The many ways to say Lehane
19.06.2010 35 °C
As everyone quickly discovers when they go abroad for the first time, the pronunciation of names is a minefield completely separate from language skills. Even if your hotel receptionist speaks perfect English, chances are he or she will get your name completely wrong. Depending on how many times this has happened to you before, the usual reactions include smiling, grimacing or groaning.
What's interesting about this phenomenon is that it varies depending on the culture that you find yourself in. This quick rundown shows the different ways people have said my name, at least in places I've been around in long enough to commit the pronunciations to memory.
Embracing this very literal interpretation of the spelling of my last name has made things much quicker when interfacing with strangers, especially over the phone. Although I have had much more trouble with my bilingual birth certificate than with my name: a clerk at the motor vehicle division asked more than once if it was translated - the English letters are twice as large as the Irish ones, incidentally. People that know me well do know the right pronunciation!
Probably the only nation in the world that insists on mispronouncing my first name as well, the French do things their own way in all ways at all times, both good and bad! The 'le' opening (the masculine form of 'the' in French) definitely doesn't help in this regard. As an aside, my Dad once signed a whole series of salary checks in Belgium made out to a 'Brian Le Hane'. Better than not getting paid!
The spiritual home of all Lehanes, Cork has more of this clan in its phone book than any other place in the world. I suppose this pronunciation is the most official one, but that doesn't mean you'll ever catch me using it! Incidentally, the anglicized name Lehane derives from the Irish Gaelic surname Ó Liatháin, pronounced somewhat differently as oh-lee-aah-hawn.
In the course of six full months in China, no Chinese person ever even attempted to say my last name, not once. I unsuccessfully experimented with the Chinese equivalent of my first name, pronounced 'bee-arr'. There was no need for this though because they seemed to have Bill more or less down, except they said it twice as slowly as normal, and with added intensity!
Evidently, this is what I consider to be the actual pronunciation of my name. Where the disparity between it and its southern Irish counterpart came from I have no idea, but it's too late to change now haha! The few non-related Lehanes I have come across in Dublin also use the above pronunciation, so it does have some legitimacy to it.
Ultimately, dear readers, I suppose you could say that an unusual last name can cause as many problems in your home country as it does abroad, where at least the locals sometimes have a language barrier as an excuse. Feel free to add your own comments or funny experiences with your last name below.
Until next time, consider that the worst ever pronunciation of my name was right in Dublin. A local security company employee was perhaps the victim of a very bad telephone line when he repeated my name back to me as 'Phil Mahon' :-)