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Friday, August 9, 2013

Pronunciation revisited

I was at the store with my SIL a couple of days ago, and the vexing subject of designer name pronunciation came up yet again. To be specific, it came up because we were talking about a pair of Milo Baughman chairs, and he pronounced the surname (BOFF-man), then quickly "corrected" himself to the common mispronunciation (BO-man, which I myself said for a very long time).

I must have had a puzzled look on my face, because he said, "I'm making myself say it that way, because that's how everybody who comes into the store says it, and they think I'm the one saying it wrong. I don't have time to explain over and over." (Same with Thonet, by the way. People will almost become irate about that one.)

A little over two years ago, noticing that the pronunciation of designer names was a frequent topic on many design sites, I decided to start researching names and come up with an unofficial pronunciation guide. I first posted the guide in May of 2011. Since then, it's grown to include almost 100 names of designers and companies.

The pronunciations are the result of my emailing companies and asking them for phonetic spellings of their company names or designers with whom they'd had close dealings. I've also emailed universities designers attended or at which they lectured or where experts on a particular designer are employed. Whenever possible, I've asked family members of designers. (To date, I've been in touch, either by email or by phone, with almost a dozen spouses, children or grandchildren of famous designers, many of whom have contacted me after reading one of my posts about a relative.) I've also used several sites that obtain pronunciations from native speakers of the countries where the designers were born.

Some of you might be wondering why I think BOFF-man is the correct pronunciation of the name. That's a fair question. In that particular case, I contacted Brigham Young University, where Baughman established the Department of Environmental Design in 1969. He served as chair of that department and adjunct professor for several years and later acted as a senior lecturer. Baughman's legacy is quite important to the school, and his death in 2003 leaves him in the very recent memory of his former colleagues. The school responded immediately...and emphatically...giving MY-low BOFF-man as the phonetic spelling of the name. Also, the Thayer Coggin, a company with whom Baughman had a 50-year relationship, shows the pronunciation of BOFF-man in his biography on their website. (I've also heard people insist that his first name is pronounced MEE-low, but BYU says no.)



Milo Baughman
elledecor.com


Finally, you may be wondering why it matters. I've known people who have argued vociferously that Eames is pronounced AMES, although there are countless videos featuring people who actually worked in the Eames Office and knew the famous couple personally, and they all pronounce it with a long E.



Ray and Charles Eames
loc.gov


Also, ask 10 mid-century lovers how to pronounce Hans Wegner's name, and you'll get 10 different answers. In the case of Wegner, I contacted the firm of Carl Hansen and Son, a company that has produced his chairs since 1949. Their response to me was immediate and made the multiple pronunciation situation more understandable, since they admitted that outside Denmark they officially used VEG-ner, but inside Denmark, they officially pronounced it VEE-ner.



Hans Wegner
scandinaviandesign.com


I've read comments from people who think it sounds snobbish and pretentious to pronounce the names the way the designers themselves pronounced their own names, but I disagree. I grew up with a name that everyone mispronounced. I've been called Danna, Donna, Deena, Dinah and Diana...and have never figured out how people get all that out of a name as simple as Dana (DAY-na). In fact, I have a former brother-in-law who still calls me Deena after 40+ years, so admittedly I may be overly sensitive, but I believe it shows respect for the memory of a designer, as well as to surviving family members, to give the original pronunciation at least a good try. How do you feel when people mispronounce your name? Do you correct them?

Where do you stand on the subject? Do you correct people when they mispronounce your name? Do you try to learn correct pronunciations of designers' names, or do you agree with the camp that says it doesn't matter?

22 comments:

  1. Hi Dana!
    I think it's just a sign of respect in any situation to pronounce someone's name correctly. Mispronouncing something, to me, shows a sign of not being detail oriented or just careless. I get peeved whenever someone writes my name incorrectly - it's A-L-L-A-N, especially in correspondence where my name is clearly written. It's just sloppy, careless and shows lack of respect.

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    1. I agree. I was in a store years ago, and a clerk asked for my last name, which I gave him. (I pronounced Perez with the accent on the first syllable, the way my then-husband did.) He asked me to spell it for him, and I complied. Then he said, sounding slightly annoyed with me, "Oh, you mean Puh-REZ." It hit me the wrong way...that he was arrogant/ignorant enough to tell me that I didn't know how to say my own name, so I replied, "No, as a matter of fact, I MEANT PER-ez, exactly the way I said it the first time."

      I understand that names can be tricky, but after 30 years of stumbling through class rosters on the first day of school, I know that no one likes it when his name is mispronounced.

