How do you deal with your difficult name?

Were you blessed with a difficult name like me? Do you localize it? Or do you insist on torturing people with its exact native pronunciation?

For so many of us in the language industry, who live abroad and have out-of-culture names, that is easier said than done.

When I was attending my first American School, roll call would always be an adventure. I generally would be tipped off when the teacher stumbled upon my undecipherable last name at the first longer than usual uncomfortable pause in the list.

To be honest, after moving abroad, I gave up on teaching people my real name. You see, Huyghe, that wonderful Belgian present of my dad’s side of the family,  starts with a hard “H” followed by a diphthong, “uy”, a sound formed by the combination of two vowels in a single syllable, in which the sound begins as one vowel and moves toward another (loud and coin are examples in English). Additionally, that diphthong speedbump in my last name is followed by a “g” that is soft, another wrinkle that does not exist in many other languages. Finally, the last vowel “e” is almost silent, almost. It’s more of a grunt than a letter. Are you still following? Probably not, although you are undoubtedly also beginning to understand my uphill battle with preserving the Dutch pronunciation of Huyghe.

Long ago, I decided that the best solution in the United States where I live, would be to simplify, adapt, and localize my family name. I tried several solutions but settled on “Huey” — yes, Huey, as in the Bell Helicopter family or the first part of that ’80s band that ended with “Lewis and the News”. I have made a similar localization adjustment when dealing with German and French, the other languages I frequently speak. It’s almost as if I have acquired a triplet of alter egos.

Which leads us to my remaining first name. I was initially relieved that at Starbucks I only have to give the barista my first name. I soon realized that by the time the person making the coffee receives my marked-up paper cup, I frequently end up hearing a call for a Stefanie instead of a Stefan. The prior is a much more common name here in America and the coffee maker frequently assumes that somebody made an intake mistake. So, I really have some issues to resolve with both my first and last name.

What about you? Do you have an unpronounceable, weird sounding, long or complex name? How do you deal? Have you given up or doubled down on the original name you were given? Do you have a cool name story to share?

Stefan Huyghe
Stefan Huyghe is Vice President of Localization at Communicaid Inc. where he focuses on running high-level operations, workflow optimization, database development, social selling and community building. He has over 20 years of experience working in the language industry is fluent in Dutch, French, German, and English.


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