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Posts Tagged ‘honorifics’

Hey, Kiddo

I get annoyed when people mispronounce their own surnames.

Growing up with a last name like mine—a name that somehow survived intact its journey through Ellis Island’s patented Name Mangler—meant that I had ample opportunity to correct the spelling and pronunciation of others who, it seemed, were determined to succeed where Ellis Island failed.

Giambastiani starts with a soft “g” and has a wave-like rhythm: JYAHM-bas-TYAH-nee.

Not “guy-am-bass-tee-ANN-ee.” Not “guy-am-baa-STEE-nee.” And certainly not “Sebastiani.”

Nor is my name John Bastiani.

(And do NOT get me started on the written permutations I’ve received over the years.)

So, when friends of mine would give their own surnames an inaccurate pronunciation, I used to get a bit pedantic.

Like Lisa Yakubowski, whose family (at some point) decided that “yah-koo-BOV-ski” should be said “ya-ka-BOW-ski” where the “BOW” rhymes with “COW.”

Or Bob Boccaccio, namesakes of the great 14th century Italian writer, whose family inexplicably swapped the pronunciation of the c’s from “bo-CA-chyo” to [shudder] “buh-CHYA-ko.” Why, oh, why?

I’d try to show these folks the error of their ways, saying, “Hey, kiddo, you’re obviously ignorant of the proper way to pronounce your own last name,” which I’d follow with a remedial lesson on how it should be pronounced.

This rarely went well.

Correction: This never went well.

Because a person’s name is their name to say as they wish, and no one dubbed me (or anyone) the arbitrator of surname pronunciation.

I eventually learned this lesson, and though I continually cringe at the way newscasters butcher any Russian patronymic (especially the feminine forms), most of my complaints remain unaired. By way of example, consider this: Prima ballerina Natalia Makarova was famous for lecturing on the pronunciation of her surname, because Ms. “ma-KAH-ro-va” heartily disliked being called Ms. “MA-ka-RO-va,” as the latter pronunciation sounds like the Russian equivalent of “my cow.”

But that battle was for Ms. Makarova to fight, not me, and if she wanted it to be pronounced in a different way, that was her right and her choice. If she wanted us to pronounce Makarova as “Marky-Mark,” that’s how we would have said it.

It’s the same as with a person who, after years of study, earned a non-medical doctorate. If that person wanted to use the title “Doctor,” there’s no reason for us to question or deny this.

Even if the title wasn’t earned (e.g., Colonel Sanders), people with manners will use the title if the individual prefers it so.

A person gets to choose their name, their pronouns, and their titles, whether earned through toil, bestowed as an honor, or made up out of whole cloth. It is their identity, and their choice, and while we might have opinions about the validity and necessity of those choices, it is simply common courtesy to acknowledge the choice and use the names, pronouns, and titles that they choose for themselves.

And that, kiddo, is all I have to say on the matter.

k

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