Spell My Name Right

By Maeve Maddox

“I don’t care what the newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name right.”

No one knows who said it first, but anyone who has ever written for a newspaper or magazine has heard some version of this quotation. It’s a thought to be taken to heart by anyone–journalist or not–who has occasion to write someone else’s name on an envelope or in a comment box. People don’t just dislike having their given names misspelled, they suffer feelings of rejection when the person who does the misspelling is a relative, friend, teacher, or business associate.

Here are a few typical complaints:

How many times do I have to tell them?

Even when it’s there in front of them, they misspell it!

Is it that hard?

Even some of my own family members misspell it.

My name is so common you really have to go out of your way to misspell it.

Long before the modern trend of deliberately altering the conventional spelling of traditional names became popular in naming babies, careless people misspelled ordinary names like Michael and Margaret, reversing letters (Micheal) or leaving them out (Margret).

Sometimes people pay so little attention to spelling that they come up with a different word altogether. For example, I sometimes receive emails addressed, “Dear Mauve.”

Note: Mauve is a shade of purple; Maeve is a woman’s name. The words don’t even sound alike.

Now that many new parents intentionally give difficult-to-spell names to their offspring, attention to spelling has become a social issue that affects everyone, not only professional writers.

Personal feelings about unconventional spellings like Mychal for Michael, Jaxon for Jackson, or Jesaca for Jessica are irrelevant. If you know people well enough to address them by name, have the courtesy to learn how to spell their names.

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23 Responses to “Spell My Name Right”

  • Bernadette

    Amen sister! If you don’t know how to spell it off the top of your head, ASK!

  • Faith

    Although I completely sympathize, since people tend to screw up my name when it’s spoken, and shorten my daughter’s name, which she HATES, I think you in particular have a built-in problem in the digital age. I just tested, and, yep, my iPad corrected Maeve to mauve. Just so you know! Love this site, use it all the time while I edit, so thanks for your hard work.

  • Kelly

    I can totally relate to the Mauve/Maeve issue. My last name begins Dib and for some reason that completely escapes me, I am often called “Debbie.” I can understand it in person if it’s someone I just met or don’t know well, but it happens even in emails (at work) that have my full name in the address line! I try to find the humor in it, but occasionally I feel the urge to scream.

  • Joanne

    Dale Carnegie said it best: “A person’s name is to that person, the sweetest, most important sound in any language.”

  • Scott

    This is the #1 criterion for my wife and I when we picked out names for our three kids. We wanted semi-unique names that were easy to spell. I feel like the worst gift you can give a child is the never-ending chore of correcting the misspelling of his/her name.

  • Jackie Saulmon Ramirez

    People have a serious case of do-not-care when spelling names. My own family still do not get my daughters names correct and the names are not difficult. Age is no excuse; when people choose to ‘confuse’ the first letter ‘K’ with ‘C’ or the ending ‘ie’ with ‘y’ it is uncaring laziness.

    Maeve is simple; in my own mind I separate it to make it easy for me to remember ‘Ma – eve.’ Maeve… I will never misspell your name.

  • AinOakPark

    Scott – you are so right!

    Although, to my Scandinavian ears, Kirsten seemed like a normal name. My husband thought it “too foreign” but during a difficult delivery, our baby’s name got changed from Veronica to Kirsten (sort of a “push present” I guess), and it has been a very difficult name.

    After three years in preschool, I was still calmly correcting the teacher, and one morning she burst out, “Oh, Kristen, Kirsten, Christine! Don’t you ever just get up in the morning and want to call her Kristen?!” After a stunned silence I said, “Well, my husband’s name is DON but I never get up in the morning and want to call him DAN.”

  • Low KL

    This situation becomes all the more serious when it comes to Asian names actually. For instance most Asian surnames come first unlike Caucasian names and they are spelt in foreign or unusal ways, hence many people tend not only to misspell them but also to mistaken the first name for the last name.

  • David Logan

    “I don’t care what the newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name right.”

    Actually this sounds a little boorish and is likely to get a comeback name spelling of ‘Mr. Right…!’

    To more clearly make one’s point:

    “I don’t care what the newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name correctly.”

  • Sarah

    Yes, this is a big pet peeve. Even my closest friends frequently leave off the “h” in Sarah. I wish people would take the trouble to be more careful with something as important as a name, but some people’s minds don’t work that way.

