We whose parents gave us an unusual name know that this can be a mixed blessing. Others misspell or mispronounce our name, often both. Many, on learning my name, will ask about it. My name Raleigh is the same as the capital city in the state in which I reside: North Carolina. This often prompts the question, “Oh, were you named for the city?” I usually reply that I was not, nor was the city named for me, which tends to bring a laugh.
My parents named me for Raleigh Colston, a French-born officer in the Confederate Army. Colston rose to the rank of brigadier general and, in retirement, taught French on the faculty of Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in Lexington, Virginia. My ancestral family admired the general, and his name Raleigh showed up in two generations in my family, an uncle, Raleigh Howard Mann, who became a Methodist pastor, and me.
I can’t speak for others with an unusual first name, but my own experience has varied from cruel teasing by schoolmates in childhood to misspelling and mispronouncing in adulthood.
Especially mispronouncing. Radio and television announcers, reporters, and anchors, as a group, favor RAH-lee, which to me feels incorrect and jarring to my ears. My family and I prefer to pronounce the first syllable more closely to rhyme with Laura, or Paul. That’s the way my parents, grandparents, and everyone else in our family has chosen to pronounce this name. I appeal to others to respect this. I’ve lived with this name for more than eight decades, which should qualify me to know how it should be pronounced.
We all have encountered others whose unusual first names have caught our attention. My bride Betsy once had a childhood friend at school whose name was Shirley Worley. Makes you wonder what her parents were thinking when they choose this name. I also find curious the parents’ choice of a name of a woman I knew in Florida. I remember her as a smart, attractive and musically talented high school student. Her friends called her Joy. Her parents chose to name her Joi-Phyle, presumably expecting others to pronounce it “Joyfully.” Yes, that’s the correct spelling. A beautiful idea, but one suspects that Joy has by now grown weary of having to explain her name to others.
So parents, when you thoughtfully choose a name for your beautiful child, consider what your choice will mean for your child to deal with throughout life.
As a child, I hated that my name was unusual, but through the years I’ve grown to like it, particularly when others pronounce it correctly.