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A Brief PSA Re: Spelling My Name

August 11, 2011 at 10:22 am

I've noticed that my last name seems to give people a lot of trouble.  I'm not sure why that should be the case—it seems pretty straightforward to me, after all.   And for people with whom I've interacted in person, it has the extra benefit of being phonetic: it's spelled exactly like it sounds.  People who've only seen my name as text don't have that extra pronunciation reminder, but oh well.

Anyway.  Yeah. 

For the record—and I'm sure this will do absolutely no good, since anybody reading this has already managed to find the proper spelling at some point—my last name is spelled


It is not spelled TREGELLIS, nor is it spelled TRIGELLES, TREGELLES, TERGIILLIS, TREGILIS, TEGILS, $%*@#$@%, or anything other than the above.

I used to be fairly easygoing about whether people got my name right.  Sometimes, depending on the situation, I still am.  (Growing up as a kid in a place where nobody, apparently, had ever encountered the name "Ian" taught me the value of choosing one's battles wisely.  Which is why I grew up answering to Ion, Eon, Een, Io, Jan, Sam, Eeyore, Iran, and just about anything else you could imagine.   Folks from the UK and Australia are probably shaking their heads right now.  And to think my parents went with the simplest possible spelling.  They didn't go the ultra-Gaelic route with extra i's and silent g's.)

But I'll admit the "Tregellis" thing bugs me more than it used to.  (That being, by leagues, the most common misspelling.)   Maybe because in this age of the lightning-fast networked information society, it's literally the work of about 5 seconds to verify the spelling.  But also because—in this age of the lightning-fast networked information society—it's very easy for misspellings to propagate.  I just don't understand why people feel it's better to take a wild guess than to expend 5 seconds of effort.

There's a line of very popular SF/fantasy novels that have, for years, featured an acknowledgment to "Ian Tregellis"... in spite of several polite corrections issued to the author.

So there you go.  One "E", two "I"s, and two "L"s.

And that as my King Canute moment for the day.


