A Name by Any Other Spelling

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Photo by Hans Braxmeier (2012) via Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

Photo by Hans Braxmeier (2012) via Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

I wrote this on the feast of St. Joseph, so he was on my mind, that just man entrusted with caring for Our Lady and Our Lord. Because of him, and also because of family connections, my husband and I considered Joseph for our third son before we decided to give it to our fourth. When we were first thinking of it, when Number Three was on his way, we considered spelling it differently—Jozef or Josef—because I’d seen Pope Emeritus Benedict’s pre-papal name spelled one of those ways somewhere (a later internet search only revealed the Joseph spelling for Cardinal Ratzinger, so I’m blaming mama brain for any inaccuracies in my recollections).

Anyway. We did consider one of those spellings (I can’t even remember which), but when we got to Number Four we had abandoned the unusual (in English) spelling for the usual, and all has been fine, and I’m very happy with the spelling Joseph.

All this remembering got me thinking about spellings of names, and how spelling really really makes a difference to me. Does it to you? I mean, on the one hand, in day-to-day life, the spelling of one’s name barely matters. You hear what you hear, and who cares if your best friend’s name is Kelly or Ckelleigh? It all sounds the same, and that sound is what you associate with your best friend, and it’s a pleasing sound because of it.

But we’re not an audio-only society, and the visual adds a whole dimension to names, doesn’t it? For example, I’m not a huge fan of the name McKayla. I can definitely see its appeal—it’s kind of cool and kicky with the Mc- beginning; it’s got an Irish feel, it’s got a surname feel. The Kayla part is pretty and feminine. Put cool and kicky with pretty and feminine and it’s sort of obvious why it’s spread like wildfire all over the country in recent years. It’s just not my style, for whatever reason. But you know what name I really love? Michaela. Or Micaela. I’m good with either of those spellings. Guess how I pronounce Mic(h)aela? Exactly like McKayla.

Off the top of my head, other names that have totally different feels for me based on their spellings are:
John and Jon
Julia and Giulia
Sara(h) and Sera (like Serafina) and Serra (like Bl. Junipero)
Dominic and Dominick
Juliet and Juliette

And not only do the names have different feels for me based on their spellings, but I get a different impression of people themselves based on the spelling of their name (before I get to know them. After that, I find spelling doesn’t influence me in regards to how I feel about them one way or the other). If I was reading over two résumés, one for a Jon and one for a John, I’d have a totally impression of each, exclusively based on the spelling of their name. (Not that there’s anything wrong with Jon or John, or any of the other spellings I listed above, I’m just commenting on the workings of my often-strange mind.)

All that said, I will admit to being a sucker for an unusual spelling if it’s chosen for a good reason—it was the spelling used by Grandpa Tomas or Grandma Merry, for example, or, going back to Joseph, it was the way St. John Paul’s pre-papal Polish middle name Józef was spelled. I might be more inclined to put a name with a rarer or more unique spelling in the middle-name spot, but, no matter what, the connection to a beloved someone would always make me smile.

What about the rest of you? Do you find that knowing the spelling of a name influences how you feel about either the name and/or the person with the name?

Copyright 2015 Katherine Morna Towne
Photo by Hans Braxmeier (2012) via Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

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About Author

Kate is a writer, lifelong lover of names, wife to a really good man, and mama to their six boys ages 2 to 11. She shares her thoughts on Catholic baby naming at Sancta Nomina.

13 Comments

  1. Right there with you! I am obsessed with the name Lewis lately, and find it so unfortunate that it could be mistaken for Louis. Same with Margot (swoon!) and Margo (shudder!). And Isobel (so refined!) and Isabelle (so blasè).

    • Yes! I have a Lewis and I completely agree. It’s so much nicer than Louis. 😉 Unfortunately for my son, our last name is a very common boy name but it’s spelled exactly how you would never imagine it to be spelled, so poor boy will live his whole life: (1.) spelling his first name (2.) spelling his last name, and (3). having to clarify which is his first name and which is his last name. Oh, well! I still love, love, love his name!

  2. My son’s name is Linden as opposed to Lyndon…How did I do? At the time we just wanted something different that you could read and pronounce in English. A friend of ours is named Lyndon so we just changed the spelling.

  3. Oh this is funny — I don’t mind either spelling of Lyndon/Linden! Maybe because it’s fairly unfamiliar to me in real life, I haven’t had a chance to form any associations with either spelling? That’s a whole new angle I haven’t considered …. thanks for commenting!

  4. My oldest is Elanor, but it is a reference to the Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien (in the books, an elanor is a star-shaped yellow flower that blooms in winter in the forest of Lothlorien, and later on Frodo Baggins suggests it as a name for Samwise Gamgee & Rosie Cotton’s oldest daughter). We liked it because it was sort of a geek name in disguise — anyone familiar with the LOTR books would get the reference and anyone unfamiliar would assume it was a spelling variant of Eleanor.

    • I LOVE Elanor!!! For all the reasons you mentioned! Despite being a LOTR fan, I never knew about the flower/character Elanor (probably because I never — gasp! — read the books, but fell in love with the story through the movies) until I read your explanation of your kids’ names, when you posted it ages ago! I thought it was brilliant on your part, especially because of being a “geek name in disguise.” (Incidentally, my fave “geek name in disguise” for a boy is Peter Parker.)

      Elanor and Eleanor have totally different feels to me, they actually do feel like different names, and I like them each on their own merits … funny that you and Tammy (above) both gave me a new perspective on differently spelled names!

  5. My MIL’s name is Merri, and sometimes she gets things addressed to her as “Mary”…and it does not compute in my brain! Even though they sound the same aloud, she’s not Mary to me. It just feels like a different name entirely since I know the spelling.

  6. My best friend growing up was Caitlin. I would call her Cait for short. It was years before I realized the sound was the same as Kate because they are TOTALLY different names to me with a totally different association.

  7. I’m late to the party but have been obsessing over baby names lately as I’m preggo with #2. We chose Miryam for our first daughter (rather than Miriam) because it is the specifically Aramaic spelling of the Hebrew for Mary…in our minds we wanted our girl to be named with Mary’s “most accurate/historical” name that English allows. Our grandmas have had trouble pronouncing it, and friends forget where the y goes, but we know and she’ll know when she learns to write!
    Also, I came across the name Jaxon and was really put off by it, until I realized it was the same as Jackson, which is a name my sisters and I used to fight over who would get to use it for her son! I still prefer the spelling Jackson but my heart softened greatly toward Jaxon after my epiphany. Ha!

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