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Expecting Native Pronunciation of Names

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I wrote once before about my practice of teaching people to pronounce my name the native Chinese way: Wäng. Lately I’ve spent more time and taken more opportunities to urge other people to teach Americans to say their names in authentically native ways. Sometimes those people are Chinese, but not always.

Recently, I went to my doctor’s office for hip pain. It turned out to be remarkably short-lived, but it was abrupt enough and severe enough, that I had to go in without making an appointment. I had no expectation that my primary doctor would be available, but I wasn’t worried. As a family practice clinic connected with our local hospital, there would be plenty of other capable physicians on duty. I managed to get in promptly.

I was pleasantly surprised to see the examining doctor. My memory of her was excellent for a couple of reasons. She greeted me as Mr. Wāng and I didn’t correct her. “Hello, Dr. Chovanes,” I said, pronouncing her name the way I remembered it: chō-von’-ess. “We met when you were a resident and you told me your husband Dr. Ulbrecht worked here as a resident and that you would be joining him next year.” Her pleasantly surprised reply was: “I wondered how you knew to pronounce my name correctly.” Then she reached back into her memory and brightened in recognition: “Are you a runner?” “Yes! That’s right. I used your husband as my primary for a couple of years.”

She finished diagnosing my hip pain as being muscular in origin which could be treated by icing and a course of an NSAID.

As we said goodbye, I asked her to greet her husband for me. I told her that I might have told him to pronounce my name Wäng. Besides it being a convenient way to correct her earlier mispronunciation, I actually thought I had told him the native pronunciation and thought he would remember me better if she pronounced it that way. She apologized self-consciously for saying it wrong. “Actually,” she said, “We have another resident named Dr. Fäng. He pronounces his name the same way.” “Yes, I’m using him as my primary doctor, now.” “You know, he didn’t correct us until after a year of us saying it wrong.”

“That would have been about the time I first started seeing him when I advised him to start telling people to pronounce it the native way”

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