The Name Game
¿Señor What Again?
I suppose if you want to get technical about it, all of the kids growing up in my neighborhood could be retroactively hauled up on “hate crime” charges for mispronouncing the names of Latin ball players. I grew up in a suburb north of Boston, and for us it all started in earnest when the Sox acquired outfielder Roman Mejias in 1963. Prior to that, we just referred to Chico Carrasquel as Chico Something or Other.
But you know, his wasn’t the only name that got mangled. I can remember when Yaz first came up, sometimes you’d hear Yaz-CREM-ski instead of Yaz-TREM-ski. BTW, a Y in Polish is pronounced like the I in sit…the Y sound as in you or yuck is signified by a J, which is why you’ll come across the name Jastrzemski…Carl’s side of the family went for a phonetic makeover.
Then you had pitcher Bill Monbouquette, a victim of the infamous M/N shift…we always called him Mombo, probably recalling the dance the Mambo, or the snake the Mamba. But the subject of mispronunciations and other linguistic errors is a fascinating one. If people do it often enough, it becomes part of the language…like Pom Pon is now universally Pom Pom…and the sarcastic Welsh Rabbit is now Welsh Rarebit…the original implication was, the best they could do for a meat entree was melted cheese on toast…akin to alcohol being called Dutch courage. And they do look at you funny if you say Daylight Saving Time instead of Savings with an S….but you’re right, so who cares?
You learn words wrong as a child, hearing them wrong, or comparing them wrongly to other words, and some you learn to correct, others stick with you. I no longer say Klu Klux Klan (it should be Ku) or Robinson Caruso (that’s Crusoe). But some I simply haven’t been able to shake…I still hear myself saying worthwild for worthwhile, and am helpless to do anything about it. And there’s that nasty M/N shift…I can’t break myself of CAMberries for CRANberries…or RAMsacked for RANsacked. And trying to correct that last one, I end up being wrong with RANshackled when it should be RAMshackled. You can’t win for losing, altho the experts speculate that ramshackled indeed began as a corrupted form of ransacked, so there ya go…
And some have become acceptable everywhere except in the dictionary…most people say shimmy for shinny….guide wire for guy wire…and chomping at the bit instead of champing, and nobody bats an eyelash. Altho I must draw the line at replacing an astigmatism with a stigmatism.
Plus some of them can be downright charming, like Long Ranger for Lone Ranger…‘lantic Ocean for Land o’ Goshen and the legendary for all intensive purposes. But getting back to Roman Mejias….
Everybody I knew called him Roamin’ MEN-jiss. Where that extraneous N in his surname came from is anyone’s guess…perhaps a migration of the final letter of Roman…or then again, since this was relatively soon after WWII, from association with the notorious Angel of Death, Dr. Joseph Mengele.
The problem of course was lack of familiarity with Spanish pronunciation, but there were inconsistencies. For example, I had no problem with Julio Gotay’s first name…HOO-lio…but then continued with go-TAY…which I know is wrong, but I can’t for the life of me think of what the correct way is. And if you called Juan Marichal J-wan Marshall, you weren’t welcome on our ball field…we’d just as soon play with an “invisible man.” But Julian Javier got the double whammy J sound, not the correct H sound, and that’s “hust” the way it was.
And it wasn’t only us kids…some became institutionalized, as Zorro for Zoilo Versalles, as this Topps card demonstrates, altho they ironed it out it the next year. And then you had the name of Our Lord. Traditionally, Anglo-Saxons don’t name their boys Jesus as a sign of respect…to do so would be considered sacrilegious. But the Latins have no such qualms, and the breakthrough was probably Jesus Alou…called Jay early in his career, altho Topps took the controversial position of being correct from the get go, come hell or high water.
The realization that its pronounced hay-SOOS, not JEE-zus, was the key. And while you could futz around with first names, when Ivan DeJesus (the Mad Russian?) came along, what could you do with a last name?
And the irony is, we do name our boys after Jesus…Joshua is derived from the Hebrew, while Jesus is from the Greek, but folks, it’s still the same name. Still, I have to admit that back in the day this baseball card was completely inexplicable…look at it thru the eyes of an 11-year-old in 1962…a Chinese Negro with a Scottish last name, and Jesus for a first name…that was actually his middle name, and they, as apparently did he, eventually switched to his first name, Orlando.
Sure, we’ve gotten a lot better today…Amado SAM-you-el has given way to Juan sam-WELL…but I defy to you read Felix Pie and not think apple, pumpkin, or cherry.
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