    Incidentally, I’ve been reading this blog for a couple of years via an email subscription, and I never knew your name. For some reason, I thought this column was written by a man! Nice to meet you, Maeve.

  • Maeve

    AinOakPark,
    I have a friend named “Kirsten.” She’s constantly addressed as “Kristen.” I don’t know how she feels, but it always annoys me on her behalf. I have another friend with the name “Raymona.” She pronounces it “Ray-mona.” I’ve been corrected for calling her by her name: “Don’t you mean “Ramona”?

  • Marilynn Byerly

    I feel your pain. My first name is never spelled correctly by anyone except my mom. My name has even been misspelled on the cover of four of my dang books! Fortunately, I saw the book before it went into print, and they corrected it.

    I won a major book award, and not only was my name spelled incorrectly on all the announcements, but the book’s name was incorrect, as well. That really didn’t sell a lot of books. Sigh.

    And my name isn’t that different from the standard spelling. Spell “Marilyn” like Monroe and add a second “n.”

    Every time I see a baby announcement with a weird name spelling, I know that that child will curse his weird name spelling to the day he dies or changes his name legally because I’ve been there.

  • Steve

    Peeve 1:When you answer an email I’ve signed “Steve,” and you address me as “Steven,” you’re missing an easy clue.

    Peeve 2: Some people won’t tell you what they want to be called. “Do you go by ‘Cynthia’? ‘Cindy’?” “Oh, call me either.” Now I just don’t want to call you at all, and when I do I’ll never feel comfortable calling you by name. You’ve become ‘Hey, You.’

  • thebluebird11

    I could write for pages on this topic. I could start with all the misspellings of my first name (Sherry), my middle name (Lynne), my maiden name and my married name…but I won’t bore you all! Then I could go on with all the issues people have mentioned above, and the vicarious annoyance I feel when people mispronounce/misspell the name of someone I know. In the course of my work, people are constantly misspelling patient names, physician names, facility names, names of cities where facilities are located or where patients live…my company was recently reprimanded for making these critical errors, and you’d better believe we all heard about that. I have had to email my supervisors many times for getting provider names wrong in our databases, misspelled or even reversed (first name/last name). There is one physician whose last name, not first name, is Daniel, and another whose last name, not first name, is Jacob. I don’t want to belabor these points, you know I stand firmly with Maeve, and the rest of you, on this issue. In the past when I was in clinical practice, if I couldn’t pronounce someone’s name, I always asked before even trying. People DO appreciate the effort made. A quick story: At the end of the one work day, there were 2 patients left in the waiting room. I pulled the charts to bring them into the 2 exam rooms. One was a patient named Gale, the other was Michael. When I went into the waiting room, I saw one man and one woman. I turned to the woman and expectantly said, “Gale…?” And the man stood up! The woman’s name was Michael! Go figure LOL
    And in closing, yes I feel for kids whose parents give them bizarre names or bizarrely-spelled ordinary names (Gennifer, Sha Neeka, Kristle and so on). My daughter’s name is not run-of-the-mill (Nina), and she loves it. She only wishes that she could find trinkets personalized with her name on it, but she almost never does. Oh well! As for me, I have wanted to change my name since I was about 6 years old and The Four Seasons were whining nasally about “Sherry Baby.” I was somewhat appeased when Springsteen came out with “Sherry Darlin,” but most people don’t even think of that song…everyone who meets me bursts into “Sherry Baby.” I abhor it!

  • venqax

    I agree that the laziness and simple illiteracy of many people when it comes to names can be mind-bendingly irritating. My last name is very common and spelled in the standard, common way, yet people misspell it regularly. Or they ask me how to spell, it which case, I might say, “First, there’s a W. Would you like me to show you how to make one of those, too?”

    My wife has an unusual first name. I think it is perfectly understandable when people ask her to spell it. But when they are reading the name, there is no excuse for flubbing it as badly as some do. It is spelled very phonetically and in a straightforward way. Yet what some people produce is inexplicable. It’s like seeing the name Kaylee and spurting out Karlene…Kale…Kosmo? How can you possibly mispronounce K-A-Y-L-E-E without really trying hard? I believe many people are so lazy or so unconfident about reading even one word, that they see the first letter of an unfamiliar assembly of letters and just blurt out any random thing in a panic. It’s not just names, but any word that can fall to this ax. “We need more so-we-a sauce”. Soy sauce? Soy? Rhymes with toy, boy, joy? Spelled S-O-Y. How FGS is this confounding?

