Thursday, October 18, 2012

What's in a name?

When we were choosing names for our lil man, I did a lot of research on names. I looked up websites, where people had written about their experiences being named so and so, had they been bullied, did people often misspell their name etc. I started my search for the perfect name from one of the top 100 America's baby names sites. I chose all the names that would be pronounced about the same in both Finnish and English. Then I checked that they didn't mean anything funny and I also checked the initials. I didn't want our child to be ridiculed, because his parents made a bad choice naming him. I tried to be really careful, although I know there is a great chance that at some point our lil man tells us that he hates the name :) Luckily he has three names to choose from! 

The reason why I was being very careful was, of course, the fact that I have a name that got made fun of. Not too much, but enough to make me double-check things before naming my child :) The people who joked about my name, probably felt it was harmless teasing. No one ever aggressively bullied me and the joking around ended pretty soon after elementary school. While in general I like my name, I wanted to make sure my son doesn't have to face as many jokes made about his name. When my parents chose my name, they obviously knew it was an "edible" name in English, but they didn't think it would matter. My dad actually loved the name even before I was even born. He named his first sailboat that. So later, I got named after my dad's sailboat haha.

(Even though I made a huge effort to find a good name for our lil man, I met someone whose dog had the exact same name. I think lil man won't mind though :)

After moving to the U.S to go to college, my former Finnish last name (I now have my husband's American one) became the interesting factor about my name. People would often presume things based on my names, or wonder where the name came from. For example, once when I was at a doctor's office, the nurse who called me in looked really surprised, even speechless. She apologized and said she was really dumbfounded when she saw me, because based on my name she had expected an Asian patient. The doctor himself asked me if I had some Italian heritage, since my last name sounded Italian to him. When I told him it was a fairly common Finnish last name, he asked me if I'd ever been to Finland. Well, maybe a couple of times :)

My first name also got some attention. My dorm roommate in Nebraska assumed I was African American based on my first name. It was a bit of a surprise to her when she finally met the blonde Finnish girl :) We'd never talked before we moved in, because my roommate had been busy all summer riding horses and hadn't checked her email. Luckily we got on great!

A while back, Finn For Life posted about "pseudo-names" in her blog. She wrote about how foreign people order coffee from Starbucks and give the cashier a pseudo-name, which the cashier can easily write down. A bunch of my foreign friends did this in the U.S. Some of my Indian friends shortened their long names in to T.J or Mac. Other friends of mine made up entirely new names to themselves, that sounded bit like the original version. For example the Finnish name Jaakko became Jake etc. I also know that some foreign people Americanize their names when they get U.S citizenship, since getting jobs and dealing with everyday issues is easier if you don't have to spell your long name several times before it's written down correctly. During my work placement class in Nebraska, the instructor recommended this Americanization to some of us. She said she wished she didn't have to, but she thought some of us would have better chance of getting an interview, if the company knew how to pronounce our names easily. 

Have any of you ever had trouble with your names when abroad? Have people guessed where you're from based on your name and gotten it all wrong? I'd love to hear your stories :)

pics from

Hope everyone is having a fabulous week!


Anni said...

We put a lot of thought into our baby's name as well. We wanted to give her a name she wouldn't have to spell every time she introduces herself in the States, but also a name that her Finnish family can easily pronounce. Finally we picked an old name which is not very common here, but is popular in Finland. Her initials are IED (improvised explosive device), and she might get teased about that a little bit, but like her grandpa likes to say, she's the bomb! ;)

As to my name, people tend to think it's a funky version of Annie, and that's how they'll pronounce it if they read it. My American friends and family call me Ani, and I've also given up on emphasizing the double consonant, which seems to be impossible for the American ear to hear correctly. Anni turns in to Anya or Omni, so Ani it is! Close enough, right? ;)

Things have definitely become easier after I took my husband's last name, although I do kind of miss hearing the different versions of my old last name. I don't think I was ever identified as a Finn (or anything else) based on my name, but then again, no one probably even tried to guess, ha.

I've traveled with some Finnish friends whose names have been absolutely impossible for the locals to pronounce, or they find some oh so funny connotations in them, so I guess I should thank my parents for giving me such an easy name. Since I'm planning on spending the rest of my life here, I would probably consider Americanizing my name if it wasn't already short and simple. It just makes one's everyday life so much easier.

Apparently I had a lot to say about this topic! Thank you for a very interesting post! :)

Essi said...

Mielenkiintoinen kirjotus, varsinkin kun tämä on meillekin nyt niin ajankohtainen asia!

Oon tosi nirso nimien suhteen, ainakin mitä tulee kun omalle jälkikasvulleen pitäisi sellainen valita. Oon samaa mieltä noista "ehdoista", että nimi toimisi sekä suomeksi ja englanniksi, ei tarkottaisi toisella kielellä mitään kamalaa ja vielä ettei nimien etukirjaimista saisi keksittyä jotain ovelaa. Ei muuten toimi jos tosiaan on nirso nimien suhteen!

Jos tämä meidän pikkuinen on tyttö, ainoa nimi, josta me kumpikin tykätään on sellainen, josta mahdollisesti saisi keksittyä typerän lempinimen. Vähän niinkun Ulla-Pulla, Ella-Hella. Toisaalta melkein mistä tahansa nimestähän keksii jotain, mutta kyllä se vähän huolestuttaa...

Mun oma nimi on onneksi suht helppo tavata, kun sukunimessäkin on vaan 5 kirjainta, mutta jos sen lukee paperilta, moni on aika hukassa sen suhteen miten se pitäisi ääntää. Säälin työntekijöitä jossain asiakaspalvelulinjalla, jossa osa työnkuvaa on, että asiakkaan nimeä on käytettävä! "Ok then Miss... umm.. Miss.."

