Great article on name spellings

A while ago I put up a tab at the top called Helpful naming tips and info — it’s a collection of posts and comments from here and elsewhere that I think are particularly helpful. I’ve been gradually adding to it as I come across things (comments, posts, articles) that I think are particular helpful regarding a particular naming issue.

I’m just about to add Abby’s post from today: Spelling Counts: 9 Rules for Spelling Baby Names. Such a great post! A few really valuable nuggets:

  • “If you’re not sure how to spell your child’s name, choose the dominant spelling … Notice I didn’t say correct spelling.”
  • “I borrowed the phrase “phonetic transparency” from NameLab years ago, and it’s still one of my favorite finds. The corporate naming group explains it this way:A phonetically transparent name is spoken-as-spelled and easily pronounced from alphabetic notation … Creative spellings work when they stay within the bounds of phonetic transparency. Which means they work best when the changes are relatively minor. I know how to pronounce Jaymee and Lauryn, even if I expect to see Jamie and Lauren … Change too much, though, and you sacrifice phonetic transparency”
  • “If there’s one hard and fast thou-shalt-not on this list, it has to this one: avoid novelty spellings … Kneena for Nina. Kviiilyn for Kaitlyn. Airwrecka for Erica”
  • “But here’s an important rule of thumb: the more creative the spelling, the less sophisticated the name appears”

As with all of Abby’s name writing, I love how she imparts hard naming truths (“the more creative the spelling, the less sophisticated the name appears”) without coming across as offensive to anyone.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on name spellings! Do you, as a rule, like or loathe creative spellings? Are there any exceptions to your own rules (i.e., if you dislike like kr8tyv-type spellings in general, are there any that you actually think are kind of clever or attractive)?

UPDATE: I just remembered I wrote this for CatholicMom ages ago: A Name by Any Other Spelling

47 thoughts on “Great article on name spellings

  1. phoenetic transperency… I like that idea. We are due with baby number three in a few months, and if it is a girl her name will be Zelie. We are struggling with the pronunciation though. I prefer Zelie like “Bailey”, which I believe is the true French pronunciation. However, I feel like 99% of Americans who have never seen that name before will say it like “Jelly”. I don’t want our little girl to have to correct people her whole life on how to pronounce it. So I may sacrifice my preferred pronunciation for the sake of phoenetic transperency. Thoughts? I should add that we are set on spelling the name “Zelie”, not any other way.

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    • I love Zelie! I do think that “like jelly” is what most people who are unfamiliar with the name will default to … so I think it’ll probably create less headaches for you to go with the “phonetic transparency” idea. Incidentally, I wrote about pronunciations here (including Zelie specifically), which might be helpful: http://catholicmom.com/2015/06/17/lets-talk-about-pronunciation/. I also don’t think having to correct your name all the time is worst thing, and it happens to the normalest of names all the time! I know a Stephen who frequently gets people guessing “steh-fen” and I myself often had people mishear my name (Kate) as “Kay” when I was growing up — I hated that! So it’s really just what you’re most comfortable with, and if you hate the idea of your daughter correcting people about her pronunciation, I think the jelly pronunciation will cause the least amount of problem. I hope you come to a good peace about whatever you decide!

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    • Depending on whether you see this as changing the spelling or not (I know you say you’r set on it), but you could include the accent on the e in Zelie, as it is in French. I’m sure it’s a pain to have an accent on your name when filling out forms and things, but I do think you’d be much more likely to get the non-jelly pronunciation with it in there; it’s like a sign to people to maybe think twice about how to pronounce it. I myself, for example, would definitely use the accent if naming a kid Rene or Renee; it just doesn’t make pronunciation sense without it.

      Also, I think it’s kind of cool, and totally legit because that is how the saint spelled it!

      And good call using only one L. I think that helps.

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      • I am not opposed to the accent! In fact, I mentioned this post to my husband and it turns out that he feels strongly that her name should be as authentic as possible (he doesn’t want to “American-ize” it). His preference is “Zélie” pronounced like Bailey. who knew! Men sometimes can be so surprising, I thought he was indifferent to the pronunciation. So for now, I think we are decided on the pronunciation and spelling although we have a few months to change our minds 🙂

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    • I’m in your exact boat with Zelie (that spelling) on our list–and I prefer the Bailey pronunciation because it’s closer to the “real” French way–but before I looked into it even I automatically went to the “jelly” pronunciation, so I would guess most people in my circles would, too. I’ve been resigning myself to the jelly pronunciation if we ever have another little girl to name and Zelie ends up as a final contender. But I do think you could make the Bailey way work if you want to! It is the prettier one in my opinion (:

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    • With only one l, I don’t know if most people would default to “jelly” pronunciation. I know I for sure would not. If I didn’t know this name was originally French and rhymes with bailey, I would *for sure* read it as “zee-lee”. It’s still not the pronunciation you’re going for, but I don’t think the across the board default would be the “jelly” pronunciation. I do know of one very faithful and traditional Catholic family who went with the spelling Zaylee because of this issue. My impulse would be to spell it Zélie (using the accent mark) and just being sure to introduce her clearly and confidently.

