Wednesday 18 October 2023

Problems with my name...

I suppose everybody has problems with their names; because we use them under such widely varied situations and among so many strangers and in unforeseen places. Whereas, originally, our given names would have been used only by those few - maybe a few hundred at most - who already knew us as individuals. 

In general I have been very happy with Bruce Charlton - but there is a long-term and recurrent problem with Bruce. When speaking the name - say in a classroom, or over the telephone - people can't distinguish it. 

I have better-than-average diction (as a consequence of lecturing and some acting) but I still cannot make Bruce clear aurally - people hear it as Buu or maybe Buuss. Inevitably, I need to spell it out...

In Scotland, where the name comes-from (via the French of those dreaded Normans, I'm sorry to say) there is a rolled R, to assist with the earlier part of the word; turning the English monosyllable into almost two syllables: Brrr-ous

Ideally, though, to make the word clear aurally would require breaking it into three: Ber-us-ah, maybe...

Charlton has been less of a problem; and the surname was well known in my childhood from the footballer Bobby, who was perhaps - with Pele - the most famous soccer player in the whole world - indeed one of the most famous Englishmen.  

(e.g. - This really happened - Foreigner from the Far East: Where do you come from? Answer: England. Far Eastern Foreigner (smiling and gesturing): Ah - Bobby Charlton!) 

The surname is Northumbrian, and common around here; although rare in and around Bristol where I grew-up (there were only two or three Charltons listed in the phonebook).

Aurally, the name is usually clear. Although, when I lived in Scotland I had, of course, to pronounce it with the rolled R which broke it into three - Cha-rrrul-ton.

The only problem came in the USA, when I was a visiting medical student at Harvard, and used to get paged as "Dac-tor Carlton"... 

A pronunciation that was, frankly, inexcusable; given that Charlton Heston was one of the most famous American film actors of that era; and his name was always pronounced pronounced properly - with an initial Chu, not a Ku

But that is a problem with Americans - not with Charlton!

If Americans can pronounce a word wrongly: they will. A good example was pointed-out by my brother. 

English spelling is, of course, difficult/ irrational*; and the floating, bouyant, navigational device is pronounced Boy, but spelled Buoy. This confuses English children when encountering the written word; and they often mispronounce it as something-like Boo-oy, or Bu-oy. 

The Americans decided to mispronounce this strange spelling of Buoy, but in a way that is not phonetic! As Boo-ee!

'Nuff said. 

*Thanks, largely, to classically-trained and Francophile lexicographers; who insisted upon spelling spoken-words (including many place names) in forced-accordance with their idiosyncratic and erroneous etymologies. 


Francis Berger said...

Dactor Carlton is inexcusable, especially when you consider American cities like Charleston.

I confess, the first time I encountered your name online, I pronounced it en Francais -- Sharlton, like Charlemagne.

Also inexcusable. I would totally understand if you choose to sever all ties with me on account of this.

Bruce Charlton said...



I shall say no more...

James Craig said...

I know an American Bruce and it is quite close to your final version.

I'd say Brr-oo-sah

James Craig said...

Sorry I can see how my last might be misleading over the internet.

In practice it's pronounced the same as "Spruce" (as in the tree), but with no S and a B, with the r distinct.

James Craig said...

And of course you probably know this as you were in Americah (d'oh)

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

I remember also thinking it might be "Sharlton" when I first encountered you, but then I quickly figured out it must be pronounced like the movie star's name. In fact, I remember it occurred to me that "Lee Heston" might be a convenient pseudonym for you should you ever need one.

All in all, though, I have to say I have zero sympathy for Anglo-Saxons complaining about name problems!

Bruce Charlton said...

@Wm "I have zero sympathy for Anglo-Saxons complaining about name problems!"

That is simply outrageous! We invented English, after all; and if we hear any more complaints -- well then we will just take our ball and go home, and then hardly anybody in the USA will be able to speak or write!

Anonymous said...

As a fellow Englishman in America, I know what you mean. There's enough "Rory"s in public life that people know my name. In America, similar to you, it's like they don't even *hear* it correctly. I have roll the Rs sometimes to be understood.

I've also felt the same weirdness with how they say buoy.

It was only today I learned that they commonly mispronounce "cavalry" as "Calvary". This isn't like aluminium... they literally just say it wrong. It happens even among people who aren't aware of the word "Calvary", so it's not like they're having a sort of dyslexic moment in their heads. They just... say it wrong. I was watching a video with my American wife in the room where the guy kept talking about "calvary advances" and I mentioned it to her and she was like, "Yeah... it's calvary...??"

She also was not aware of the word Calvary or that it was an entirely different thing from a cavalry.

Ranger said...

Wasn't it Bernard Shaw who in Pygmaleon stated that Americans haven't used English for years (I distinctly remember the line from My Fair Lady, at least)? They won't miss it.