Welcome back to Parental Advisory, where I answer all of your social media and IRL parenting etiquette questions. This week, let's talk about mispronouncing children's names.
My son is two years old and has an Old Testament name that is not super common, but pretty easy to figure out how to pronounce. We recently had some very dear friends come visit us, and the entire time, they kept mispronouncing our son's name. It's a very subtle mispronunciation, but still not the correct way to say it. I noticed they did this the last time we saw them, which was almost a year ago, and I guess I just ignored it and hoped that hearing me say it more would get them on track. But here we are, two years in, and I think we are getting to the point where I'm going to have to say something because they haven't changed their pronunciation. They can be...sensitive...to some things, and I don't know how to have this conversation without coming off like a dick. At the same time, I don't want one of my best friends to keep saying my kid's name wrong. Thank you in advance for your advice!
You're right to be concerned about coming off like a dick, T., and I say that with love. I think many of us have experienced what you're describing in some form (with ourselves, our pets, our kids, etc.), but it's usually not intentional and is more than likely accidental. At least your friends know what your son's name is and aren't calling him by some obtuse variation. It's one thing to subtly mispronounce a name, and another thing to mispronounce it by removing logic altogether.
Since when is "Tilas" a word, much less a name? It's not either one of those by my account (or Google's), yet someone called Autumn's son 'Tilas,' probably because he or she heard it wrong. Twenty years ago, I would say this is a blunder and the person should be embarrassed, but in 201... anything is possible. Sure, there's not a Tilas registered in the U.S. today, but someday, maybe even someday soon, someone's going to think, "Hey, I've got an idea. I really love the name Silas, but since it's a relatively common name, what if I just changed the first letter and made it 'Tilas'?That way, it'll be unique!"
It's no wonder people are getting names screwed up these days, because there are a lot of specialty names out there. Consider the "Kristin/Kirstin" or "Megan/Meagan" name clashes of the '80s and multiply them by a thousand. People are also very particular about their children's names — not just how they're pronounced, but also how they're spelled — and that specificity trickles down to their kids too.
I won't try to understand how the name "Seanne" can be shortened to "Sea" (does she pronounce it as "Shawn" and shorten it to "Shaw"?), but as you can see here, the subtle differences between Aidan and Aiden have been noted by poor Aidan, and he's irked. He's 7 years old, and he's disappointed in every single person who hasn't paused to make this important distinction. And that's precisely why giving your child a name like Aidan can be a disaster — because it's difficult for people to remember which friend has a kid named Aiden and which friend has a kid named Aidan.
In fact, if I had friends whose kids had those names, it's possible I'd forget which one was which. I have two friends whose sons are named "Emory" and "Emery," respectively, and I don't go out of my way to emphasize those pronunciations. I just say their names and hope for the best.
So if your friends' pronunciation is something that's bothering you, T., you can correct them if you're able to approach it with some levity. But before you do, consider that since you don't see them very often, it might not be worth it.
Could there be a reason they're mispronouncing your son's name? Maybe a regional accent difference? Surely they're not screwing it up to spite you, and they can hear you saying your son's name aloud. Maybe their pronunciation matches yours in their heads, but you just hear it differently.
Consider all these things before you bring it up, especially since you say they're sensitive, and try to chalk it up to a pet peeve on your end with the caveat that you can correct them if you're really being driven insane. Just remember that some people enunciate words differently, and they may never be able to train themselves to say them correctly. Just ask my mother, who's pronounced the word "chimpanzee" like "chimp-ANN-zee" my entire life and will never ever stop.
Also keep in mind that too many parents have "preferences" regarding their kids' names these days, and you might not want to join the ranks of that club. You don't want to be another parent who obsesses over something she can't control about how her child is perceived, which is really what this comes down to. If your son is bothered by the way your friends say his name when he's older and can speak for himself, he can correct them. Until then, unless their mispronunciation is something that can be addressed very casually and without issue, my advice is to ignore it. Otherwise, before you know it you've turned into someone who's constantly finding reasons to be annoyed with others about things that are out of their control.
When parents insist on correcting every name variation, annunciation, misspelling and mispronunciation, they're setting themselves up to be frustrated and miserable. Granted, when it's your close friends, you want them to know your children's names and how to say them, but most parents would be wise to let certain discrepancies go. There's nothing wrong with making corrections, but parents should accept that it's only serving their own egos to do so since a nickname isn't exactly hurting their babies' feelings. The "mother's prerogative" argument only makes sense within reason. It's a "mother's prerogative" to breastfeed her baby while shopping at a Target. It's not a "mother's prerogative" to insist that no one shorten "Nathaniel" to "Nate" or, God forbid, something playful like "Little Buddy." Once you become the type of parent who obsesses over these details, you become someone others merely tolerate. Read this exchange and tell me I'm wrong:
Don't be a Derrick. Don't pull a "Princess Ava." And when your friends accidentally mispronounce your kid's name, try to bite your tongue and know it's not something they're doing maliciously to drive you crazy — yet. Start incessantly correcting them, and suddenly there are no more guarantees.
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