Miss Manners: Allow people to pronounce their names any way they choose

February 15, 2012

DEAR MISS MANNERS: This is a problem for the cosmopolitan multiethnic set:

I am a multilingual person who has lived on four continents, only recently back in the United States. In the States, I frequently meet first-generation Americans who mispronounce their own names. This is, of course, part of the American ethnic experience, where minorities with complicated names simply adjust and butcher their monikers for the majority’s comfort.

As someone who can speak the relevant languages and thus know how to say the names properly, do I refer to these persons as their names should be said? Or do I defer to the majority, and distort the names as they do?

This is complicated, additionally, by the fact that, if a first-generation person has a strong American accent, sometimes he/she genuinely cannot pronounce the name that his/her parents bestowed. Does etiquette explain what is helpful and what is obnoxious in this instance?

GENTLE READER: Etiquette does indeed consider it obnoxious to mispronounce people’s names deliberately. That is what you would be doing if you did not use the pronunciation that the holder of the name uses.

Miss Manners wonders how you imagine it might be helpful. That upon hearing this, a new acquaintance would run home and say, “Pa, you’ve been saying our name wrong”?

What you can do is to say something nice about the name and then comment on how it would be said in its country of origin. But she suggests caution — surely as a linguist, you are aware that pronunciations vary over time and by region.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am an independent mom who has not dated, nor introduced my daughter to, a man of interest in my life. I’m currently seeing a man I’d like to attempt getting to know better.

We’ve known each other for three years and have been “having fun” for the past two. Things are beginning to get a bit more serious, and I feel that it’s time to involve my daughter.

What is the right time/way to do this? We aren’t in a “relationship” per se; we’re just getting to know each other better. But I feel he has to know her, and her him, before we can really get serious.

Do I introduce him as a friend? I worry that it will send the wrong message if she sees us in a “loving” way later. I’m probably overanalyzing this, but this is a very big step for me, and I want to be sure I do it right, and send my daughter the right message. He also has a son he sees every other weekend that I’ll ask the same advice on.

GENTLE READER: Putting aside the issue of “having fun” (which Miss Manners doesn’t need to know any more than your daughter does), two people are respectably known as friends unless they should become engaged or otherwise go public as a couple.

That sometimes happens, as it is safe for your daughter to know. Becoming friends before proceeding to courtship is even a good lesson for her to learn. If and when you and the gentleman decide to become a serious couple, you can explain that to her. Before, it would be discreet to keep the “loving” or “fun” part of your friendship private.

Visit Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com, where you can send her your questions.

2012, by Judith Martin

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