Just Take a Moment to Spell My Name Right

Having a Finnish name in an English speaking country is difficult at times and the worst is having my name right there but still misspelled. In this post I talk about my experience on having a non-Anglosphere name in New Zealand.

Just Take a Moment to Spell My Name Right
The Ting Tings - That's Not My Name (Official Lyric Video)

Let's set the mood:

This piece is around a Finn's view of non-Anglo names being introduced into primarily English situations. Whether that's emailing a online store, on Slack at work, representing others during a talk, or any other situation where you may need to bring up names for context. I'll ignore times such as ordering Pizza in store, or a Starbucks drink when passing your name for the moment.

I have a Finnish first name, Niko. It's four characters long. I don't mind if the pronunciation is different in English than in Finnish, that's okay (for this post). But it's excruciatingly common for it to be misspelled:

  • Nico
  • Nick
  • Nikko
  • Niki
The original video can't be embedded 🤷‍♀️

I won't even address my surname which always seems impossible to spell or say for a native English speaker. That "Uu" is a killer.

After professionally working I began to keep track of the different spellings... I stopped a few years in as I became fed up noticing the frequency.

Work emails are always the most frustrating. My name is always there:

  1. In my signature
  2. In the directory tied to my email account
  3. Potentially in the email address itself
  4. Maybe in the body of the email in the chain somewhere

🎵 It's right there in the email, it's not a hidden detail. 🎵

Hey are you professionally messaging me on Slack/Skype/Teams/Lync (rip) or any other instant messaging service? Guess what, my name is right there on screen - in the very chat window. It's four letters long, it isn't rocket surgery.

Sure, autocorrect is a thing and I understand that, especially on a phone. However, if the effort involved to make sure my name is right is beyond the ability to check, then redo the name, I'm not sure I can have a high opinion of you. Pour one out for all the (English name) "Brian" being autocorrected "Brain" - I guess the writer doesn't have one. (But big thanks to those who immediately correct themselves! 💙)

That's the core of it - if there's no effort to get my name right, that's disrespect to me. "There's power in a name" and while I don't subscribe deeply into that concept, my name is still a core part of me and I'd like to see it respected.

And I have it easy for a Finn. Other Finnish names have "ä" and "ö" which are entirely different letters from "a" and "o". Sure they look similar but imagine if "O" and "Q" were commonly mislabelled as each other. Visually there is just a line difference but it means a lot to an English speaker. So for a Finn, the two dot difference also means a lot. (By the way, they're are called umlauts).

So for a Finn, the two dot difference also means a lot.

I'm proud of being a Finn but growing up I did have difficulty around a name that my peers and teachers had trouble with in New Zealand. There's a faint memory of me asking my parents for a different name after becoming exhausted with it as a kid.

As frustrating as it is, it does mostly happen with people I don't normally interact with. Often isolated cases. I let it go in the moment to grease the social wheels but there's a good chance I'll send the poorly spelled example to someone else who also gets their name wrong for a quick giggle.

Then there's non-English sounding names from places in Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Africa, and South America - you know, the rest of the world. Who in many circumstances feel picking up an English name is a must to make it through the Anglosphere. Hell, I have a colleague with a non-English three letter name, and even at three characters it's often misspelled! I have a lot of friends in this situation and while I can't speak for them, it must be deeply frustrating.

Thankfully here's always online to share and read other reactions and feelings.

My name is my identity - so make an effort to spell it right
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Names are our identities. Often, they are deeply rooted in our social and cultural beliefs. Yet, historically, many people have anglicized their names to “fit in,” appear more mainstream, or gain social and cultural advantages in countries with dominant Anglo cultures. But names are more than monike…

If you've stumbled upon this post looking for group commiseration, affirmation, recognition, or validation - I hope you've found it, even if it's just a little. Keep it up, it's a burden to be the ambassador of your country/race/culture but it feels like most people are receptive to your namely needs, but sadly there will always be a few who just don't care. And it do be like that.

Or, don't be an ambassador and 🔥roast🔥 them for all they're worth 🔪. I ain't the police. 🤷‍♀️