    OTOH—when people purposely mess with the conventional spelling of a conventional name for the express purpose of gumming up the works of clarity in the name of some hopelessly misguided sense of “individualism”, I have no sympathy at all. So Jorj, Mery, Dayvid, Maddisynne, Danyal, Jeffree, and Alyzzabeth, you are reaping your or your parents’ sowing.

    There’s a whole other issue with people who either mispronounce their own names, or confuse the spelling of their name with another name. Egzavier Xaviers, Joffrey Geoffreys, Ya-vette Yv-ettes, even (shudder) Wy-vonne Yvonnes.

  • Roberta B.

    How do you spell it? I got this question last night from a presumably native English-speaking lady, but admittedly very young. My response usually is “Robert with an A.” That’s easy enough for a man’s common name (of European origin). The feminine version may not be so common and maybe even a little old fashioned by today’s standards…..but I’m astounded at the spellings I see, especially on the receipts of my take-out orders. Here are some of the latest – Rabuda, Robeerda, Reburta, Ruberda. and there have been other variations. Typically, they’re foreign speaking people at these places (maybe even English-illiterate), at least in my part of the country. So, requesting a correction would be futile. I just kind of laugh to myself, and I’m mildly annoyed at the same time. No one likes to see his/her misspelled. It must be the pronunciation. Also, very often in these instances I’m too hungry to think about it much further, but really……..Is it such an unusual or difficult name?

  • Lisa

    I wish I read this post when it was posted. I’m sure no one is reading this anymore, but I’ll comment anyway. 🙂

    One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone pronounces and/or spells my name wrong.

    My name is Alisa but I haven’t used the ‘A’ since high school. It’s really a simple name to spell: Lisa with an ‘A’ in front. Like Roberta above, but she has the ‘a’ at the end. What could be so difficult about that?

    Well, people seem to think that it’s pronounced Alyssa, Alissa, Elyssa, Elissa, Elisa (they’ll get the E lisa but not the A lisa. Go figure), and any other variation they can come up with.

    Even doctors and their nurses whom I’ve known for years screw up my name! I am constantly saying, “Just call me Lisa.”

    I would never want my child to go through any of those problems with their names. My ex and I named our three boys easy, Biblical names: Joshua, Zachary (Zach) and Matthew. I don’t understand people who make up names or spell traditional names differently just so their child stands out (I should know – my mom thought she made up my name and my sister’s name (Melinda)). Their child will spend his whole life correcting people.

    It’s hard enough for kids growing up now, why add the extra burden of a name that will be either misspelled, mispronounced, and/or laughed at.

  • AnWulf

    If y’all think Kirsten is tuff … Try my former German girlfriend’s name: Birgit (that’s a hard g … Kind of like ‘beer-git’). That befuddl’d many folks. They said Brigit (with a soft g) so often that she would often tell folks to call her Brigit.

  • ToadPop

    My daughter’s name is Laurie. She used to suffer (not the misspelling) her name being mangled in conversation. She would get Lowree, Lonnie, Lanni, Loree, and other odd pronunciations. She finally devised a comeback…My name is Laurie…rhymes with SORRY!

  • Steve

    Two follow-ups on pronunciation:

    Lisa – do you pronounce your name <> or <>? If the former, I see where the confusion starts, though people should listen and learn.

    Maeve – how DO you say your name? I never spoken to anyone with your beautiful, but rare-in-my-parts, name.

  • Maeve

    Steve,
    “Maeve,” rhymes with “wave”

  • Barry

    I absolutely hate it when I get something in the mail for me and they misspell, not just my first name, but my last name wrong too. The first time, I was like wth? Then the next seven times, I was like wtf. On the fourth one, someone actually managed to spell my whole name correctly. I swear, they just choose the first first name and last name of the person that comes up (which is wrong) and use that one, instead of looking at the name to see if it’s wrong. Next time I get something in the mail with my name spelled wrong, I’m just going to throw it away, you don’t care to actually spell my name right, I don’t care to even open it. This is how it will go.

  • TRACY

    I am also a stickler for spelling my name correctly. Its, TRACY without an “E”. Nice and simple, short and sweet. I’ve been telling people for years but the most hurtful misspelling came from husband, that has known me for over 35 years and married for two. I won’t open mail if my name is in correct. I
    just hope I never tear up a check 🙂

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