Wednesday, 22 January 2014


I write a lot about non-standard use of language, and try to differentiate between that and "wrong".

For example there are dialects where the use of unusual grammatical forms are standard within that dialect. So they are not wrong, not exactly. They are correct within that dialect, and only wrong outside of it. Casual observers sometimes cause offence by not understanding this.

But there's something that's even trickier, personal, and.....a  minefield.

Incorrect spelling of names.

You see, some people deliberately spell their child's name "creatively". That then, is the correct spelling. No matter how strange it looks, it was chosen that way.

What when the parent was just bad at spelling?

Believe it or not, I have run into this a few times. Two of them I can even tell you about as all those involved are now dead.

When I was a little girl I knew a lady named Maybel. Being a child I had the nerve to ask her her why she spelled it that way, and she smiled. She said her parents couldn't read very well, and that was how they thought you spelled Mabel. Maybel is quite pretty, don't you think? I can imagine a "creative" person going further and making it Maybelle.

And then there was Jhon. He was teased right through school, and as an adult would spell it John for casual use, but of course it was on all his official documents. There's no getting round it, it was an error. Everybody knows it's an error. It's like wearing a neon sign that says "My parents were illiterate". Embarrassing and not funny.

I know two young people whose names are one letter off a common, normal name, and there is no way of knowing if it was deliberate or not. I suspect not. Their parents could read and write, but let's be honest and say not particularly well. The parents in both cases now use social media and they demonstrate their lack of ability in English very clearly.

Nobody with half an ounce of tact would point it out. But I wonder how often it is accidentally written correctly, if you see what I mean, and the poor kid has to say "No, actually I spell it............."


  1. And how would you react if your name was, say, Biswapriya Purkayastha?

    You wouldn't be very happy about it, I'll bet.

    1. I dunno BIll, is that the correct spelling? I agree Bill is easier!

  2. My full name is usually spelled Ineke, but my mother insisted on the extra e after the I. "Otherwise it looks so bare.". Ironically I get mid spelled more by people familiar with Dutch.