This is not a column about children with wacky names. It’s not about the little boy called Notorious or his sister Awesome. It’s not about Chanel or Bongo or Stalin or Mars even though all those kids exist. There will be no mention of Apple or Sparrow. Not here. Not today.
This particular column is about Sindi. And Kymberleigh. And Lyriq and Xal (pronounced Crystal) and Paege and Beeanchor (say it out loud, you’ll get it eventually) and Jazz-man and Ararhbella and Sumher. It’s also about Jamze, Taiylah, Khrystie, Jesinta, Naithon and Maddissonne and Mersaydeez.
This column is about what happens when the alphabet vomits on a birth certificate. It’s about wacky spelling and the parents who inflict it on their children.
The Patron saint of trickily spelled names may be Kath & Kim’s Epponee Rae but tricky spelling is not a new phenomenon. And we know this because the first generation afflicted by it are coming of age.
When I do book signings, you have to be very careful to get the spelling of someone’s name right, lest you stuff up the copy of your book they’ve just bought (bless them). You must never take anything for granted. “Hello Anna, nice to meet you!” I say. “And how do you spell Anna?” Seriously. Because these days, it could also be Annah, Ana or Anar.
A couple of weeks ago, I read about a girl dating cricketer Michael Clarke. Her name was Kyly. Yes, Kyly. When I remarked upon this, someone I know called Kylie wondered, “What did her parents have against vowels?”
Having enquired among those who know trickily spelt people and those who named them, my suspicions have been confirmed. It’s not about vowel discrimination (Tylr) or a love of silent letters (Tcharli) or phonetics (Moneeke). The root of tricky spelling is a desire to be different. Special. Unique. Which is fine on a birth certificate but more challenging in the real world where people communicate verbally.
My parents named me Mia for a number of reasons, chief among them that they weren’t a fan of nicknames and thought Mia wouldn’t be shortened. They were right about that but what they didn’t factor in was that many people are stupid. You’d think a name with three letters which was pronounced phonetically wouldn’t pose too many problems but you’d be so wrong.
For years my name has mistakenly been pronounced “My-a” or spelt incorrectly. In fact whenever someone has to write my name down, I automatically launch into: “Mia – M-I-A” before going on to spell my surname.
The other day I asked the name of a salesperson I was speaking to on the phone and she replied “Mia – M-I-A” so it appears it’s not just me.
I’m telling you this because if my simple name is going to cause problems? What hope is there for poor Beeanchor. How many years of her life will she waste explaining “It’s BIANCA, yes I know it’s unusual to spell it like that.” A burdensome number. And will it make her feel special? Or will it just make her parents feel clever?
Here’s a clue: any name that requires you to add “pronounced…” after it is an undue burden to place on another human being.
I asked on Twitter about tricky spellings this week and got some doozies. One person who works in family law said: “The best names I’ve seen through my work are La-a (pronounced: Ladasha), Abcde (Ab-se-dee) and the very popular Nevaeh (Heaven backwards)”. Someone who worked at a Brisbane maternity ward said staff keep a running list of the weirdest names. Current winner: N-ah (Nadasha).
Stop it. I’m calling DOCS.
But WHY? I asked. Often the reasons were quite specific. “My friend named her daughter Olyvia, reason given was that her name is Melyssa” said one person. I also heard from the creatively spelled themselves. Like Rihannon. “It’s meant to be Rhiannon but my dad made a spelling mistake on my birth certificate. I’m now forever correcting people.” And Tiffiny. “I hate it! I never get my emails and all because mum didn’t want me nicknamed Fany”. Then there were the traditional spellings like the Irish name Aoibhe (pronounced Ava) and the Celtic name Niamh (pronounced Neev).
But it was generally agreed by everyone that the most common reason for tricky spelling is a desire for your child to be different. Special. Unusual. Unique.
In researching this column, I came across a forum on a baby names site with the following question from a pregnant woman. “I love the name Chloe but I don’t like the spelling. I love changing spelling around…is there anyone that thinks that Khloei is just too weird of a change? Or Lili? And for a boy or girl the name Aiden going to Aydyn?”
The response was fairly rigorous and unanimously negative. As one person said: “I am not completely opposed to spelling variations, within reason (e.g., Alan/Allen, Catherine/Katherine), but completely odd and invented spellings are not my thing.”
I wanted to reply: “If you really don’t like the spelling of the name, have you considered, I don’t know, CHOOSING ANOTHER NAME?”
Like Apple. Pronounced Apple.
NOTE: This column/post is dedicated to my (real) friends Nikoll and Garry. And while I’m sure that many people will have quite strong views on this subject, please stay respectful. Be nice. Remain cool.