I'm descended from Spanish kings and don't you forget it!
July 23, 2009 10:49 AM   Subscribe

Hispanic-Americans, I have a question. Do you accent your name?

I see people in the states all my life use González, Hernández, Suárez, Andrés, etc. without the accent only using it while signing the dotted line.

I've been told that throwing the accent on is considered pretentious.

posted by zeraus to Writing & Language (32 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I work in what would be considered "East LA". Most of the people I work with are Latino, but have names like the examples you used. NOBODY uses accents. But then again, its a working class kinda neighborhood.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:53 AM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I just moved to the US 3 years ago, so my case may be different. I have a ú and an ñ in my last name and I used them myself, but I don't expect others to get it right. I didn't know it was considered pretentious... I try to use the correct characters for names whenever possible (i.e. Žižek)
posted by papalotl at 10:57 AM on July 23, 2009

I'm a Puerto Rican with one of those common names and wouldn't even know where to put an accent. 3rd generation.
posted by mokeydraws at 11:00 AM on July 23, 2009

My surname is Spanish, and looking at Wikipedia I see an a-acute accent is common, but no one in my family ever used it and I never even knew it could be accented until a few years ago. My Spanish ancestors came to the US before the 1920s, so I figure they probably got lazy or left it off to help fit in. It would be awesome to use it again but as myself and my family is all white-bread middle class now I suspect others might see me as trying to be snobby or hellacool. Careerwise I'm not sure it's a good idea either as it might raise an eyebrow in the US, suggesting perhaps an applicant or professional from another country (fine for academia and research but thorny elsewhere).
posted by crapmatic at 11:11 AM on July 23, 2009

My (first generation) Mexican neighbor says "Bah, nobody cares about that stuff any more unless they're signing something official." He also said "It's very Spanish thing to do", which I have learned is a mildly derogatory term for "very official and formal."

So that makes it sound like something (US culture? The Internet?) is diluting their use, and also lends some soft support for your "pretentious" theory.

It might be similar to being acutely hypercorrect in writing on Internet forums... you've perhaps heard of that phenomenon. It's not wrong, but it does make people roll their eyes.
posted by rokusan at 11:16 AM on July 23, 2009

*scratches head* Seems to me that a couple of those have no need for an accent mark - the send-to-last syllable of Spanish words is accented, right?

My grandma's surname, from back in Spain, has three syllables but the first is accented verbally - but not in writing, as you'd think is proper. (I've looked at the Ellis Island records, and no accent was used there, either.) The town name from which the name derives, though, has the spoken accent second-to-last, and no accent mark, so perhaps that's why none was used on the written version of the derivative last name. FWIW.
posted by notsnot at 11:27 AM on July 23, 2009

My dad came straight from Barcelona and even I don't use an accent. My handwriting's horrible enough. People will think I'm trying to draw emo faces or something....
posted by arishaun at 11:27 AM on July 23, 2009

I have two friends with Spanish names- both born in Canada. Between them they have three accents in their names. Both were educated in English & speak it perfectly, but also speak excellent Spanish with relatives and have lived in Spanish-speaking countries. In Canada, they both say their names with a Canadian accent (ie, they don't flap their Rs or stress the syllables as they would in Spanish, so Cristián would be pronounced as "Christian"). But they both always spell their names with the accents intact, whether in email, Facebook profile handle, signing a document, etc. Also, they never correct anyone else's spelling, accents or pronunciation. So our non-Spanish speaking friends call them (the equivalent of) "Christian" and spell it "Cristian".

I've never heard anyone comment about their use of accents in any way- for sure our mutual friends (who are all pleasant, easygoing, and fairy accepting people in general) don't think either of them are being pretentious or anything bad like that. I think everyone just assumes they're gonna spell their own names the right way. For what it's worth, not many of our mutual friends are Hispanic, so maybe that would make a difference- perhaps other Hispanic people who had made different choices would think it was weird, I guess? But in our social circle it's totally cool.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:38 AM on July 23, 2009

Can folks who are not Hispanic play too?

I wonder if some of the reduced use of accented letters is a result of names being recorded in databases which didn't provide international characters. My Hungarian last name has an accented letter. I frequently use because it is the right spelling of the name. However, it is common for the accent to be left off due to the limitations of whatever database is storing my information. Additionally, I don't even bother trying to explain the accented letter when spelling my name over the phone. People get stumped too easily on the Americanized spelling as it is.
posted by onhazier at 11:38 AM on July 23, 2009

Granted, I've changed my name from my birthname, but I had no idea Ramírez even had an accent.
posted by Juliet Banana at 11:39 AM on July 23, 2009

Oh, and my friends are Chilean-Canadian and Spanish-Canadian, if that makes a difference.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:39 AM on July 23, 2009

Speaking as a third-generation Swedish-American, I know that my maternal family's name -- Björklund -- originally had a diacritical, but is rarely seen that way in the US. I'm not sure that I would use the word pretentious, but perhaps as rokusan states it does have those colonial suggestions to it. For myself, with none of those associations, it would be simply an affectation that I would associate with someone feeling (or trying to feel) closer to their Swedish roots. But then, my grandfather had the immigrant experience of trying to Americanize himself as much as possible and speaking no Swedish in the home, so my mother only learned it as an adult. By the same token spelling in the Swedish way was probably something he deliberately rejected as well, rather than on mere practical (e.g. typographical) grounds.

