Troubleshooting Names

At this year’s Academy Awards (Oscars), famous American actor John Travolta, presenting the singer and actress Idina Menzel, now known for the juggernaut music hit ”Let it Go”, mispronounced her name into something that sounds most like ”Adele Dazeem”. This epic fail inspired thousands of dwellers online, and among countless memes, an engine called ”Travoltify” was born, which can modify your name into some nonsense… or in case your name is already crazy, into something meaningful.

travoltifyWe live in interesting times. The world is getting smaller, with freedom of movement, internet and cheap flights. And it feels even smaller if you’re a scientist, communicating, working and meeting with people from all around the world. And more than often, there is miscommunication, and most often, there are mispronunciations and misspellings. Trust me, I’d be the first to know.

Did you know… that the famous Hollywood actress Milla Jovovich’s real name is Milica Jovović? [on this photo in a clone farm!] Yepp, she’s half-Serbian. But no wonder she modified her name, smart girl! Still, movie critics continue to mispronounce it.

In Slavic languages which use Latin alphabet, letter ”c” is often pronounced as ”tz”, but try explaining that to Latin-, Anglo-Saxon-, Germanic- and Scandiavian-language speaking folk. As a result, my name has been bastardized into oblivion: I was Milicia (milicija, coincidentally, means ”police” in Serbian 😦 ), Milika, Milissa, Millica, Militya and once even Malitzza (!).

So, I decided to re-invent myself and start going around with just “Mili”, because it’s the part of my name that everyone at least gets right. Right? Wrong! Even “Mili” is rebelled against, by people writing ”Milly”, ”Millie” and ”Milli”. Come on! 😀

If you ask me, this is one of the cutest book names ever ^_^ By Japanese author Haruki Murakami.

My last name also turned difficult for some. Most Serbian last names end with “c” (actually “ć”, which sounds like “ty”), but not mine! Once, a former colleague even asked me if I was related to the Russian president, because, apparently, to him “Putnik” and “Putin” sounded so alike! No. But there’s a Russian connection there, and many can see it instantly: Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, whose name means “co-traveler”. Putnik, hence, means “traveler”.

All names, in fact, mean something: check yours at! My friend Kimmo recently tried to convince me that his name doesn’t mean anything. Wrong! It’s just another variant of “Joakim”.

Another example would be “Sofia” – such a beautiful name, but I was surprised how few know its exact meaning – “wisdom” in Greek. And names are important to Greeks. Because of the long tradition and history, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is called exactly like that, instead of simply “Macedonia”. Why? Because there is a region in Greece also called Macedonia, where, a long time ago, the famous Alexander the Great reigned. Once, at a conference dinner in Greece, I even had a heated discussion with a Greek professor:

„But it’s just a name!“ I said.

„No, it’s so much more!“ he argued.

(and this was an interesting dinner… more on it in one of my future posts!)

Luckily, the Macedonia name dispute seems to have been recently solved. Which would be great, if Macedonians haven’t started claiming king Alexander as their own, as a part of tourist attraction.

As I said, we live in interesting times. At least misspelling will probably soon be a thing of the past, with developing software technology and the miracle of Autocorrect… hahaha, yeah right! Vedrana, another friend of mine (whose name btw means “clear/cheerful” in Serbo-Croatian) has been recently addressed in an email as “Vardar”, which is a river in – no less! – Macedonia! Typical Autocorrect fail.

BarracoThe most recent and by far most famous Autocorrect disaster example is when a British girl tweeted “Barraco Barner” instead of “Barack Obama”. Sigh.

Names can be hard. Poor John Travolta is likely dyslexic – and then it’s even harder. And fails happen to everyone, all the time. But getting it just right is always a good sign, at least of attention, and ultimately respect!

Yours truly,

Melissa Parkinsmack

To be continued…

P.S. Next time someone mispronounces or misspells your name, chant them this:


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