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  2. I have to start by telling you how much I enjoy reading this blog. I have always loved thinking about baby names…for my children and other people’s! I hope that, down the road, I’ll have another baby so I can seek your advice!
    We just had our 7th baby, and for the first time, I chose what I consider to be a trendy spelling…Maryn. She’s a few weeks old, and I still sit and stare at her name, asking myself if I made the right spelling choice. Being a Katherine, not a Kathryn, I have always disliked the trend of the letter “y” substituted for other vowels in the name. But in this case, I wanted Maryn’s name to look and sound like Mary for our Blessed Mother.
    The part of this article that makes me nervous was the idea that the more creatively spelled a name is, the less sophisticated it appears. I pray Maryn doesn’t feel that way about her name 30 years from now!!

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    • I’m DYING (in the best way!) over Maryn spelled that way specifically for Our Lady!! I don’t think you have to worry about it though — when I think of creative spellings that translate as less sophisticated, I think of things like the Airwrecka spelling for Erica, or Kviiilyn for Katelyn. Maryn actually comes across to me as quite chic!

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    • I don’t think Maryn would be considered creative spelling. It definitely seems to fall in the spelling variation. Not the dominant spelling, but not one that is unheard of. It is really pretty to accentuate the Mary patronage. Well done.

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      • I love Maryn! Reading your initial comment, I was thinking, “How else would you spell it?” … so I’m definitely in the camp that thinks Maryn isn’t a “creative” spelling. 🙂

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  3. I don’t have a lot to say about trendy/creative spellings, but I do really appreciate the matter-of-fact, non-judgmental tone you pointed out (e.g. “the less sophisticated it appears”).

    I’m interested that Katie, above, pointed to Kathryn as an example. That’s my middle name, spelled that way, after my grandmother’s middle name (she was born in 1929). I don’t really think of Kathryn spelled that way as a creative/unorthodox choice just because it’s so familiar to me (my best friend growing up was Kathryn-called-Katie). Does anyone know the origin of that spelling? It’s apparently been around for a while!

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    • We named our daughter Katherine and spelled it with a K because I knew my grandpa’s mother was Katherine with a K. We found out a few months later that her name was actually spelled Kathryn, and both my grandparents commented on our “odd spelling.” My great grandma was born in the early early 1900s, so it’s definitely been around quite awhile. I thought it was more a 70s and 80s spelling myself!

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  4. I loathe creative spellings that are done for creativity sake. There’s a difference between Katherine vs. Catherine vs Kathryn and Emily and Emmaleigh. Different Katherines are fine, Emmaleigh is just a pain in the butt to me.

    The thing is, spelling something different doesn’t make it more unique, it just makes it more annoying for the child. Unless there are multiple accepted spellings or changing the spelling is for honoring reasons, I’m not really into multiple spellings 😛 Poor Emmaleigh and Kaytlynne are just going to be spelling their names constantly and getting funny looks. I definitely agree with Abby when she says that the more creative a spelling is the less sophisticated it appears and I appreciate her tone as well. She’s not saying it in a snobbish way or a way that sounds like she’s judging, she’s saying a fact about how names with super creative spellings are perceived by larger society.

    There are also complicated names like Miah. Is that like Maya or Mia, I’ve seen it both ways. I think this goes to Abby’s tip about phonetic transparency.

    Just as a personal choice, I like names with one very dominant spelling. I like that people hear my first name and know automatically how to spell it, so I like that when I’m picking my favorite names.

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    • You do have one of the easiest names in terms of others knowing immediately how to say and spell it! And the Miah example’s a great one! (Off topic, but it calls to mind for me Maria, which had mah-RYE-ah as a legit pronunciation for a long time (a friend even gave her daughter the middle name Maria, with the Mariah pronunciation, after her grandmother or great-grandmother), but these days Maria is only mah-REE-ah and Mariah is only mah-RYE-ah … isn’t that kind of weird?)

