calling people John because I think it suits them better than Dave, and I ask my recently married female friends how they would like to be addressed and then address them that way. It’s just polite. And while I realize that in the grand scheme of things we’re still newlyweds, and we have the rest of our lives to gently remind people what to call us, my initial reaction was to be annoyed and a little hurt that people – some of whom I know I’ve had this conversation with before – wouldn’t care enough to take our preferences into account.

And another thing: don’t even get me started on Rudolfo and Rudolpho. Look, I get that my husband has a name your average English-speaker doesn’t write on a daily basis. But for the love of god, is it really that hard to ask how it’s spelled? AND, when you have received a written communication from me in which it is written R-O – O for crying out loud, O! – dolfo, might you not use that handy little reference when writing it yourself so as to avoid your mistake? It makes my head spin because now instead of it being my name being butchered by strangers from another culture, it’s my husband’s name (cue: protective urges) being ruined by my family and friends (cue: general disappointment in people I thought were better than that). All of this is on Facebook, people, and in the year 2011 we know that what Facebook says goes, so please get with the program. Because I will never tell you to your face that you’re doing it wrong, I will just passive aggressively write about it on the internet and hope you get the message.

Apparently what we really need here is another name change to something people can understand in both languages. I will be Maria, Rodolfo will be Diego, and our last name will be…oh god, I’m too integrated into both English and Spanish and can’t tell what name would work for someone with no knowledge of the other. Lopez? Fernandez? Soto? Ok, last names are too hard. I guess we will just resign ourselves to life as Emely and Rudolfo.

22 Responses to “The name game”

  1. Oneika says:

    Ohmigosh!! Too funny but I COMPLETELY know how you feel (since I have a funny name that ALWAYS gets butchered). I actually wrote a post on it a couple months ago as well because I was SO frustrated with being called Monica, Oniqua, Oink-a, etc!

    Check out my post (rant) here:

  2. Kyle says:

    You have to admit that it is a little hard on the people in the U.S. because seeing you guys coming from a culture where people already have two names, which is confusing for them as it is, then you got married, except are not doing things the Chilean way, you're not doing them the U.S. way either, you're just doing them the Emilyn and Rudolfo way. So I feel their pain on the last name thing. Last names are too confusing. I'm up for your suggestion of just doing away with them completely.

    On the other hand, I tend to think that spelling errors are all kinds of not cool, especially when one can take two seconds to see how you signed your name at the end of an email. Typos are one thing (Emilt) but flat out misspelling (Emili) is a whole different ball game. This is something I've been pounding into Seba's head with little success.

    I'm glad that I have my friend who works at the P. Val Starbucks who corrects them every time they try to spell my name wrong. I also like that she always said, "Ella DIJO K-Y-L-E" making it very clear, that yes, I spelled my own name right the first time around and that no, even though I said, "K-Y-L-E," when they asked how my name is spelled, you don't actually write it "A-Y-L-I-E."

    I agree with Chileans and a listening problem. I mean, let's not lie, I get more than my fair share of funny looks in the U.S. But I say "Kyle," and then they say "Kylie," and then I say, "Rhymes with smile, Kyle, like the boy's name, but I'm a girl." And then they shake their heads in confusion, but still somehow manage to write down the correct spelling of my name.

  3. Kyle says:

    Also, Oneika, I think you have a cool name. And I just laughed really hard at "Oink-a."

  4. Oneika says:

    @ Kyle: oh, but it gets worse! In elementary school I was "O-freak-a" and "Eureka". Then, as these things do, it evolved, and kids started calling me "You-reeka like Oneika"… Oh, the joys of puberty… LOL

  5. Oneika says:

    And wanted to add as well, that typical boys' names for girls is hella cool! I love Kyle! So pretty.

    And Emily, with regards to the last name thing, I don't think I would change mine… My first name is too bizarre to sound good with many last names… And if I ever marry my German boyfriend, his last name is hideous and sounds terrible pronounced with a German accent or English/American accent so the best I could ever do is hypenate (but I REALLY think I would keep my last name because his is just too ugly)!

  6. Emily says:

    You guys are so funny – I feel like we should form a name support group after waking up to all these comments.