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  2. I think it's great! I can't view the original guide though, getting a Blogger permission error :(

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    1. I'm sorry the link isn't working for you. Maybe you can go to the list of archived posts at the right and look back to May of 2011. The name of the post is "Invitation to collaborate on a pronunciation guide."

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  3. Thanks Dana! I am such a potty girl who pronounce Mr. Wegner in the Danish way and everyone is laughing...

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    1. Well, the joke is on them if they're laughing at you! :)

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  4. I worked with a person who's last name was Baughman and they pronounced it the same way that you do. I agree with you on getting names correct. I have also had my name mispronounced and misspelled all my life even though it is only four letters and pronounced according to the phonetic rules.

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    1. Almost without exception, people who have had their names mispronounced all their lives have very strong opinions on this subject. Names are very personal, and when people mispronounce our names, it feels almost like a part of us is being discounted or disrespected.

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  5. I appreciate this, Dana, thanks. I am one who insists that names be pronounced correctly and I do not think it has anything to do with pretension. It is not about the one pronouncing (no offense but we in the U.S. are rather lazy to learn correct pronunciation), it's about the bearer of the name who deserves to be called his or her real, given name.

    My pronunciation of "Vincent van Gogh" was corrected by the Dutch when I lived in the Netherlands and I very much appreciated that. Here's how his name is supposed to be pronounced: http://www.vggallery.com/misc/vincent_van_gogh.mp3

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    1. I agree that it's a form of laziness that keeps us from learning to pronounce names correctly, but I think it's a form of arrogance when you have been told the correct way to say a name but you insist on saying YOUR way, as if you should have a choice in the matter.

      I understand that sometimes it's hard to make some of the sounds of languages other than your own. It's difficult for me to roll Rs in Spanish, and gutteral sounds like in van Gogh don't come naturally to me either. I think Americans sometimes use the pretension excuse when the truth is that the simply feel silly trying to step out of their language comfort zone.

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    2. So true. Then we should not expect people from other countries to pronounce our names naturally either like our way is the "default" pronunciation all the time.

      Interesting discussion.

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    3. By the way, count me as a member of the Mispronounced Name Club!

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  6. I'm with you, Dana! It's always nice to do an effort and pronounce names the right way. That's being respectful. You're absolutely right about Wegner. In Norway and Sweden we say VEGNER too, but the Danes always skip the G! (I worked in Denmark for many years and can switch to Danish)
    Oh, I know how annoying it is to have one's name mispronounced, my last names constantly get both mispronounced and mis- spelled...
    Have a great weekend, DAY-na!! (from a Norwegian who wouldn't pronounce your name in any other way:-)

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    1. Another person who's dealt with a mispronounced name! It really does seem disrespectful to us when we're on the receiving end of the mispronunciation, doesn't it? And thanks for verifying the information I received from the Carl Hansen and Son office.

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  7. Any ideas about Thayer Coggin?

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    1. It's a straightforward phonetic pronunciation...THAY-er COG-in.

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  8. Team EEEames. I tend to skim the tough designer names, I confess, but not the designs.

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    1. It's hard to imagine anyone these days arguing about how to say that name, but it does happen, more often than you realize...even with all the hype about them. And I get just skipping the hard names. It's easier that way...haha! But when you sell it, you're kinda obligated to say it.

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  9. Oh my gosh Dana, I love this post... I was brought up around a particular Antique Auction House in Melbourne where Ames was the order of the day and knowing no better have used it for longer than I'd like to admit, until I watched an EAMES documentary some years ago and was mortified to think I had it wrong all this time... I must admit the occasional Ames creeps out very now and then when I'm not thinking!!.

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    1. I think most of us have stories of mispronouncing designer names and wondering how many people we said it to before we learned the right way to say it. There are still a few that require me to consult my own pronunciation guide from time to time. :)

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  10. I gave up worrying about this long ago. As long as the person to whom I'm speaking to "gets" who I am talking about, I'm fine. If they want to roll their eyes at my low brow Americanization of somebody's name or roll their eyes at my snobbish over the top flourishy "proper" pronounciation...what - ever. There are certain sounds in other cultures that are rarely if ever used in ours and just sound ridiculous coming out of our mouths. If everybody said every word the same exact way...what a boring world we'd live in. Remember Vinny Gambini standing before judge Haller in My Cousin Vinny? "What is a yute?"

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    1. I guess it's the English teacher in me. I feel the same way about this that I felt about mispronouncing the names of authors or using nonstandard English in front of a class. I've always admitted that I fall more in the prescriptive camp than the descriptive, as old school as that may be. :)

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