That’s Not My Name: Difficult Spelling and Pronunciation

When my husband and I married, I joked to him that perhaps I would have kept my maiden name only if it had been more interesting than “Smith.”

Because I knew I wanted to be a writer since the age of thirteen, I also knew that it might be difficult to stand out with such a common first and last name. Before meeting him, I assumed I would adopt a pseudonymous surname, since marriage had been something that I didn’t necessarily see as inevitable. The trade-off with adopting his more interesting last name, however, is that I will forever be telling people how to both spell and pronounce it.

It’s “Ha-bine,” by the way. The “bein” half of Habein is pronounced in the same way one pronounces Einstein or beer stein. Rhymes with “fine.” The syllables are mostly even, with just a slight emphasis on the “Ha.” Despite having spent almost 11 years with it, my mother still tries to put the emphasis on the “bine” sound, so you can imagine that the rest of my world needs frequent reminders.

The name is German, though if we were actually in Germany, the “Ha” would make more of a “Huh” sound, and the “bein” would have greater emphasis. Strangely, when the mister and I took a British literature course in college, we had a native German professor who consistently tried to pronounce our name as “Ha-bean.”

Also common: Hay-bee-en, Hay-ben (this is what I thought it was when I met him), Hay-bean. People also try to swap the placement of the E and I.

The History of the Japanese Written Language by Yaeko Sato Habein
Yaeko Sato Habein, as far as I know, is not related to the mister. He’s one of the few with the last name who are not. (img via Amazon)

Unlike when people spell my name “Sarah,” when “Sara” is right there in my email address or some other thing that is in front of their face, it doesn’t annoy me when people mispronounce our last name. It’s understandable, so I expect it, and when someone actually comes close to pronouncing it correctly, I’m surprised. When giving my information to someone, I automatically say, “It’s Sara-with-no-H Habein, H-A-B-E-I-N.”

My kids are in for years of correcting their teachers and friends. Because of that, we gave them simple, easy-to-spell first names. Before our daughter was born, we considered naming her “Caolan,” an Irish name that’s pronounced “Kay-lawn,” but I think deep down we knew she’d be a girl because “Caolan Habein” would have been”¦ somewhat cruel.

Part of it stems from the name being somewhat rare. If I see the last name, chances are that it’s in reference to someone on the mister’s dad’s side of the family or a handful of Japanese people, which makes me wonder how that happened. The name is not like those long “-ski” Polish names, which despite taking some thought to spell, are still more commonly heard. In that way, my wish to have a more notable name was granted.

I’m curious to hear others’ experiences. What sort of reminders or rhyming tricks do those of you with less instinctively pronounced names have? Any funny stories with especially bad mispronunciations? Did your last name influence how you named your children? Educate us in the comments.

By Sara Habein

Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus, Pajiba and Word Riot, among others. Her book reviews and other commentary appear at Glorified Love Letters, and she is the co-manager of Electric City Creative.

50 replies on “That’s Not My Name: Difficult Spelling and Pronunciation”

My name on the surface looks pretty easy to pronounce. Jake SOR-ICH.

I meet people, though, that are hell-bent on making it a difficult name. They pronounce it Se-rich, Sur-ich, Sorch, Sorik, it goes on and on and on…I don’t understand it, but, I’ve had this name all my life. hah.

I have to admit, I had some troubles with “Habein” when I first met you and Tyson. I got it after the second or third time I said it, hah, but I remember calling Tyson “Hayben” at least once.

Logsdon gets spelled as “Logston” “Logstone” or even “Lousdon”. (And yet this has nothing to do with why I want to change my name to my stepfather’s.)

Savannah tends to either have the “h” dropped or an “n”.

That said, I’ve thought since like age 12 that the name Myrddyn (It’s a welsh name and spelling for “Merlin”) would make a fabulous name. And yes, that’s the welsh “dd” which is kind of like “th” but with the tip of your tongue going up instead of down. I think, though, that at this point in my life I’ll be more favorable to suggested alternatives that a partner might have. ;)

I go by my middle name – Noelle. It’s the French feminine version. I’ve had people call me No Ellie, Nola, Noil (rhyme that with foil)… But worse, I’ve had people argue with me over the spelling! They insist it’s REALLY “Noel” and I’m just trying to be special.

Nope. Just using the female version since 1) I’m female and 2) it’s what my parents gave me!

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