Speling Be

When I used to go to restaurants with my extended family, I noticed that my grandpa—Bill Holthaus—sometimes gave a pseudonym when he made reservations. I think it was usually “Jones” or “Smith.” When I asked him about it, he said it was because the flunky hostesses usually butchered his last name, and it was just easier to give a common name that they’d likely be able to spell. Keep that little anecdote in mind, because it’ll be important in about three or four paragraphs.
One thing that I’ve noticed since I began teaching: a lot of people suck at spelling. This goes obviously for native speakers of both English and Spanish, but since most of my students are native Spanish speakers, I’ll concentrate on talking about them.
I think that the root of the problem is that Spanish is a highly phonetic language, and there aren’t very many tricky words, orthographically speaking. Sure, a Spanish speaker may write a C or S when they should use a Z, and then there’s the perpetual problem of mixing up V and B because they make the same sound in good ol’ castellano. Still, that’s nothing nearly as complicated as English, with its bastardized mixture of words and spelling systems from all sorts of languages.
Most of the problems here seem to come up when a Spanish speaker has to spell words from another language. For example, I’ve seen various trucks that have been repainted, and instead of just leaving a plain-colored tailgate, people elect to also re-paint the brand name of the truck they’re driving (Brand consciousness here is strangely very high; it’s like a marketing agency’s dream audience, but alas, that’s a topic for another post at another time). In any case, I’ve seen at least three different cars that had their brand names re-painted boldly, proudly, and wrong. I saw a beat-up old “Hiunday” truck just a week ago, and one of my favorites from the past was a mini pickup that read “Izusu.” This, of course, begs two questions: 1) Why not look at another part of the car to figure out how to spell the name correctly? and 2) Why be so concerned about a shitty brand like Hyundai or Isuzu—How about choosing something classier like “Mersedes Bens” or “Lan Rober”?
All of that really doesn’t matter much until it all hits home: “Ryan Sitzman” is definitely not a common Spanish name. Strangely enough, the name “Bryan” is very popular here, but in order to get it pronounced correctly, you need to write it “Brayan.” Basically, though, when it’s not tourist season, I may be the only Ryan in the country. As a result, most conversations I have about my name go something like this:

Guy at Gas Station: “Would you like a receipt?”
Me: “Um, sure.”
GGS: “What name should I put?”
Me: “Well, I’m called Ryan.”
GGS: “Oh, Brayan.”
Me: “Almost. It’s like ‘Brian,’ but without B.”
GGS: “So, Bryan.”
Me: “Uh, yeah, but without the B.” (As I say this, I usually notice that the guy is writing “B-R-A…”) “Oh, umm….”
GGS: “Huh?”
Me: “It’s R-Y-A-N.”
GGS: (Getting confused and crossing out letters) “B-R…?”
Me: “Sure.”

So yeah, as it turns out, writing “Ryan Sitzman” in Spanish is an orthographic clusterfuck. As a matter of fact, many names of people I know are so confounding to my students, that I’ve included names of my friends, family members, and teachers in the spelling section of some of my exams. Bobby Majzler. Phylis and Clarence Sitzman. Maj Friedrich. Julien Katchinoff. Troy Storfjell. You’re all minor celebrities in Costa Rica, for the mere reason that spelling your name can nearly bring my students to tears.
Anyhow, the picture above is a receipt that a store clerk insisted on completing when I bought a shirt on the way to San Carlos (aka “Saint Chuck”). Angela was with me, and both of us were spelling my first and last name for the lady at the register, so I know this spelling isn’t due to my bad Spanish. I still have no idea how the girl came up with “Fraiyan Sixsman,” though, when we were spelling it for her in person, one letter at a time.
The end result: if there were restaurants around here that took reservations, I’d be making them under the name Roberto Sanchez.
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Sitzman

Errand-Running Monkey at Sitzblog
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3 thoughts on “Speling Be

  1. I do like Fraiyan it is almost as
    good as Ryaen, the version you
    invented in Sweden.
    I have so long been dreaming of
    becoming famous and now thanks to
    my name! Wow! I am lucky

    Maj

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