THE BLOG

Yankee-Brit Baby Naming - It's A Minefield

18/10/2016 18:06

For Brits in the US or Americans in the UK, even if we learn the lingo, our pronunciation of certain words can cause blank looks and utter confusion. Yes, the clear liquid drink that comes out of taps/faucets might go by the same name, but you try ordering "water" as a Brit in an American restaurant. Ditto tomatoes in your sandwich (never "sarnie") and oregano in your pasta.

And when the children come along the pronunciation problems step up a notch. If you're in a mixed marriage (i.e. Brit and American), not only do you have to agree on names, but they have to sound somewhat similar when said aloud by both parents. Under this criterion, dozens of perfectly decent names come up wanting and are scratched off the list despite having "been in the family for generations".

Take Eleanor, a family name in my case and now relegated to middle name. Americans almost stress the "or" on the end but when most Brits say it, it sounds more like Elena- a different name and open to untold pronunciation options. Another family name, Paul, is now similarly demoted since my version either doesn't register with Americans (pool?) or makes them smile and repeat it back to me. (And Lord knows, there's only so much of that I can take.)

In case there's a Brit in America facing this dilemma right now, here are a few other names you might want to ditch for the sake of your sanity. Remember, these kids stick around for quite a while, as do the pronunciation peeves.

Anna - Hard to believe that this name could cause problems, but it is sometimes pronounced in a very Scandinavian way in the States, and sounds more like "on a" to Brits. Hannah is treated similarly, and I often find myself wimpishly avoiding ever saying the person's name for fear of getting the "A" wrong.

Harper and Harley - both very popular at the moment and a bugger for us Brits with that "R" in the middle. Take it from someone with an "R" in her name, pronouncing it is the first hurdle since Americans genuinely aren't quite sure what you're saying. My British friend's daughter Harley regularly gets called Holly because of the pronunciation difference. The second hurdle comes when you can't make yourself understood so you opt for spelling it. In my case I end up sounding like Jack Sparrow as I try to Americanize the "R" in the middle. All very exhausting.

Ian - This name isn't quite as common in the States and there are some who actually pronounce it "Eye-an" so Brits, be warned.

Sean - The people I know (both male and female) who go by this name, use the "Shawn" spelling so it's pretty east to get it right. Not so with Sean, which can occasionally come out as "seen" or "see-ann". When a Brit tries to explain the correct pronunciation, things actually get worse. As with its rhyming word "pawn", Brits and Americans do not pronounce this vowel sound in the same way. I once tried to explain Sean to an American with the word "shorn" as the example. Wrong again, since Brits don't sound the "R" but Americans certainly do. The name Vaughan is similarly problematic and heaven help anyone called Sian.

Names ending in "er" - Since many Brits pronounce names like Roger and Jasper with more of an "A" on the end, Americans will probably get the name but not the spelling.

My advice if you have family on both sides of the Atlantic, is to bandy a few names about and see which ones come out closest to the mark.

Comments

CONVERSATIONS