Tuesday, February 16, 2010

On the Spelling of Names

My eighth great grandfather's first name appears on historical documents as Myndert, Meyndert, and Mindert. His surname appears as both Frederickse and Fredericksen (with and without the 'c'). This isn't due solely to others writing his name down differently each time -- I suspect he may have written it differently each time, too. I believe our early colonial ancestors often didn't care how their name was spelled. Reading documents of that time, you can tell, they didn't care how anything was spelled. Written language was often phonetic.

Those of us familiar with the transliteration of languages from non-Arabic alphabets see something similar today. My Hebrew name is often spelled either Barukh or Baruch. There is only one Hebrew spelling, though:  בָּרוּךְ. I was named after my great grandfather, Barnet Newmark.

These thoughts are inspired by the following post:
Dr. Elizabeth Anne Hull has issued a statement in which she says, “My dearly beloved parents, who sadly have passed away, did not name me ‘Elizabeth Ann Hull.’ Instead they named me ‘Elizabeth Anne Hull,’ with an e, and I would be grateful if anyone who has occasion to write my name down would conform to their wishes.”
Source: The Way The Future Blogs - the blog of Science Fiction author, Frederik Pohl, husband of Dr. Elizabeth Anne Hull.

It seems her name issues are long running. In April of 2009, she wrote a post entitled A Rose by Any Other Name, wherein she talked about being called Betty, or Mrs. Pohl. and how even fans often insert a 'c' in her husband's given name.

I know how she feels. I have people occasionally refer to me as 'Jonathan.' Some of them assume "John" is actually a short-form, and Jonathan has to be my given name. I think this happens, partially, because Jonathan is a well-known figure in the Old Testament, and John is a well-known figure in the New Testament.  And these people know I'm Jewish.  However, both names originate from Hebrew names. John from 'Yochanan' and Jonathan from 'Yehonatan'. Nathan is actually a common short-form for Jonathan. However, my issue is less with spelling and more that they're calling me the wrong name. Personally, and etymologically.

As genealogists, of course, we have to in some ways ignore how names are 'supposed' to be spelled, as they can get written down in any number of ways, and if we are only searching for one spelling, we'll miss a lot.  It may be unlikely that a census taker would write my name down as "Jonathan," but they could.

1 comment:

Sherry - Family Tree Writer said...

When I was growing up, older ladies always, always called me Sheryl, assuming that Sherry was a nickname. Like it does you, it annoyed me very much then. It wasn't my name!

There are tons of Sherry's now (especially after the 60's song came out) so now just getting the spelling correct is my only problem, but growing up, it was certainly an annoyance to be called the wrong name.