X is for Xenophobia

Here I am, spilling more tea about my book club. Hey, my daughter taught me that phrase and I’m going to use it whether I completely understand it or not!

As you know, I recently got kicked out of a Murdoch Mysteries group and quite frankly, I’m not sure how I didn’t get kicked out of my book club today.  And this time, it would have been a proud moment.

This was posted by a member:

I have a petty pet peeve. Just started a book and there it is again.  Characters with impossible to pronounce names.

That’s it. That’s the post. She came on to complain about hard to pronounce names. Now, you might be thinking ahhh, the fantasy and sci fi genre can certainly have some unusual character names!  But, no. She’s reading a book with Russian characters and she hates their names because she can’t pronounce them, and she can’t be bothered to Google a pronunciation. Her solution? To just give them completely new names. Simple easy to pronounce names, names that she feels are befitting her narrow-minded view of the world … um, I mean, reading enjoyment.

The frustrating thing was, as is so often the case with social media… the comments. Not all, but I’d say 90% of the comments were in agreement and the number of people who simply rename characters or give them nicknames because they’re too freakin’ lazy to learn something new was astounding.  This is a reading group. Reading. Group. Presumably this is a group of people who want to expand their horizon via the written word, but alas, no. They apparently have no desire to truly open their minds or expand their world view or tread anywhere outside of their own bubble.

Here are a few of the like-minded comments:

I hate this too. WHY do authors do this? They should be writing to their majority audience, not just a specific few.

I just make up my own pronunciation. Doesn’t matter if it’s right or wrong, all it does is identify the character. I have too many books to read to be looking up names and who cares how they’re pronounced anyway?

I make up my own names: ie: Laghoire [sic] becomes Lori. (It should be noted that it’s Laoghaire – a name with Irish origins. Apparently remembering how to spell a name is equally too much effort, much like Googling the pronunciation.)

I just come up with my own pronunciation and go with it. Authors need to do better.

I won’t even read a book if the names are too ridiculous or if I don’t know how to pronounce them. It’s definitely a pet peeve.

It’s so annoying to stumble over the name again and again. A book should flow so you can get lost in it… writers should use names that everyone knows how to pronounce and if they don’t, I just make up a name that starts with the same letter and read it that way!

If I can’t pronounce a name in a book, I just give them a name I like and then that is who they are the rest of the book.

I just give them different names. LOL! Life is too short to worry about pronouncing someone’s name.

I won’t get a book if I read the synopsis and the names are too crazy.

I make up my own version of the name which is usually better anyway.

It annoys me too so I just give them a similar name that I can pronounce. I just read a book with main characters from Nigeria and I didn’t even try. Buy a vowel for god’s sake. 

I size those long Russian and German names down to some four-letter words. I assign them names like Bob, Billy, Hank and use those nicknames all thru the book. Muslem [sic] names are even worse.

I just make a sound up in my head and go with it for the rest of the book.

Bob, Billy, Hank instead of Mikhail, Fyodor, or Piscine. A fucking arbitrary sound instead of Aiofe, Itumelang, or Adaugo. Yeah, I mean, that seems legit.

Mispronouncing names or words that you’ve only read is one thing… I personally do that quite often. Okay, fine, all the time. But once you figure out the correct pronunciation – and let’s be clear, you should figure out the correct pronunciation, you say it correctly going forward. No, it’s not that. It’s the adamant refusal to even try to learn how to pronounce these names that I find so maddening.

The original member who ignited this firestorm of xenophobia came back later to rebut comments – mine included – that called her out on her pet peeve. She claims to be “incredibly inclusive” and “loves diversity” but she’s lazy, so what?  “… but I can’t be bothered to try and figure out what the author means or how to pronounce some of these god forsaken names they come up with. So, I’m lazy. Who cares?”

There’s lazy and then there’s lazy but I’m sorry, this is waaayyy beyond lazy.  There are elements of xenophobia and racism as these readers minimize entire cultures and heritages in an effort to remake the world – even a literary one – to fit into their fantastically small bubble of existence.

Why do I find it hard to believe that these people limit their “pet peeve” to the fiction section of their lives?

So yeah, I didn’t get kicked out. But long story short, I need a new book club. That 90% statistic? I didn’t like those odds.

“Names have power.” — Rick Riordan, The Lightning Thief

“Mutilating someone’s name is a tiny act of bigotry.” – Jennifer Gonzalez

“If they can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo and Dostoyevsky, they can learn to say Uzoamaka.” – Uzo Aduba

9 thoughts on “X is for Xenophobia

  1. Ah another fan of Alexander McCall Smith. Itumelang is one of the easier African names in his stories. And easier than many in my life where Cameroonians abound including many with N’D or N’G as their beginning. I give myself points on my daily exercise chart for learning to wrap my tongue around their correct pronunciation.
    I agree with you that your group’s comments are both unexpected and sad, coming from readers. My main pleasure in reading these days is how I can be immersed in a culture new to me, learning not only names but vocabulary and customs. And their foods.

  2. Oh no, that’s not lazy. That is pathetic ignorance and pisses me off. I do my best both in reading and real life pronouncing names and I KNOW I’ve mangled quite a few in my time, even ones I don’t know I mangled. Did I see Sirus as serious? Nope! It was Sigh-russ and sometimes still is. I don’t even remember how I pronounced Hermione. I wonder if these same people did the same type of thing to Harry Potter? Some of those name are outrageous!
    So I mispronounce names in my head, no big deal to me for the story. Do I look up how to say them? No, I admit I do not. I enjoy the story and the strange name and move on with life.

  3. I enjoyed the little snippets you added from the comments in your book club
    and names do mean something – the closing quotes said a lot as well –
    and sadly, I think some autors try too hard for a catchy or cool name when the real goal should be that the name fit the character

    thanks for sharing and good weekend to you

  4. My last name is four letters long and the amusing way people have taken to pronouncing it, spelling it, telling me how it should be prounced and that is my last name, if it was my first name, I would have probably gone off my rocker by now.

    There was a big thing on twitter about this a week or so ago, about prouncing people’s first names right, just flipping ask them, you wouldn’t come across a George, decide you don’t like it and call him Henry

  5. I hate to tell you, but there is no book club for you. Sorry, but you think too much. LOLOLOL I must admit, I read constantly and when I’m finished with a book I pretty much don’t know anyone’s name, including the author’s, unless she’s a favorite. Somehow, names just keep sliding away from me, because I’m hungry for the story, so I just plow through the book and then I’m on to the next one. There is no book club for me either. My daughter is the same way, so we invented a language to talk about the books without always using the names. Hahahahaha I think it’s a genetic thing. 🙂

  6. So, people don’t like non-English names (that is what that boils down to, isn’t it?). They must be the same people that can just not understand why everyone, everywhere doesn’t speak English. How sad 😟

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