Although Americans, Kiwis, Aussies, and Brits are supposed to speak the same language, sometimes our pronunciations get us into trouble. To wit, a phonecall I had a few months ago with an Australian company:
Me: I’d like to speak to Cam, please.
Me: Yes, Cam.
Him: We don’t have any Cams who work here.
Me: Really? You don’t have a Cam?
Him: No, we don’t have anyone by that name.
Me: Cam? Your owner — Cam Smith?
Him: [in an incredibly strong Aussie accent] Oh, Cayyyyyym. Oi theuaught ewe seid Keeeeeeeeeeeem.
Kim. He thought I was asking for Kim, not Cam. So I guess the next time I call, I’ll need to try to say it the Aussie way: Cayyyum? Ceiiiim? I’m not sure how to fit that many vowels into my mouth. (Australians are famous in linguistic circles for employing not just the usual English diphthong — mashing together two vowel sounds at once — but the perilous triphthong. Even spelling it is hard.)
Sometimes I just can’t hear the difference between names, or we don’t differentiate in my American dialect. For me, the names ‘Greg’ and ‘Craig’ rhyme. Kiwis are aghast at this butchering of very different names with very different vowels. Same with ‘Erin’ and ‘Aaron’. To me, they’re pronounced the same. Australians, however, pronounce them with a subtle difference — which goes to show that they’re actually acknowledging the incredible variation in the two names’ spelling. (Plus, it helps let people know if you’re talking about the female Erin or the male Aaron.)
For me, my coworker Josey’s name is pronounced ‘Jo-zee’. She says it the way it’s spelled: ‘Jo-see’, with a soft ‘s’. (Or, if we’re being all linguistic here, an unvoiced rather than a voiced sound.) Then you have a name like ‘Megan’. To Americans, it’s ‘Meh-gan.’ Kiwis and Aussies say ‘Mea-gan’, with a long ‘e’. That’s why, when I lived in Wellington, it was easy to audibly differentiate between my Kiwi or American Megans.
My name, of course, is pronounced in the U.S. as ‘Tir-ee-sa.’ It is, after all, spelled with an ‘s’. But in the rest of the English-speaking world — and beyond — it’s pronounced with a ‘z’ at the end. The middle syllable changes as well, becoming ‘Tir-ey-za.’ For people who didn’t grow up speaking English, I’m a little more lenient. I just think to myself in a condescending manner: “It’s okay. They can barely speak the language.” (Not really.) But for those who are native Anglophones? Who can pronounce it right, but don’t? My wrath knows no bounds. I remember constantly correcting my British friends when I studied abroad in Wales. “It’s ‘Theresa’ with an ‘s’,” I’d cry. “Sa-sa-sa-sa-sa!” It’s not just that they’re not pronouncing it correctly — it’s that I don’t always know when people are trying to get my attention. I don’t respond to ‘Tir-ey-za’ because that’s not my name.
I mean, look, I realise that sometimes people have ingrained ways of pronouncing names. I’m never going to be able to say my French friend Amandine’s name the way actual French people do, and I don’t pronounce my own boyfriend’s name the authentic German way. (Sorry, honey.) But those are different languages. When two people are native speakers of the same language, but different dialects, I’m torn. Do I try to say it as closely as possible to the way the person says it themselves; or say it my own dialect because otherwise it would be an affectation?
Take my new acquaintance, Barton. In Australian English, it actually comes off sounding rather posh. They don’t use the letter ‘r’ here, so Aussies pronounce his name “Bah-ton.” It all sounds rather upperclass British. Whereas for me, with my American glottal stops, it comes out as “Bar-uhn.” (Don’t have a minor in Linguistics like yours truly? Try saying ‘The kitten with mittens ate a mountain of butter’. If you’re dropping the ‘t’ at any point, that’s a glottal stop.) The Australian way of pronunciation for poor Barton sounds much nicer. Raaaaather. Baaaaaaahton.
All I know is, Australians and Kiwis get really confused by how to spell ‘Tir-ee-sa.’ It’s not just the American “with-a-h-or-not”, it’s a full-on butchering of the spelling whenever I order chai to go or get a pizza.
From now on, I’m spelling it the way it’s written here: