What the H?
November 12, 2009 1:25 PM   Subscribe

I guess I know too many Saras and Sarahs, Teresas and Theresas, etc., because I find myself having a hard time remembering who spells their name which way. I know that people can become annoyed when their name is spelled incorrectly, so I'm wondering if anybody has any suggestions for how to remember the correct spelling when someone has a common name with multiple possible spellings, without having to consult an address book every time I want to write or type their names. Thanks.
posted by Balonious Assault to Human Relations (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I have a terrible memory for names - let alone how to spell them. Plus I have a lot of international friends, so it's just impossible for me to remember. I just ask people, "How do you spell your name again?" I've found that most people would rather you ask than get the wrong spelling, and after couple of times asking - you'll remember which one is which.
posted by patheral at 1:34 PM on November 12, 2009

Well, you could use mnemonics or similar mind triggers. Pick something about each person that stands out, and relate it to their name. “Sarah Smith has a Headful of Healthy Hair” (to remind you that her name ends with H) or “Sara Jones is an Amazing Artist” (name ends with A), etc.
posted by yawper at 1:53 PM on November 12, 2009

Can you match the extra (or final) letter with a fact about them (e.g., Sara loves apple juice, Sarah is from Hampton)?

Just as a data point, I have an unconventionally spelled first name and I know it's tough for people to remember. The only time I ever feel offended is if someone very close to me consistently spells it wrong, like every single time. Otherwise, lots of my friends will accidentally type in the extra character in a quick email and it's no biggie.
posted by juliplease at 1:53 PM on November 12, 2009

I know Saras and Sarahs, and some of them are concerned about having their names spelled correctly. I find it works (sometimes) if I train myself to vocalize the silent "h" when I am thinking about that person: "sar-aaawhhh" versus "sar-a" (where the last "a" is a short "a" as in apricot).

Obviously, when I speak with either person, I pronounce the name in its standard fashion -- it's like when you know two people with the same name so in your head they become Isabelle Jones and Isabelle Smith. You don't always call them "Isabelle Lastname" -- but you think of them like that your head (or is that just me?).

I also then imagine all the Saras as a group, and the Sarahs as another group, visually in my mind -- next to one another. I "place" the image of a new Sara with the other Saras.

To be clear, this isn't something I do super consciously, as it sounds when I unpack it in this answer. It's kind of under the surface of my brain, a bit.
posted by girlpublisher at 2:02 PM on November 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Use mnemonics, or pronounce them differently in your head (I pronounce conscience as con-science in my head when typing it, because then I spell it right).

My step-mother misspelled the shortened version of my father's first name -- in various creative ways -- the entire time they were dating and the first couple of years they were married, until he changed the spelling to one she could stick with. Misspelling a name isn't necessarily an indication someone doesn't care. Sometimes they're just that bad at spelling or at verbal skills in general.
posted by notashroom at 2:12 PM on November 12, 2009

I have loads of name problems, and one thing I do is abuse the "surname" field when I put the name into my mobile. I don't put the surname there, I put some form of memory-jogging information. When somebody phones me it says something like "Yuri Whiskybar", or "Alan Tango" on the screen and by the time I've pushed answer, I know who I'm going to be talking to. Maybe you could do something similar, but with spelling hints? "Jenni WithanEye" "Marc Notkay"? Of course, you could always look up that information anyway, but maybe having it presented to you on a regular basis would help cement it in memory.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 2:30 PM on November 12, 2009

I try hard to think of those names as almost different names - also they look different because of the length of the name. To me "Sara" is totally different than "Sarah." Doubly so for "Lori" vs "Laurie." For juliplease's example, "Juli" looks more compact and swift than the traditional "Julie."

