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The Perilous Pitfalls Of Problematic Names

By Christopher Andreae / April 4, 1995



I'VE always put it down to the vowels. In my name there are rather a lot of them -- well, four, to be exact -- three all in a row, and at least two of them are quite unnecessary.

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I'm sure the entire family could have gotten along perfectly well without the last two. But there it is, we've all simply accepted them as inevitable and unremovable, and as a result we have spent a substantial number of seconds each day spelling them out.

Usually these vowels -- E-A-E -- have to be spelled out slowly twice; people rarely get hold of them the first time. Mostly this is over the phone, I find, and I would not care to attempt a calculation of how much this has cost in phone bills over the decades if it were added up.

Even when those on the other end of the line lead you to believe that they have at last mastered the correct arrangement of these enigmatic letters, it frequently turns out that, on later consideration, they have allowed themselves to doubt their own notes or handwriting, and the letters they then address to you begin: ''Dear Mr. Andree,'' ''Dear Mr. Andraea'' or ''Andrews'' or ''Android.'' Or even ''Dear Mr. Ombrey.''

This last version results from the fact that it is not only the three vowels that are the problem, but also the pronunciation of the whole caboodle. For some reason that nobody has ever explained, we Andreaes are all utterly convinced that -- phonetically -- our name is pronounced Ondray .

Why, I ask you, would some strange ancestor of mine be so perverse (when I am such a reasonable chap) as to insist that And should subsequently and forever be pronounced Ond?

My father ran for a number of years, with a partner called Wicksteed (I hope I have spelled him as he spelled himself), a wool-cleaning and combing business. The wool came in raw from the sheep, and left the works ready for further refinement before being used for knitting or weaving.

One can only sympathize with the correspondent who addressed an envelope to that firm one day, ''Wicksteed Laundry.''

But it is not as if my name were really all that difficult. I mean it isn't Colquhoun or Hatchepsut or Larochejaquelein. (And no, I did not invent that name.)

And it isn't Lund.

Lund -- now this is really odd.

A colleague of mine who is a poet has this last name.

Now you would imagine, wouldn't you, that Lund was such a syllabically curt and crisp sort of name, such a little mouthful, so easy to pronounce and so neat to spell, that anyone in his right mind would rather be called Lund than almost anything else. Going through life called Lund would be a piece of cake, a picnic, plain sailing.

But you would be wrong apparently. Ms. Lund has been addressed as Ms. Fund, Ms. Blunt, Ms. Kund, Ms. Lind, Ms. Lump, Ms. Lint, and Ms. Lunch, to mention but a few of her misnomers to date.

Nor is spelling her name properly the only pitfall. Recently she stood on a platform at an establishment devoted to education, wondering, as she was being introduced, if the microphone might be too high, or not turned up enough, or if she had let a bookmark slip out of the folder of poems she was about to read, when she heard her host for the evening conclude his introduction by announcing -- at last -- her name.

''And now,'' he said, taking a breath for effect, ''it is my privilege to introduce E. A. Loond.''

So overcome was our poet, that she actually failed to set the record straight. And so it is that the audience of young people of an impressionable age are about to go out into the world thinking that her name should sound like a city in southern Sweden as it might be pronounced by a German. Yet she herself has been brought up to believe that it actually sounds like the first syllable of the capital of England as pronounced by an Englishman.

Me, I'm just glad, now that I come to think about it, that my middle initial is not ''L,'' for ''Lund.'' One tough name in any family is enough.