When I was younger, I hated my name.
As a kid, I never understood why people always got it wrong. It was only three letters, after all: I-A-N. Time after time though, person after person would drop it off their tongue incorrectly.
“Eye-an?” the nurse would call into the waiting room.
“Eye-uhn?” my teachers would invariably say on the first day of elementary (and middle) school.
The list of incorrect pronunciations was longer than anything I could ever imagine.
“…Ian.” I would correct them every time.
Not only was my name impossible to say correctly, nobody seemed to be able to spell it either.
Valentines Day at school was the worst – I would receive a myriad of variations of my name scribbled across two-fold pink and red cards.
Usually the standard:
Then the more complex:
And finally the just plain confusing:
In classes that were dominated by Michaels, Stephanies, Jessicas and Christophers, my name seemed to float atop a sea of common names like a tugboat from a strange, unpronounceable country.
As I got older, I continued to run into minor struggles with my name.
“Can I get your name, please?” a chipper barista at Starbucks once asked me in college.
“Ian.” I said with a smile.
“Ee…yen?” The confusion flashed across her eyes like a distress signal. “Is that…?” her marker remained poised next to the cup in hesitation.
“I-A-N,” I spelled for her. I saw recognition click in her eyes and her marker zipped across the clear cup in loopy, messy letters.
“I’ve never heard that before.” she said in wonder.
I began to think that maybe I had a speech impediment. Maybe I was just really bad at saying my own name?
One time I called into a local radio station to request a song (Blink 182, if you must know). The DJ asked me for my name.
“Huh? What is it?”
“Ian.” I repeated.
“Whaaat?” he exclaimed, sound effect gasps and surprised ‘oooohs’ echoed down the phone line, amplifying his surprise.
“Wow, your parents must have been sharing some super drugs or something!” he added as canned audience laughter filled my ear.
I’ve never come across someone who blamed my name on my parents indulging in psychedelic drugs. How would he even come up with something like that, anyway? It’s not like my name is Agnoid SpaceFleck. I’m not named after a constellation or a natural wonder. It isn’t really that far-out of a name, I decided. He was just an asshole.
Looking back though, I suppose ‘Ian’ was just not a very common name where I was.
When I lived in Europe, however, I was one of five Ians in my school. Five! I was far too young to appreciate it then, but my mother recalled being pleasantly surprised that everyone not only knew the name ‘Ian’, but also knew how to pronounce it.
It seemed like it was mostly Americans who weren’t able to wrap their minds around my short, vowel-heavy name. They just weren’t familiar with it, perhaps. After all, it is a decidedly more European/British name than anything.
I’ve recounted my troubles growing up with my name to British friends. They were always surprised to hear that my name was a such a source of headache for me.
“People get your name wrong?” they asked incredulously. “How in the hell do they mispronounce it?”
I would tell them and their responses were always the same: “That’s schuupid.” they would scoff. “Crazy Americans.”
While it’s true that many Americans don’t really know how to pronounce it, this kind of confusion seemed to happen in other countries as well. During my travels, I noticed that ‘Ian’ seemed to morph into different versions of itself.
When I lived in Spain, my host mom was incredibly confused by me.
“¿Còmo te llamas?” she asked me on the night of my arrival to her house.
“Ian.” I responded.
“Eh?” she stared at me, mouth agape and hair afrizz.
“I-Ian?” I repeated, less confident of myself. It seemed that in Spanish, I was unsure of everything – even my own name.
“¿Een?” she said.
“Yan.” she ended with a tone of finality. The discussion was over.
For the rest of my time in Spain, I was known to my host mother as ‘Yan’ – a name that implied I hailed from Bulgaria and not the United States.
In Japan, my name took on a slightly more irritating incarnation. Whereas in English, ‘Ian’ sounds more like ‘ee-ehn’ or ‘eeyen’ it sounds very different when transliterated into katakana.
Vowels in Japan have only one sound. This meant that since my name had an ‘a’ in it, it was to be said like the Japanese ‘a’.
So ‘Ian’ effectively became ‘Ee-AHn’ in Japanese.
At first, my students had difficulty saying my name. ‘Ee-AHn Sensei?’ they would say back to me with confused looks on their face.
“Ian.” I would repeat to them, trying desperately to get them to say it right. “Ian!”
It never worked.
There’s a joke among Japanese elementary school children where they say ‘Iyaaaaaaa’ whenever they’re grossed out by something. I learned this pretty quickly as my students would yell ‘Iyaaaaaaan Sensei!’ and wiggle their bodies in exaggerated, comical disgust.
It annoyed me but I learned to ignore it – I had to. There were certain days when I felt less-than-stellar about my life in Japan due to culture shock et al. To get angry with a handful of elementary kids who mispronounced my name, I had to learn, was just not worth my time.
Plus, it’s not like I wasn’t used to people mucking up the pronunciation of it or anything.
As I get older, it seems that my name has become more and more common. I’ve met several other Ians and I feel that we instantly bond over our name.
Certain celebrities like Sir Ian McKellan, Ian Thorpe and Ian Somerhalder have helped to boost public knowledge of how to say our name. Although if I ever meet Ian (“Eye-ahn” as he so says it) Ziering, I’ll have to restrain myself from punching him in the face. I feel like he is a huge reason why so many people mispronounce my name.
Now, whenever someone does pronounce my name right, I feel the need to mention it.
“Oh wow, you said my name right!” I’ll comment excitedly to the cashier or nurse or whoever. “Thank you.”
Most of the time, they seem a bit confused. Of course I said it right, I’m sure they think, How many other ways are there to say ‘Ian’?
Trust me. Quite a few.
**While I don’t think ‘Ian’ is super uncommon, do you have a unique name that people always mispronounce? Have you experienced the same frustrations? I’d love to hear about it!**
(Starbucks images taken from this hilarious Imgur post )