Mainly, I would avoid any situation where I was putting the requirement on someone else to maintain the accent. "That's not my name! My name has an accent!" Then you have people who will also overcorrect, or perhaps even see you doing it an over-assume that you are a "real" Spanish speaker or immigrant. In other words, you could get it from both ends -- the Hispanics who think you're being pretentious, and the Anglos who fall over backwards as if to please you. So it's not something that I would push.
posted by dhartung at 11:40 AM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

(I've looked at the Ellis Island records, and no accent was used there, either.)
"My legal name is Kowalksi," explains Sam, a very old and very Chinese man.

"I came to Ellis Island in 1907. They asked the man in front of me what his name was. He said, "Stanley Kowalksi."' Then they asked me my name and I said, "Sam Ting."
The names children use aren't necessarily the names their parents chose or would prefer. I know one (Cuban) mother who stopped putting the accent on her own son's name because "she got tired of finding the key on the keyboard, and I felt silly doing it."
posted by rokusan at 11:42 AM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

*scratches head* Seems to me that a couple of those have no need for an accent mark - the send-to-last syllable of Spanish words is accented, right?

It's a little more complicated than that. Words ending with a consonant other than n or s are stressed on the last syllable. Capaz, pared, trabajar, comal, mitad, etc.

So the accent mark on González is "necessary" to prevent it from being pronounced "gon-sa-LES."

I put the scare quotes around "necessary" because in fact, any Spanish speakers knows it's "gon-SA-les," accent mark or no accent mark. The Rules that you learn in grade school say it belongs there, because of the final z, but most people leave it off, Rules or no Rules, because even without the accent mark it's perfectly obvious what pronunciation you're going for.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:11 PM on July 23, 2009

notsnot: *scratches head* Seems to me that a couple of those have no need for an accent mark - the send-to-last syllable of Spanish words is accented, right?

Actually, check this out for why the accent is needed. It's all about the -ez.
posted by fiercecupcake at 12:16 PM on July 23, 2009

Oops. nebulawindphone has done a much better job with the explanation.
posted by fiercecupcake at 12:17 PM on July 23, 2009

high five
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:17 PM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

(IANAHA.) It's probably similar to why some Spanish sources will refer to that great composer "Juan Sebastian Bach." People who speak one language and have to deal with words (names) from another language will tend to conform the foreign language to their own language. It'd be weird if they didn't do that. I'm sure computers have also played a part. But I'll bet it's mostly because the English language, unlike many other languages, simply doesn't go heavy on the accents.
posted by Jaltcoh at 12:32 PM on July 23, 2009

I wonder if some of the reduced use of accented letters is a result of names being recorded in databases which didn't provide international characters.

Worse, in many databases you can enter the accented characters, but the search function won't recognize them. So if I searched for González, I'd get nothing. I'd have to search for Gonz* and scroll through all the results.
posted by desuetude at 12:37 PM on July 23, 2009

I'm friends with a journalist whose byline is accented, but who doesn't write it that way generally. It's kinda funny, how when he's in print or on the radio, his last name is heavily accented, but when he's code-switched to American casual, it isn't.
posted by klangklangston at 12:46 PM on July 23, 2009

My last name is accented on the first letter, it at all. No one in my family uses the accent mark, not even my 70+ year-old snobby (but loved) abuela. We still have the letter from Cuba nationalizing my grandfather's business and there are no accent marks where our last name is typed in on the form letter. My conclusion is that they are optional at best.
posted by Alison at 1:32 PM on July 23, 2009

My sister uses the accent, I don't. I mostly just forget where it goes and people either know how to pronounce it anyway or won't be helped by the accent. My sister uses it for her own reasons, she wants to be in touch with her heritage and wants to do it "correctly". My father doesn't use the accent because he was raised by a white guy in the 50's and 60's, he doesn't pronounce it "right" either.

