The other day people in my office kept calling my name. The same thing happened at my in-laws’ house, when my sister-in-law said my name a few times. When I looked up, she wasn’t looking at me, but she was frowning and pointing at a dinner plate. Has the world gone nuts?
Yes, it has gone nuts, but as it turns out it’s not my fault. It just so happens that I’ve got a weird name for Spanish speakers. As I wrote a while ago, my name has caused some trouble here (and God forbid we get my last name involved). Even after I introduce myself, most people here still call me Brian, and even the best spellers usually land somewhere between “Brayan” and “Raian” when writing my receipts, which for some reason almost always have to carry a name. In an attempt to avoid confusion, I’ve taken to calling myself “Angela Jimenez.” That hasn’t worked so well, though, since people don’t always realize that I’m giving them my wife’s name to make things easier, and instead they often think I’m saying “Ángel Jimenez,” which would be a guy’s name. I guess I don’t look like an Ángel nor an angel, so that tends to confuse things just as much. But we’re getting off track; why was my sister-in-law invoking my name to scold the dinner plate?
I'm not sure how it’s possible that this didn’t occur to me in the three years I’ve lived here, but “rayan” actually means “they scratch.” My sister-in-law was pointing at the glass plate and explaining why she didn’t use certain types of scrubbing pads, and in turn the staff at my work were saying that some people were scratching out something in writing. Hence, “rayan”… “they scratch.”
Now that I think about it, I had a similar problem while living in Germany. The “ai” plus the short “i” diphthong sounds in my name seemed to cause the Germans just as much trouble as the Costa Ricans, but instead of making my name longer, the Germans would usually shorten it. The R usually converted into a guttural scratch (in the north) or a slightly trilled R (in the south), and somewhere in the process my name got downgraded to one syllable. As we all know, the Rhine flows through Germany, and so does the Ryan (at least when I’m floating down a river on my raft made of sausages).
To add confusion to that, “rein” is also a word in German, and it sounds the same as “Rhine”; rein can mean “pure” or “clean,” but it can also be used to mean “in” or “inward,” as in Komm ‘rein! (“come in!”). One of the host families I lived with in 1998 always loved to say “Komm ‘rein, Ryan!” And I can’t really blame them as long as I keep saying “No way, José.”
Obviously, this is meant to be humorous --oh shit, you’re not laughing?-- but it can have some serious implications when it comes to child naming. Angela and I half-joke that we’ve not had any kids yet since we’re not sure of 1) how many last names it would have or 2) what name wouldn’t be difficult to pronounce or sound ridiculous in one of our native languages. This concern came about after meeting a nearby auto mechanic named “Limber.”
If and when we do have kids, we’ve got to get something that can be easily pronounced, or else just pronounced with a different accent without making our kid sound like a tool. Some names we like so far are simple ones like Julia, Isabel, or Benjamin (although the shortened “Ben” sounds like ven, which is a command meaning “come here”). In any case, we’ll have to make sure our team of Naming Scientists are staying abreast of the situation. And like I said, kids aren’t in the works for the imminent future anyhow. But until then, we’ll keep our minds limber (and keep Limber on our minds).