Steve Halter August 11, 2011 at 12:07 pm
I feel for you. I have the same problem and it is even more baffling for me since halter is a perfectly fine word in English. In fact that is often the reaction: Other person on hearing my name: "How do you spell that?" Me: "H-A-L-T-E-R" Other person: "Oh, like the word." or "Oh, just like it sounds." Me: Yep. For some odd reason they often hunger to put in an "o". I sometimes think of answering something like, "Well the Q is silent you know." but it's never quite worth it.
Ian August 11, 2011 at 12:14 pm
*blinks* You just blew my mind. Maybe I shouldn't be so surprised that folks get my name wrong! My name isn't even a standard English word. Wow. Why an extra "o"? And where would that go? In future, I'll start telling people, "Well, the symbol for xenon is silent, but there's an umlaut over the percent symbol."
EEGiorgi August 11, 2011 at 2:44 pm
Ian, I'm just curious, though: what is the origin of your name? It sounds like Latin to me! :)
Ian August 11, 2011 at 2:55 pm
The most common guesses I've heard are are Greek(?!), Latin, or Italian(?!?). So you're not alone :-) Actually, it's Cornish. There's a farmstead in Cornwall with the very same spelling, so I've often wondered if a great-grandfather came to the US from there. I'm very certainly related (however distantly) to anybody in the US with the same surname. I very much want to take a trip to Cornwall someday soon. There are many "Tre-" names from the Cornwall area. And "-gill" is also common in Cornish names, if I recall correctly. Sometimes people will identify the origin of the name based on that, but it's usually folks from the UK who do that, not Americans, for obvious reasons.
Steve Halter August 11, 2011 at 3:23 pm
I've seen people try Hoalter and Holter -- as their first choice. I've asked friends if I have some weird accent I'm not aware of. It seems that (just like with your name being phonetic) people don't want to accept the simplest spelling. Hmm, maybe that actually explains why a lot of words in English are spelled the way they are.
Steve Chesney August 11, 2011 at 4:12 pm
It isn't Tribbles?
Sara G. August 11, 2011 at 4:16 pm
Gmitter (OK, a few more words) I too often hear, "Oh, so just how it sounds" after inevitably spelling my name. "Only if you pronounce it correctly," I think to myself, which never, ever happens. Don't even get me started on Sara and the robber baron monopoly 'Sarah' has on the world's mental name dictionaries and how much more sense it makes, if debilitating halitosis prevents you from asking before writing it down incorrectly, to err on the side of Sara, to which you can add an 'h' later, rather than 'Sarah,' which can only be fixed by scribbling. Sara(scribble) G'I-give-up is pretty much my name as far as strangers go. I blame the English and the Germans. And the thing is, it DOES matter, because I just heard about this report that found kids whose names were frequently misspelled or mispronounced tend to have more self-esteem issues. All that questioning and uncertainty about their identity. btw, if ever I am famous enough to need a pseudonym for checking into hotels, I will use Sabra Glitter, which is what the WordPerfect spell checker in college always told me was the correct spelling of my name. Clearly WordPerfect was designed by Germans. At least Glitter, also the first suggested spelling when I click on my red-underlined, deviant last name in this very comment box, is better than Goiter or Gamier, suggestions 3 & 4.
EEGiorgi August 11, 2011 at 4:37 pm
Cornish -- that's fascinating. I would've never guessed as the double "l" and the "is" at the end had me totally going for either Latin or Spanish. I hope I'm not guilty of the crime, though you've got to admit that "spelled as it sounds" is a funny phrase in English. When I pronounce my name, people slip in an extra "a" in the middle for whatever reason. When I write, people write back calling me "Eleni." I think the reason is that English has lost all connections between phonetics and the alphabet. Reading English is very different from reading a phonetic language, as in the latter every letter counts, whereas in English after a while the eyes get used to extrapolate the meaning out of a jumble of letters. This is my speculation after watching my kids learn to read, which of course was totally different from my own experience in learning to read, having been traditionally raised with a traditionally phonetic language! ;) Forgive me the ramble.
EEGiorgi August 11, 2011 at 6:42 pm
I just noticed the calendar on the left is interactive... how totally awesome! :)
Ian August 11, 2011 at 9:49 pm
Well, it used to be spelled that way. But everybody assumed that I had changed my name in homage to Star Trek, when in fact it was Star Trek who took advantage of my name. So I had to change my name from Tribbles to Tregillis. Pretty sad, really.
Ian August 11, 2011 at 11:08 pm
I have often wondered (in this modern age, not in the old days when we knew each other back before the dinosaurs) if the proliferation of Gmail, and its attendant spelling, has caused a rise in a particular form of mispronunciation for "Gmitter". What other mispronounciations do you get? It seems pretty straightforward to me. I'll have you know that "Sara", sans-h, is the default in my mental dictionary. I've known many, many Saras, and just a handful of Sarahs. And the thing is, it DOES matter, because I just heard about this report that found kids whose names were frequently misspelled or mispronounced tend to have more self-esteem issues. Yes, exactly. It really does matter. It's not good for a kid to be constantly told their name, their whole identity, is wrong. Plus, it's a matter of basic respect. I do get others' names wrong, but I do at least make an effort to get them right. Unlike the telemarketer who once asked, "Is this Iran Trellis?" to which I said, "My name is pronounced ," to which he said, "Whatever," and launched into his sales pitch.
Ian August 11, 2011 at 11:16 pm
