Monday, August 08, 2005

Say My Name, Say My Name ... However You Damn Well Please

Jose de Jesus Ortiz, the Houston Chronicle's baseball reporter, thinks whoever the Astros hire to do their radio road broadcasts for Milo Hamilton should be able to correctly pronounce the names of the team's Latino players. He set down this qualification in a column last weekend that was mostly devoted to what he perceives as the widespread disrespect-ing of players of Hispanic origin, most recently evidenced by a San Francisco sports radio talker's dumbass rant against "brain-dead" Caribbeans in the Giants' line-up. According to Jose de Jesus --- pardon our presumptuous familiarity --- this is more than just disrespect, it's tantamount to insulting these players' very manhood. Obviously, Sr. Ortiz --- excuse our lapse back to formality, but we're uncomfortable in casually referencing someone who bears the name of Our Lord and Savior --- has taken to heart his newspaper's recent declaration that the metrosexual is dead.

But we feel ya, nos hermano, when it comes to the mangling of ballplayers' names. In this case we certainly don't think it's asking too much to say a man's name --- or even a lady's ---- the way it should be said. After all, with the Astros it's only a half-dozen or so names, and you say them thousands of times over the course of the season, so by all means get it right. But is Mr. Ortiz demanding that the announcer enunciate like a native speaker (assuming he --- or she! ---isn't one), by rolling his Rs from here to yonder and coming down REAL HARD on just the right accent, the way all those local Hispanic reporters and anchors on TV who picked up their Spanish in high school and college do? After all, this is the United States, and almost everyone except the Smiths and Joneses long ago got used to having the pronunciation of his or her name sanded down or wrongly accented or slurred or mumbled or somehow screwed-up. We don't see this as disrespect, or even ignorance or laziness; it's just another rite of assimilation.

We're thinking of the Armenian-Iranian family catty-cornered from us, whose two-syllable last name we apparently had wrongly stressed for years, just because that's the way we heard everyone else say it (admittedly, we weren't broadcasting on the radio). And what about the aging hippie-redneck says-he's-a-Vietnam-vet dude next door? You'd imagine he went by "Billy Bob Peckerhead" or such, but, no, the boy's surname is French --- French nobility, in fact. We've heard it mispronounced all the time, and we're sure he hears it seven different ways from Sunday late at night at the icehouse. Or the retired Mexican-American educator across the way, who's variously known as, and has variously presented herself as, both Blanca and Blanche? Then there was the late Mr. Gee down the street, the kindly Chinaman who grew bok choy in his front yard, whose family was thoughtful enough to adopt a name WE COULD EASILY PRONOUNCE, although beyond his name we rarely understood a word he said.

And then ... well, we could go on with this, but our point is that having your name mispronounced is a time-honored American tradition, one that all varieties of peoples have been dealing with for hundreds of years (and until recently, without whining about it). Lots of people just said "fug it" and got themselves a brand new made-up name, so's they wouldn't always be wasting precious time correcting the mispronouncing of the one they brought over. We recall the Jewish merchant family back in our little hometown who ran the Brown's Thrift City and other "Brown's" enterprises with the logo of the smiling, penny-pinching Scotsman. We never asked, but we're pretty sure they didn't give a poo how you said their real name, as long as they sold enough barbecue pits, sofas and 45 rpm records to send their kids to medical school.

As our next-door neighbor can attest, it's especially bad for us of the French persuasion. Perhaps Mr. Ortiz recalls Jose Bovè, the anti-globalist sheepherder from the south of France who a few years ago was in the news for leading the dismantling of an under-construction McDonald's, or something like that. Well-meaning TV and radio broadcasters across the nation, sensitized to the "correct" way of saying Jose, pronounced M. Bovè's first name the way we imagine Mr. Ortiz pronounces his. But that was wrong! So it kinda depends on where you're coming from ...

Our very own name has been discombobulated for generations by people (some of them Hispanics, even) who say it SLAM-po, as in "grand slam," with the accent on the first syllable, even though the educated person will correctly pronounce it slim-PO, the way it was said back in the old country before our grand-père stepped off the boat from Le Havre and quickly went native by shedding the centuries-old Slampeaux family name.

But do we get riled? Do we see it as a sign of disrespect, as some calculated attack on the essence of our being, on our very metrosexuality?

Not as long as you spell the name right on the check.

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