Leena said...

Taidan hieman arvostella amerikkalaisia sen mukaan, kuinka hyvin haluavat oppia tietyn nimen. Jotkut ovat tosi hyviä kysymään, miten nimi kuuluisi ääntää ja toiset ovat taas olleet tosi omituisia. Hassuin tapaus oli tilanne, jossa minulle sanottiin, etten äännä omaa nimeäni oikein. Huh huh - luulisi että tähän ikään mennessä osaan sanoa oman nimeni ?
Lapsella on nimi, jonka olin valinnut jo monia vuosia ennen hänen syntymää ja sitä voi kai pitää ruotsinsuomalaisena nimenä. Jossain vaiheessa lapsi halusi koulussa olla 'john' eli jonkinlainen amerikkalainen versio omasta nimestään. Nyt hän käyttää oikeaa nimeään ja myös ääntää sen oikein.

Jenni said...

I regret changing my last name to my husband's last name for 2 reasons: 1. Now that we are in Finland NOBODY can pronounce it right or spell it and I've even been simply referred to as "Jenni Pöysti" since they couldn't fathom "Bernstein" -_- 2. It was actually after we had already gotten married that we found out that my husband is not really that much of a Bernstein either as it was a family name that his grandfather got through being adopted. We should've originally just went for his mother's side last name, which is a very old Italian name (and easy to pronounce) with a lot of epic history.

I changed my last name because I thought it might make our visa application process easier in the USA. Turns out... IT DIDN'T. My old last name, Kantola, however was pretty easy everywhere, so that's why I regret not keeping it now, though my dad also got that name through being adopted so there's no relation there either! :P

We are planning on changing our name to that Italian one, when we are prepared to drop the money to get all our drivers licences etc sorted...again. :P

Jenni said...

Just realized now that I posted in English today :D haha

Sugar said...

Anni, IED sounds cool to me, it'll be a hit! ;) Our lil one is Major League Baseball, but I don't think he'll mind either. I would probably consider Americanizing my name too, if it was impossible to pronounce in English, and we lived in the U.S. Luckily, husband and I both have easy names to pronounce in both languages, although I'm 100% sure mother-in-law never thought their son would go to a foreign country when they named him :-)

Essi, minun mielestani nirsoilu nimissa on aivan ymmarrettavaa! Joskus nakee sellaisia yhdistelmia, etta taytyy ihmetella, etteivat vanhemmat miettineet yhtaan. Ja se on kylla totta, etta kaikista nimista loytaa jotain, jos keksimalla keksii. Teilla onkin jannat paikat, kun pitaa olla kahdet nimet :) Minakin taisin miettia tytolle nimen, vaikka tiesinkin, etta poika tulee, varmuuden vuoksi :)

Sugar said...

Leena, no onpas hurjaa, etta joku muu muka tietaisi paremmin, miten aannat oman nimesi? Kaikenlaisia sammakoita ihmisilta suustaan paasee. Minusta tuo on hyva juttu, etta voi vahan valita miten paattaa nimensa aannettavan. Samanlailla meidan pikkumies voi myohemmin paattaa aantaako nimensa suomalaiseen vai amerikkalaiseen tyyliin. Nyt ollaan miehen kanssa kaytetty jalkimmaista aantamysta.

Jenni, the Italian name sounds fascinating! I've also come across customer service in Finland trying to Finnishize my last name, kinda amusing :) I pondered long before taking my husband's last name. I loved my Finnish last name, but I had no emotional attachment to it, it just sounded good with my first name. Husband didn't want to give up on his late name, since it reminded him of his late father, so I and lil man took husband's last name. Afterwards I've regretted it a little bit, because my mother-in-law has been quite difficult, but as a name I do like it. Unfortunately my name doesn't sound Finnish at all anymore, so sometimes people are not sure if they should speak Finnish or English to me. For a little while I had this ridiculous personal identity issue about it (didn't feel Finnish enough), but now I've gotten over that :)

I welcome both English and Finnish comments, I let you choose ;)

jersey_girl said...

Meillä oli samat perusteet lasten nimeämiselle kuin monella muullakin, haluttiin nimet jotka molemmissa maissa on helppo lausua. Itse asiassa nimet on melko yleisiä kummassakin maassa :) ja nimikirjaimet on ASW ja ILW.

Mun oman nimen kanssa en ole aina ollut niin tyytyväinen. Mun kutsumanimi on mun toinen nimi ja sitä olen koko elämäni saanut korjata kun aina etunimellä on kutsuttu niin koulussa kuin lääkärissä ym. Ja täällä se on hyvin harvinaista että toisella nimellä kutsutaan niin sitä saa aina selittää miksi mua kutsutaan. Olen jopa miettinyt että pitäiskö jättää oma etunimi pois, ja tehdä nykyisestä toisesta nimestä etunimi, sitten entisestä tyttönimestä toinen nimi. Sukunimi mulla on miehen ja se on todella tavallinen joten suomessakaan sen kanssa ei kauheasti ole ollut ongelmia.

Miehen etunimi on sellainen joka voi olla joko miehen tai naisen nimi, yleisemmin naisen joten häntä monesti luullaan naiseksi esim työhakemuksista ym.

Sugar said...

jersey_girl, minakin olen miettinyt tuota entisen sukunimen siirtoa "middle name"-kohtaan, jos muutamme Yhdysvaltoihin. En nimittain halunnut valiviiva-sukunimea, mutta ikavoin valilla suomalaista sukunimeani :)

Veljeani muuten myos luullaan usein naiseksi Yhdysvalloissa, koska hanen nimensa on myos enemmankin naisen nimi siella. Yllatys on aina suuri, kun kokouksiin ilmestyykin isoraaminen mies heh.