    Oneika, I think your name is very cool, and I correctly guessed how to say it (if you're saying it rhymes with Eureka), but I can only imagine the variations you'v gotten. I feel like if even something as vanilla as Emily can get messed up, Oneika has no chance.

    K, I definitely have no problem with people being confused over our last names or even guessing and getting it wrong once. Considering the trouble I had deciding what to do, I'd be a hypocrite if I thought everyone should just magically know my new last name. That said, I feel like nowadays when women get married, you can't assume they're changing their last name (or keeping it, for that matter), so you should ask. And I'm about 95% sure that everyone who's been making mistakes lately has previously been involved in a conversation where I've said "this is my new last name, you'll notice that it's Rodolfo's paternal last name, let me explain the whole paternal vs. maternal apellido thing," which does bother me.

  7. Abby says:

    I feel your pain on the misspelling of the first name thing. I write a lot of emails for work, and a lot of times I sign them Abby. More than 50% of the responses I receive start out with 'Dear Abi' or 'Dear Aby' or the worst, 'Dear Avi'.

    I mean, I understand that double letters aren't common in Spanish, but come on people. Pay attention! I spell my name that way for a reason and you should spell it that way too.

    I should also say, to be fair, that in the US this would occasionally happen too. I would get Abbey or Abbie, but only if people had never seen my name written or didn't ask me how to spell it.

  8. Ayngelina says:

    My name is always an issue in Canada, but understandable as there is a silent Y.

    But I'm shocked at how many people spell it wrong and email me as it's also my email address. They spelled it right in the email but not in the body?

    In Latin America it's very easy. In fact they usually make a joke about Angelina Jolie and then I say, yes but I'm not loca.

    Laughs all around :)

  9. Ummmm hello how many times a day do you think I see "Andy." WTF!!! My email addy clearly says Andi. Ahhhhhh!!! I feel your pain babe. Totally.

  10. Garfs says:

    People call Colombia Columbia… what do u expect?

    funny thing thou is that all my american friends gets my name Right. They can pronouce Alberto (with a strong R thou) quite well…

    But some times people cant pronounce Bebeto, and they end up saying bee Bee To which is quite funny! 😛

  11. Amanda says:

    I feel your pain. Despite being married for 3 years and saying it over and over again, my family will not get ahold of the fact that Fran's name is Francisca not Francesca. I won't even get into the last names :)

    I think you have Rudolph Valentino to thank for the swapping of vowels.

  12. KM says:

    i'm sorry but Rudolfo? like the reindeer? that's hilarious/pathetic. i dont think not listening is a Chilean thing – i think it's a people thing. the not understanding/listening to name pronunciation i think is directly related to how much/little you've traveled and how culturally unaware or not you are. whoever made the columbia comment. that's so true. people hear what is familiar to them. so when R says he goes to Columbia a moron from St Louis woudl assume Columbia, MO i.e. where Mizzou is. Um, no. fact is, only people i'd really be mad at for not konwing my name or my husband's name are my nearest and dearest. otherwise i've just accepted the fact that most people are morons and that we will be katrina and lorenzo for most people forever.

  13. Emily says:

    Abby, I think I may have to start calling you Avi :)

    Ayngelina and Andi, that is just silly that people can get your e-mails right and then mess up your names. I'm sure a psychologist would have something to say about how for e-mail addresses we're used to just writing what we're told but with names we have pre-formed biases of what they should be.

    Garfs, I hate when people call the country Columbia! But presumably Columbia hasn't sent my friends and family a Christmas card with its name properly spelled, so that in my book is a little bit more forgivable.

    Amanda, that's frustrating. Francesca is welcome to commiserate with Rudolfo.

    KM, yes. Maybe it would bug me less if it weren't reminiscent of a red-nosed reindeer! And I agree with you that while it may be frustrating, if a relative stranger thinks you're Katrina then oh well. It's when family and friends get it wrong that it causes me to go on an internet rant.

  14. Vince says:

    I think women feel this issue far more than men. I think that's because men are rarely called by their friends by their given name. There is always a shortening leading to some shift away from the root entirely. And it's by his friends he knows himself. Your man is Rudi to his team mates, but more likely he's the equivalent to Gunner, Shooter or the Wall.
    I was going to begin with a comment about unbunching items of clothing. But then I thought that the name thing is far far more important to women.