You're entirely right that claiming something to be phonetic in English is a bit silly. I really shouldn't tell people that! I should know better -- I studied Spanish for years and came to appreciate what true phoneticism(?) meant. How nice to encounter an unfamiliar word but automatically know how to pronounce it! Heck, there are many words in my native language with pronunciations I still have to look up. (Speaking of Spanish, I once got a tax refund for "Ian Trujillo." The downside of living in New Mexico is that they see "Tr" followed by a double-l and fill in the rest automatically.) [If you like the calendar, be sure to play with the other interactive tidbits on the website. Be sure to ask the homunculus about the "Chronicle of Sorrows"...]
Tim Keating August 12, 2011 at 9:55 am
That's funny, I would have bet that you had more problems with people PRONOUNCING it correctly than spelling it. BTW, your captcha spells "Cthulhu" wrong. Savor the irony!
Ian August 12, 2011 at 10:00 am
That's funny, I would have bet that you had more problems with people PRONOUNCING it correctly than spelling it. Your point being what exactly? Because, of course, they can't look up the pronunciation as easily as they can look up the spelling. And until voice-recognition software becomes the norm, rather than the exception, it won't matter how they pronounce it. I don't give a shit how people pronounce it if they have no evidence to guide them. But it does matter how they spell it online. BTW, your captcha spells "Cthulhu" wrong. Savor the irony! Are you referring to a name that's variously spelled Cthulhu, Kthulu, Ktulu, Cthulu, and (Dread) K't'hoo-lhoo throughout branches and offshoots of the Mythos? How strange.
Sara G. August 12, 2011 at 5:48 pm
All the pronunciations are also alternate spellings. I never just say my last name anymore, its always "Gmitter, G as in George, M as in Mary, I T T E R. A common strategy is putting a vowel between the G & m- Gamitter, Gimitter, etc. Geemitter (like Gmail) as you suspected the word jumble version- Gitmer And perhaps most commonly- assume the G is silent, like in gnu- Mitter All of which is why this: is one of my favorite bits of Fry & Laurie. Ever.
Ian August 13, 2011 at 11:46 am
I never just say my last name anymore, its always "Gmitter, G as in George, M as in Mary, I T T E R. I never even bother to pronounce my last name. Nowadays I just skip directly to the spelling. Which they'll get wrong anyway. But still. I admit that I sometimes have trouble myself, because on some computer screens, depending on size, font, and my level of eyestrain, it can be hard to count the individual trees within the forest of vertical lines constituting "illi". All of which is why this: is one of my favorite bits of Fry & Laurie. Ever. No matter how many times I switch back and forth, I just can't reconcile in my head that the Hugh Laurie of "Fry and Laurie" is the same Hugh Laurie of "House."
Andrew August 14, 2011 at 4:30 pm
I don't do well with names in general... And I'm not the best speller in the world either, with a huge case of aixelsyd(dyslexia) and a hurry to get my thoughts across (ahhh the computer generation). But I think in most situations its the later that's the true problem. My own experiences with my last name of AHN (and I'm not of any direct Asian heritage though the rumor is that it is from Genghis Khan's taking over Germany) has varied -- AHM, ATTN(Attn which has confused when a package has 'Attention' ahn(on) it), OHM (which I kind of like) and of course ANN because it is the easiest. Of course Ahn is supposed to be the equivalent of Smith in commonality in Korea... But considering all my other issues misspelling my last name isn't all that bad. My brother really puts the kink in the Names since his first name is Juris...
Brook August 14, 2011 at 8:45 pm
My mother managed to give my sister (Jaime) and I names which became very popular about 5 years after we were born - with a different spelling. I am more or less resigned to people adding a phantom 'e' to the end of my name when I give them my name over the phone, even though I always spell it out. I get most annoyed at the fact that it still pops up when they are copying something I have written, both because of the implication that I have no idea how to spell my own name and because it usually happens on official forms (like my mortgage application) which are a pain in the neck to get changed.
Kristie August 15, 2011 at 9:41 am
None of my three names is spelled easily or "normally"; fortunately no one is trying to find me via the Internet or writing about me (as far as I know, anyway). But when asked my name by someone like a customer service person I'm used to asking if they'd like me to spell my first or last name first. Or when picking up a prescription, I'm in the habit of saying "Kristie Strum. S - T - R - U - M." Usually folks try to spell it with an "O" (they're not really wrong, since some ancestors spelled it that way, while others changed it to "U"), but upon occasion some want to add an M. I'm going to throw it out there, Ian, that I do a little genealogy on the side (hopefully one day it'll be more like a full-time thing -- I'm starting a class in September to begin the process of professional certification), so if you ever want to me look anything up or consult a bit, just let me know.
DMS August 15, 2011 at 6:27 pm
I get Donna a lot, which might just be me being too quiet. I'm still occasionally baffled when someone spells my name "Don" in person. My maiden name was constantly spelled and pronounced incorrectly. Actually, often not pronounced at all because if you put an h directly after two t's, peoples heads explode. And it didn't have any l's in it, as much as everyone wanted it to. I married into one that is often mispronounced but usually spelled correctly. I consider that a huge upgrade. Totally worth having to be told what it means by every other cashier.
Barbara August 17, 2011 at 6:51 am
seriously - there are sooooo many Thomases in the world and it's such an easy name that I never expected that I would have issues with people pronouncing or spelling it. But wow some substitute teachers have a special gift. For that reason and that reason alone, when I get married in October, I'm changing my name to Smith... (has nothing to do with the fact that it is my husband-to-be's name...)
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