Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Patty says: At least it's not Przybysz*

My maiden name is Charles, so I spent almost 22 years of my life having my last name pronounced correctly the vast majority of the time. (There was always someone creative who could manage to screw up "Charles," usually by putting a French spin on the pronunciation and coming up with something like "Shar-LAY." To be honest, I kind of admired the effort.)

That ended when I married Jef.

Despite its straightforward spelling, "Mallett" is not pronounced "MAL-it," like the tool. Nor is it "Ma-LAY," like the start of the southeast Asian country. It's not "MULL-it," like the fish (or the business-in-front, party-in-back haircut that was at the peak of its somewhat inexplicable popularity around the time Jef and I met).

It's also not "Ma-LOT," which is, if I'm remembering correctly, the pronunciation selected by the minister who married us when introducing us for the first time to those who witnessed our wedding. Nor is it "MAL-erd," like the duck, despite what the seniors in the high-school English class I student-taught in the early 1990s wanted to pretend they believed.

Nope. One of the inscrutable Norwegians high in the Mallett family tree decided it was "Ma-LET," and so it is.

Jef once told someone who was trying very hard to fix the correct pronunciation of his last name in her mind before introducing him at an event (an event that that took place while we all were still blissfully unaware of Sarah Palin's existence) that Mallett rhymed with "You bet."

He was introduced as "Jef Ma-LETcha." 

I've found that "rhymes with 'Gillette'" works as well as anything. (Also, it explains why I occasionally break into a chorus of, "Mallett! The best a man can get..." when Jef's around.)

But you know what? It's just not that big a deal either way. If you're friendly, neither Jef nor I is particularly inclined to care how you pronounce our last name. (And if you're not friendly, neither of us is particularly inclined to care how you do much of anything. So there.)

*Pronunciation of Przybysz—one of my very favorite Polish names because it looks so completely unpronounceable to a native English speaker—tends to vary by family. I've most often heard  "P'SHI-bish," "SHI-bish," "PRI-bish" and "PRIZ-bee."

6 comments:

Liz said...

I'm a Smith, married a Yeats. Can't be said - readers rhyme it with beets. Can't be spelled - hearers pause when I say y-e-a and then autocorrect to yates.

Jim Smith II said...

With a last name of Smith, I've never had much problem, but as a former teacher I hated calling roll on the first day of school...

Mike said...

I grew up in Northern New York with large numbers of ma-LETs, but later lived in Western Maine which is also chock-full of former-Quebecers, but also happened to have a totally unethnically related group of people named MAL-et like the hammer, including one who got a school named after him. I lived there for a year before I could say MAL-et like the hammer instead of ma-LET like the name.

Liz H. said...

I used to know a Polish kid in elementary school, so I learned how to pronounce names with gratuitous "y" and "z" in them. His name, at least. Welsh is also really fun -- they make "w" a vowel.

But there's worse things than a name no one can pronounce. The ones people CAN pronounce, they'll make fun of in other ways. Trust me on this one.

Netagene said...

My first name is Netagene. You'd be surprised at the problems people have with that! I get a lot of "huh? how do you pronounce your first name" even when I then tell them it's pronounced like it's spelled. As a last resort, I sometimes tell them that it kind of rhymes with "jellybean". That usually gets a laugh. And my married name was "Houghtaling" - try THAT on! My hit to that was "you don't go 'camping', you go ..." Groan.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, this will help me look like an insider next time at the bookstore.

Now, how do you pronounce "Jef"?