This week, I’d like some input on a dilemma that’s plagued me for my entire life. I find I really can’t deal with it much better now than I could as a kid. I have a name that is not difficult to say, exactly…but it sounds like so many other names that I have a distinct challenge communicating it. My name is “Alaina”, but that sounds like Elaina, Elaine, Lane, Alaine, Alanna, Delana and Marlena, to name just a few I’ve gotten.
I can often tell that people are not quite sure of my name, but they’re embarrassed to ask again. Instead of admitting that they’re not quite sure what to call me, they settle on some approximation that they hope is right. Some of my former professors stuck to their own pronunciations for whole semesters and beyond. And the same old scenario happened about a week ago, when I took a two-day class. I introduced myself loud and clear, but by the end of the second day, despite a few folks who had gotten it right, most of my classmates had settled on “Alanna”.
In fact, I regularly find that I answer just as consistently to Alanna (or any variation thereof) as I do to my own name. It seems like a simple thing, right, just to correct someone on your name? Surely they’d appreciate knowing that they’re not screwing it up?
But the implications of doing this always loom large to me, for some reason. Does it make me seem a bit high-maintenance when the first thing out of my mouth after “nice to meet you” is “actually, my name is A-LAIN-A”? Or what if I wait a few hours or days or weeks to correct someone in case it was churlish to do it right off the bat? Won’t they be embarrassed that they’ve been saying it wrong? Or will they look askance at me, wondering why I’ve been dithering around all this time answering to the wrong name? Then there’s sometimes the simple fact that the person you’re talking to is some random friend-of-a-friend at a party and it’s just not worth the extra effort to correct them.
And then there’s my least favorite outcome of the “Alaina” name correction. If I do it, a surprising number of people just shrug and say, “hmm, is that how you say it?” as if the pronunciation of my own name is merely a subjective linguistic opinion, as if life is just some nomenclature free-for-all where everyone gets to choose their own version of everyone else’s name. Worse of all, these people often go right on calling me “Alanna” (or whatever else they prefer).
The whole thing has led to some peculiar name-related anxieties on my part. I have an overpowering desire never to mispronounce anyone’s name. When I meet someone, I often ask “How do you spell that?” when they give their name. While they give me a slightly strange look, I visualize the name’s letters to fit them correctly in my mind. I couldn’t bear it if I called “Elyssa” “Alissa”.
I’m sure I’m not the only one to struggle with this. What do you do when people mispronounce your name? Or, if you’ve got a nice, easy name that doesn’t confuse anyone, what advice do you have for those of us whose names have a hundred variants?
If you have any advice for me or anyone whose name is constantly mistaken (including hearty admonitions to just suck it up because I’m really not that important) please share in the comments. You really shouldn’t start the week without making sure others know what you think.