The Corner

My Name Is Fronkensteen!

Hoo-boy! Lots of response to my posts on pronouncing Judge Sotomayor’s name, especially after some lefty blogs linked to them. In fact, last night Keith Olbermann did me the honor of crowning me Worst Person in the World! I know there are other Worst Persons here at the Corner, so I want to know, is there a secret handshake I should learn? Can I now get into the Worst Person clubhouse? Please send me the details privately — I can be trusted to be discreet.

Lots of the responses focused on my various bodily orifices and what should be done with them, but for those actually interested in the point, here’s what I was trying to get across: While in the past there may well have been too much social pressure for what sociologists call Anglo-conformity, now there isn’t enough. I think that’s a concern that most Americans share at some level, which is the root of the angst over excessive immigration, bilingual education, official English, etc.

Some other e-mails:

With regard to name pronunciation I agree that if we adopted “pronounce my name like they did in Cyprus (or wherever)” that this would lead to an expanded version of what we have now in Canada. French Canadian names are pronounced like you are standing on the Rue Celine Dion in Quebec even when you are at a Starbucks in Victoria, British Columbia. It is actually quite humorous to hear someone talking in perfect “Midwestern English” and then suddenly sound like a Monty Python character playing an over the top French soldier like in “Search for the Holy Grail” just to say a french name.

And this, from a Mexican American:

Which reminded me of Werner Herzog’s movie “Fitzcarraldo.” The main character in this movie is an Irishman who lives in the Amazonian jungle in Peru. It turns out that his original name is Fitzgerald, but he changes it to the way locals pronounce it.

How do Mexicans do with foreign last names? It is usually considered polite to defer to the preference of the individual with a foreign name, except that most consonants would be pronounced as in Spanish. So, German names with the diphthong EI would be pronounced AI (as in your Cathy Seipp example), but people would still say “Cati.” Most Mexicans show a dislike for people who make a point for pronouncing names exactly as they would be pronounced by their bearers, so it is funny that some Mexicans in this country expect Americans to say their names as we would pronounce them. Just as in the Fitzcarraldo example, Mexicans prefer above all that the foreigner, or Mexican from foreign origin, changes the way he says his own name. A friend of mine, whose father was Austrian, has the last name Koestinger (probably Köstinger). She and her whole family say their name as you would read it in Spanish, including the hard g at the end (koh-ess-teen-KHER). The moral of my story is that assimilation is greatly appreciated by Mexicans, when others assimilate to Mexican ways.

And this:

Some years ago when, rather late in his career, the baseball player Jorge Orta became an American citizen, he made a point of asking announcers, reporters and fans to change the pronunciation of his first name from “Hor-Hay” to “George”, as in Washington.  He said something to the effect of, I’m an American now, I should have an American name.  While I thought it a bit of overkill, I also found it very moving.

And finally:

Postscript – It goes without saying that my fondest amibition in the matter of the pronunciation of “Sotomayor” is that the name – to be precise, its bearer — fade utterly from our consciousnesses over the next few weeks. . .

No such luck, I’m afraid.


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