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      • I didn’t know about that with the pronunciation of Maria!! It’s interesting that at first English speakers had a different pronunciation for it! In Italian it would have never been said like Mariah, only like the Maria we now use. I wonder why that changed, maybe the increased multiculturalism and immigration (in the best ways) influenced that.

        (Random-ish side note: I think Maria is probably my favorite Marian name, but I really dislike Mariah.)

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      • Ah yes, in all the Jane Austen works, Maria would have been pronounced Mariah! Always gets me when I listen to podcasts about or watch moves of Austen works.

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      • I know a girl whose name is spelled Maria but is said like “MAH-ri-a” like Mario but an “ah” at the end. It took me forever to get the pronunciation right. I also worked with a “Mary” who pronounced it “More- ree”. Another confusing time.

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      • Hehehehe 🙂

        Kind of funny story about my name, the first time I called our local pizza place, they misheard my name as Grease (why they thought someone would name their child Grease, I don’t know, but that’s what they heard). So they connected my phone number with the name Grease, so now whenever I order from them and go pick up I have to remember that the order will be under Grease, not Grace, lol.

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      • Hahaha! I love that! I have a dear friend whose name got mistakenly written down as “Kern” at a burrito restaurant and of course since then we call her that from time to time in jest, and every time I hear it I think of that particular burrito place. 😀

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    • Interesting about creative spellings of Grace, my grandmother was in a large ladies’ philanthropy group and one time I was at her house reading the list of members (there were hundreds, so many pages). This was in the 1980’s when I was 10 or so, and most of these ladies were older—retirement aged at that time, so born in the 1920’s and earlier. So, in this group of several hundred older ladies, there was MORE THAN ONE “Grayce”. Like, 3-4!!! It really surprised, intrigued, and shocked me as a 10-year-old (I was already really into names by that point). I guess “unique” spellings have been a thing for a while!

      Also, I was wondering, about the spelling of Kathryn, if it’s an anglicized version of Caitrin, much like Kathleen is the anglicized version of Caitlín.

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  5. I’m not a huge fan of creative spellings. As a newspaper reporter, I have been responsible for typing up honor rolls. In one particular list I saw there were about eight different spellings of Caitlin: Kaitlyn, Katelyn, KateLynn, Katilyn, Caitlin, Caitlyn, Catelyn, Catelynn. The same is true of the names Kaylee, Hayley, Jaden, Kaden, etc. Teachers have told me how easy it is to mix up kids who have such similar sounding names. Spelling doesn’t really make them different names,

    I currently write about courts. There are four young female lawyers I have to mention in articles, all named Ashley. There are three different spellings of the name among them: Ashley, Ashli and Ashlie. I have to ask the spelling of all names, even for traditional names like James and Elizabeth.

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  6. I love that our David has no issues with spelling or pronunciation (though he goes by Davey and I wonder if we chose the right spelling of that vs. Davy). There are three fairly common pronunciations of Lucia though and that is a bit of a pain although spelling is rarely an issue. I likes that Amanda never had spelling issues but my maiden name did (spelling and pronunciation) so I was happy when I got married and changed my last name to a much more common name without spelling variations. (My maiden name is so much prettier though!) Mandi is not the dominant spelling (my parents wanted to dot the “i” with a heart) but in general it was/is not a big deal. I just tell people it’s “Mandi with an i” and that really only comes up when I’m telling people my email address (otherwise I generally don’t care if they write it Mandy). I like the way the i looks vs a y, so it’s worth the minor hassle to me, otherwise I would have just changed the spelling at some point since it’s just a nickname.

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    • Yes David is great that way! And I had similar struggles as Davy vs. Davey with one of my boys’ nicknames … it took a while to feel comfortable with it! (Fwiw, I like them both, so cute!) I love love love the name Lucia, but yeah — three pronunciation possibilities! That’s hilarious that your parents wanted to dot your i with a heart, aw! I also love that you prefer your i to a y, it’s so great to love one’s own name!

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  7. I’m not a fan of creative spellings (unless chosen to honor someone), and I love Abby’s line “the more creative the spelling, the less sophisticated the name appears.” Grace said it well too, “…spelling something different doesn’t make it more unique, it just makes it more annoying for the child.”
    I’m generally on board with “phonetic transparency” too, but if it’s a foreign-language name that you’re choosing for it’s own sake (not translating a saint’s name like Chiara–>Clare), I much prefer spelling it correctly in the foreign language and not dumbing it down to avoid mispronunciations. I’d rather teach people the pronunciation (and thus shed a little light on the culture/person/heritage the name honors).

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