Friday, January 29, 2010

Who Owns the Pronunciation of Names?

The shorter of the short people had a field trip the other day to the Utz potato chip factory (for those not on the east coast of the US, Utz makes the best potato chips in the world). It turns out that the granddaughter of the owner is one of his classmates and she informed him that it is pronounced "Ootz" not "Uhtz."

It it reminiscent of a divide in Einstein studies. there are those who call him "Einstein" and those who say "Einshtein" which is the German pronunciation and what he called himself. But what if he used the other one? On the radio program "Marketplace" a few years back, the former host, David Broncoccio, received a letter telling him that he was pronouncing his name wrong, that the true Italian pronunciation was not the one he used on the air.

So, the question is who owns the pronunciation of names? With most words, pronunciation is a matter of convention in the linguistic community. A word is pronounced the way most people pronounce it. But is this true with names? Are names owned by the named in a way that normal words are not? Does the linguistic community that gave us the name own its pronunciation? Is it possible to pronounce your own name wrong or is it correct by definition?