  15. chio says:

    Last time I went to starbucks in the US I got my name (RRrrocio) spelled as Brocie, so I'm impressed they didn't spell it as brodulpho, gringos just can't get the r rolling thing!
    People not understanding u when u consider urself to have an above average level of the language can get really annoying! even more when they look as if they're OBVIOUSLY latin (in miami) and then go to talk to their coworkers in spanish.
    just saying.. not just a chilean thing :)

  16. Sarah says:

    No way!
    This sounds crazy, but I'm from Minnesota living in Santiago with my husband.."Rodolfo!" AHHH! and I just found your blog searching "gringa and Chile" randomly.

    We got married a year ago and same problems. I have yet to get a christmas card not made out to "Rudolpho, Rodgrigo, Ronaldo" from my family.
    5 YEARS of dating!

    My name is Sarah, but here I'm permanently "Sari" or "Sarita"…

    You are RIGHT ON!
    Are you in Santiago?

  17. lydia says:

    I think both cultures get the names wrong all the time, but in my experience there has always been one HUGE difference: In the US people get my name wrong after hearing it (…Olivia? oh "Lydia? OK how do you spell it?") after I confirm or correct, and tell them how I spell it, I don't remember a single person spelling it wrong after that initial moment. In my experience, people put in the time and effort to remember someone's preference. While I am sure there are plenty of times that all the Sara(h)s, (C)Katherine(yn)s etc… see their name spelled wrong, I also know that people usually make the effort to ask, and quite often attempt to make sure they've got the right spelling, even if it means looking it up or asking again.

    In Chile 98% of the time it goes like this:
    when someone hears my name, which I pronounce the Chilean way, otherwise its a lost cause, they will first repeat back "Niria?", then assume its spelled Lidia. I will correct them until they spell it right. Then they will continue to spell it wrong EVERY time in the future. I will continue to correct them until they apparently compromise and spell my name Lidya from then on. Very few people besides my boyfriend and coworkers have progressed beyond Lidya.

    In my opinion there is an obvious lack of effort to get it right.

    Just like the Sara(h) thing, I get why people spell rodolfo wrong. No excuses, but They THINK they know how its spelled, but in reality they're being influenced by how they've seen the name most in the past. And I think people spell YOUR name wrong because thats how they know you. I feel everytime i have to use a friend's new married name. I'm sure thats what they prefer, but its not how I identify them yet. Plus if they are wedding invitations, many people might think the change should go into effect afterwards! (perhaps overlooking that youre already married).

    And if you didn't put rodolfo's second last name on, how did people even know it in order to get it confused??!

    Annoying I'm sure, but I bet it will get better as time goes on

  18. Emily says:

    Vince, nothing is bunched :) You may well be right about the male vs. female take on things. And you're definitely right about the nicknames!

    Chio, you have hit on the reason that our future children will not have names with Rs in them – too hard for the gringos.

    Sarah, if people called him an entirely different name, I would correct them right then and there and get angry if they kept doing it. Luckily that hasn't happened, it's just the spelling issue. And yup, in Santiago.

    Lydia, I had previously agreed with what you're saying based on my experiences, but Rodolfo's name is proving me wrong there. All of the English speaking friends and family who I'm referring to have seen his name written down and/or had me correct it when they've ASKED how to spell it. People know his second last name from his Facebook profile. Since the invitations I sent out were to a party after we were already married (otherwise it would have been totally incorrect of me to list myself with his last name), I don't think that's a reason not to have made the change yet. And I know what you mean about feeling weird using a friend's new last name at first, but it's also just really rude to decide that your familiarity with their old name trumps their choice.

  19. No no, I will call you Maria & Diego Soto from now on! Glad that's settled.

    I should check with P about changing our first and last names once we get married!


  20. Heather says:

    I don't have a name that people butcher, but it is a pet peeve when people don't take the time to spell it properly — when it's right there in front of them!!! The first or second time is understandable but on a consistent basis?

    Just had to post to say I totally hear you because I nodded and smiled the entire way through :-)

  21. Ceri says:

    I’ve always had problems with my first name. It’s pronounced exactly the same as Keri and Kerry but anyone outside of Wales is quick to pronounce is Seh-Ree, in spite of how many times I have to correct them. This should be interesting when I fly over to South America.

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