Thursday, July 01, 2010

Lessons in being polite: spelling people's names

It's really quite simple. People have a name, they're generally quite attached to it, and they're often very attached to the way they spell it. So be polite, spell their name correctly.

Now, if you don't know how they spell their name, it's okay to get it wrong. Once. And they should not be offended, they have no good claim to be offended. They should simply say, "Sorry, that's not how I spell my name, I spell it ...."

And then you should take notice of this and from then on be a proficient and diligent speller of their name.

Particularly bad is when their name is right in front of you. Like when they've sent you an email and their name is in the address field, and they've signed it, and you're replying back to them, and you just ignore what they wrote and use whatever spelling seems good to you. Now you're just be rude, probably through mental indolence.

I'm not particularly offended when you spell my name wrong, just a little baffled that you didn't take more care, especially when it was right in front of you all along.

Seumas. It's Scottish, not Irish. That's why you don't spell it Seamus.
Macdonald, not McDonald. Again, I'm not Irish, and we don't run a family restaurant.

Thank you. Here ends today's public service announcement.

p.s. Substituting random Scottish names, a la Angus, Fergus, etc., only secures you a place in my hall of infamy
p.p.s. While I appreciate the genetic memory that drudges up Hamish as the Gaelic vocative form of Seumas, it is also generally not to be used for my name, unless you are in fact addressing me in Gaelic.


Anonymous said...

To be honest, ignorant American that I am, I had no idea how to say your name until I heard it in the podcast you were in recently. What's sad is that even though I have 3 Greek names, I'm probably more Scottish than anything (I certainly look Scottish and not Greek).

For my last name (Poulos) I'm happy if someone can get anywhere in the right vicinity (spelling or pronunciation).

Unknown said...

Yes, pronounciation is another matter. But I can readily forgive those who don't know, because Gaelic pronunciation is quite different to English pronunciation all round.

Gaelic has this great principle that 's' when followed by 'i' or 'e' should sound like 'sh', but if it's actually 'sh', then it should sound like an 'h'.

Seumas said...

May I just say, that I feel a certain affinity with you there Seumas! And I have a feeling that we two have had a remarkably similar experience throughout our lives: No idea why. Although I'm actually IN Scotland, so you would think people would know better. Oddly, the frequency of ''MacDonald'' being spelled correctly is just as low...

(I just came across your blog whilst idly looking up things on Greek and Latin)

Seumas MacDonald

Unknown said...

Hi Seumas!

I suppose that most people are used to, if they have any conception of it, Seamus as an Irish name, which explains their general confusion and thus default for spelling. I can only imagine that's the case even in Scotland, outside Gaelic-speaking areas.

Thanks for dropping by, it feels weird to be writing to another Seumas MacDonald.

Seumas said...

Ciamar a' tha thu Sheumais?

Yes, you are right, I do live in a non-Gaelic speaking area, and so I do like it when people ask me how to spell my name first. One time someone tried to tell me I was spelling it wrong though, which was a little upsetting!

When I found your blog I found it very interesting; when I saw this post I couldn't help but comment! It really honestly could have been written by me, save for the fact that you use a lower case 'd' instead of an upper case 'D'! (Which is of course fine)

Actually we are probably related.

It was my pleasure to drop by!