It's none of anyone's business how I pronounce or spell my name, and I think considering someone else spelling their name correctly as "pretentious" is overly judgmental.
posted by kathrineg at 2:36 PM on July 23, 2009

My last name is Muñiz. Before I came to the US, four years ago, I wrote the ñ for everything no matter how official/unofficial it was. Once I came here, I started using an n instead. Most people don't know how to pronounce Muñiz, and this way it's easier for them, even though the pronounciation changes completely. For official things, though, I still have to sign Muñiz.
posted by cobain_angel at 3:09 PM on July 23, 2009

I don't have a Hispanic last name, but I do have a European one with an accent mark. I went 25 years of my life without the accent mark and suffered through EVERYONE, without fail, mispronouncing my name. I remember one of my teachers getting it correct on the first try in middle school and that's IT. Last year, I got sick of having to correct it and started using the accent in informal communication and what do you know? Suddenly my name is pronounced correctly 70% of the time instead of 0.005%. It does seem a bit pretentious, but I'm sticking with it for the convenience.
posted by Nickel at 3:25 PM on July 23, 2009

My workplace has a lot of Hispanic clients, mostly in their 30s and 40s. I've almost never seen one use an accent unless they live outside the US. I can't speak as to the perceived pretentiousness.
posted by desjardins at 3:25 PM on July 23, 2009

Um, I always had the understanding that English doesn't use accents.

In Spanish, written accents denote exceptions to the normal pronunciation of the words. If you see a written accent, you automatically know: stress this syllable. There are other cases where accents are used, but ... the important thing here is that the written accent is an essential and significant part of Spanish grammar.

And, speaking for quite a lot of folks here in Mexico City - yes, using written accents is NOT optional (although very common). It is something like bad spelling in English, important to some, not very important to others, but always correct, and shows that you remember the education you received. It's not pretentious.

My last name is Martinez, I think it would be pretentious to use the written accent in English, because in English the written accent has no meaning.
posted by Locochona at 4:23 PM on July 23, 2009

Second generation Spanish, not an accent in sight.
posted by crankylex at 4:54 PM on July 23, 2009

By way of comparison, in America my surname is Rasmussen, and I insist not only on having it spelled correctly (not Rassmusen or any such thing) but on having it pronounced correctly (as an Americanized version of the Danish pronunciation). My name, my country, my rules. In Ukraine my surname is Расмусен, taking advantage of their nicely phonetic alphabet to enforce my preferred pronunciation, but respecting their convention that borrowed words lose double letters. Still my name, but their country, their rules. In Taiwan my surname is 孫 sūn, because (a) surnames are practically a closed class, and (b) there's just no way to fit any more of it in; an entire Chinese name fits in fewer syllables than you need to say 'Rasmussen' in Mandarin, never mind my given names. (I've also acquired a Chinese given name that has nothing to do with my English ones.) And if I ever reside on the mainland, I'll use simplified characters while I'm there and my surname will be 孙.

My point being, you mostly adapt to the conventions where you are, because they generally aren't going to adapt to you. Taiwanese health insurance databases don't have space for lengthy names in Roman letters, they have space for 2-4 characters. American health insurance databases probably aren't well-adapted to accents. (Heck, American institutional computing is still figuring out mixed case, who am I kidding?) Am I wrong to fix people's pronunciation and spelling? No, everyone in America does that who isn't named Smith or Jones. Would I be wrong to insist on going by 孫 in America, or Расмусен in Taiwan? Yes. I am not a special or unique snowflake.

(On the other hand, when you're signing your name, anything goes. That's not expected to be the sort of data you can reduce to a sequence of tokens from a limited set anyway. In America I use my Roman-letter signature, or sometimes sign my last name in Cyrillic, not that you can tell. In Ukraine I use my Cyrillic signature, or sometimes my Roman-letter signature, same reason. In Taiwan really official stuff all requires a carved seal anyway, and for the rest I turned my Roman-letter signature sideways to fit in the blank. I say do what you want with signatures; they actually are supposed to be special, unique snowflakes. And it sounds like the Hispanics you've observed feel the same way.)
posted by eritain at 7:12 PM on July 23, 2009

Chilean here. No accents in my name, alas.
Using accents here is non-optional, like Locochona says, it's just correct spelling.
posted by signal at 8:58 PM on July 23, 2009

Hmm. I never even thought about using an accent mark on my Spanish name, but it might solve the problem of people mispronouncing my name 9 times out of 10.
posted by wherever, whatever at 3:28 AM on July 24, 2009

A González here. I certainly do accent my name. It's not pretentious, it's how my surname is spelled.

We're a melting pot in the US, but that doesn't mean that preserving the correct spelling of one's surname is haughty. In addition, it shows people what syllable to stress.
posted by cmgonzalez at 12:53 PM on July 24, 2009

Oh, and I meant to add: I used to be a Martinez, and I never used an accent. Maybe it would have helped the folks who said MARTIN-ez?
posted by fiercecupcake at 1:05 PM on July 24, 2009

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