I'm sorry maybe that makes no sense.
posted by radioamy at 3:47 PM on November 12, 2009

Radioamy, that makes perfect sense to me because that's what I was about to say. I don't confuse Jen and Jenn because they don't have the same name!
posted by wallaby at 5:22 PM on November 12, 2009

Thanks for all the suggestions. I've been having trouble with the letter-based mnemonic devices I try to use, because I always overthink them and then can't remember which one applies to which person. Sarah might have a Healthy Head of Hair but if she also has an Amazing Afro I'll second-guess myself every time. Or if Sara is in Human Resources and Sarah is in Accounting, I just can't trust my memory so I have to look it up. I think I'll try to use girlpublisher's visual technique and reinforce that by pronouncing the names differently in my head. I suspect that might help the most with any new Sara(h)s I meet, and I'll just have to keep making a conscious effort to pound the correct spellings into my head for the people I already know.

To the Sarah who seemed to be slightly offended by the question and advised that I should just spell them correctly: Believe me, I make every effort to do that, and I seldom get them wrong. I don't want to be the guy who can't spell your name correctly. I just want to be able to internalize it so I don't have to look it up every time to make sure I get it right. It's no fun to get an IM from Sara and have to refrain from typing "Hi Sara" in response until I'm sure I'm spelling it correctly, or to have to look up Sarah's email address when I'm typing a memo or emailing Bob to let him know that she will have the TPS reports on Monday.

Thanks again, everyone. Of course any further ideas will also be welcome.
posted by Balonious Assault at 11:42 PM on November 12, 2009

As I mentioned before, I have a terrible memory for names. I dated my second husband for two months before I remembered his name. It was two months of "hun" and "babe" before the name stuck. He still ribs me about it. The thing is, most of my friends realize this, so they don't get terribly offended if I spell their names wrong because they *know* it's a problem I have and it’s nothing personal. If these are friends of yours they should know that too.

I think you're over stressing about this... If you spell people's names wrong, and they point it out, tell them the same thing I tell my friends, "Hey, I got your name right, be thankful."
posted by patheral at 8:31 AM on November 13, 2009

Oh, I forgot to mention. I have one of those names that has at least four different spellings, and mine is the least common. Even people who've known me for years and years spell my name wrong (and it's not that hard), even when it's right in front of them - say on an email - they get it wrong. :) I stopped being offended by mispellings a long time ago because I realized that people don't spell my name as often as they say it. Why should I expect them to know how to spell it?

It's just not worth getting upset about. *shrug*
posted by patheral at 8:36 AM on November 13, 2009

I think anyone who gets that upset over someone spelling their name wrong is probably just too high-strung in general and will just find something else to get pissed at you about.

The only time it really matters is formal professional-related correspondence, in which case you SHOULD take the time to consult your address book or other reference.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:33 PM on November 14, 2009

To be clear, I'm not stressing out over it and to my knowledge nobody is getting pissed off if their name is misspelled. But spelling names correctly is a simple courtesy I like to extend to everyone, and while I agree that I should (and do) make the effort to look it up if I'm not sure, I don't believe that I should have to consult an external reference when I have a perfectly good storage device between my ears. I'm just looking for some hacks to make it work a little more reliably. I'm not interested in ways to justify not making the effort.
posted by Balonious Assault at 9:01 PM on November 14, 2009

I wonder whether how easy you find this is related to your learning style. I learn almost entirely visually (for instance, I follow the plot of a film better with subtitles on, I get distracted listening to the radio, and when I try to find quotes from books I remember exactly where they were on the page) and, like radioamy and wallaby, I think of different spellings as completely different words: I teach an Ellie and an Elly in the same class, and I just don't think of them as having the same name because I can never think of their name without "seeing" the spelling. (My name is a weirdly-spelt variant of a more common name, and when I come across someone with the "standard" version I don't even think "oh, they've got the same name as me" because to me it isn't the same name at all.)

Conversely, two identically-spelt names that are pronounced differently would totally confuse me, and I'd have an awful lot of trouble remembering which is which because I "see" words rather than "hear" them. Balonious Assault, would you say you are an aural rather than a visual learner? If you are, then what girlpublisher suggests might well work - pronouncing the names differently in your head would be much more effective for you than trying to visualise the spelling.
posted by raspberry-ripple at 10:26 AM on November 15, 2009

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