Sunday, 7 February 2010

The wrong birthday boy?

I was just reading a lovely post by Iota at Not Wrong, just Different, a longstanding chronicler of what it's like to be a Brit in America, about name pronunciation, and how children's names can end up as something completely different once you move Stateside.

We had a slightly different problem in the NappyValley household this weekend. Littleboy 1 was invited to a birthday party, along with everyone else in his preschool class - the child's name, on the invitation, was Keval and instinctively I read it as a boy's name. It was also a party in a sports hall with soccer, etc. so I had imagined lots of little boys running about (although in fact, plenty of girls here play soccer too).

So yesterday morning, when I realise that we haven't yet bought a present (oh, super-organised Mummy that I am) I say to Littleboy 1 that I am off to buy something for the boy whose party he is going to. "Whose party is it?" he asked. I tell him. "But, Mummy," he says. "I think that's a little GIRL."

"Are you sure?" I urge him. "You really think it's a little girl who's asked you?"

He then looks confused. "Whose party again?" I repeat the name. "I don't know who that is," he replies vaguely and wandered off. (This is not untypical. I don't know if all four year olds are like this, but he is NOT good with names and often doesn't seem to know his schoolmates are, even if they come up to him and greet him in the playground...)

Still not convinced, I go ahead and buy a slightly boy-ish, but at-a-push unisex present.

We arrive at the party; there are children milling around everywhere. Littleboy 1 still doesn't seem to know who the birthday boy/girl is and although I identify the parents, their kid is already on the sports field. Luckily Littleboy 1, after wandering around vaguely for a while, recognises some other friends, so I leave him to it.

A little later I return to pick up my highly excited son, and finally identify the birthday BOY giving out the going-home presents (CANDY! cries Littleboy 1, sounding as American as they come).

So, when we get home, I say this: "So, you know who Keval is now, do you? Did you sing happy birthday to him?" (At this point I will reveal that I pronounce the name Kee-val, although, as the boy is Indian, I am not at all sure if this is correct...)

"But, Mummy," he replies. "It wasn't his birthday."

Oh. "So whose birthday was it then?"

"It was Kivvel's". (to rhyme with swivel).

So, Kivvel. Clearly a good mate of his. Glad we cleared that one up.

13 comments:

Potty Mummy said...

I had something similar this week; I was setting up a playdate for Boy #1 and - it turned out - spent the entire conversation with the little boy's mum mispronouncing her son's name. Well, if she WILL add an extra 'l'..

Iota said...

Names are complicated when you're in another country. One thing I like, though, is that you can't make any cultural assumptions about someone on the basis of their name, as you can in your own society. I find that rather liberating. I'm not thinking about race/nationality, as much as social level. eg in England, if you meet someone called Penelope Camilla, you make certain assumptions, as you do if you meet someone called Sharon or Tracey (rightly or wrongly). I like it when I can't do that any more.

Expat mum said...

Years ago my son had a party just for the boys in his class and I dutifully invited Sloane. She turned up for the party and I was mortified. Fortunately she was a bit of a tomboy and didn't mind being the only girl. And her mother was very cool about the whole thing.

Mud in the City said...

Here in Asia the naming convention even catches you out. Is Wim Po Wee to be Mr Wim, Mr Wee or Mr Po Wee? Often Chinese names have the surname at the front when writte, but sometimes they've used the Western convention, but not told anyone. A minefield!

A Modern Mother said...

I thought it would have been like Kevin. Oh well. There are some out there names in the states, be warned.

Nota Bene said...

ah multiculturism and randoming naming by parents catches the best of us out...!

會議 said...

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nappy valley girl said...

PM - I quite often find people call Littleboy 2 by a different name, as his name seems unusual here, but I usually just let it lie!

Iota - that is very true. You cannot make those class based assumptions in America. Very refreshing.

Expat Mum - let's hope Sloane doesn't go and live in the UK, everyone will assume she wears an Alice band and says 'OK yah'....

Mud - I know what you mean. I seem to remember in Hong Kong, many people had given themselves Western names too so as to be less confusing - these could be quite fanciful so you would have Cinderella Wongs and Madonna Chans!

Susanna - looking at it now, I see that; however I knew that he was Indian (from the surname) so I guess I was trying to give it what I thought was an Indian pronunciation! Just goes to show what erroneous cultural assumptions we make....

NB - I'm sure it will be the first of many.....

Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

I haven't got a clue half the time what is going on with peoples names, and doesn't help when, in Bosnian, they change according to the case it is in.

But my favourite Bosnian name of all time is Denial (Daniel). Every time I see it on the coat peg I have a moment of sympathy with the parents. I know what they mean...

nappy valley girl said...

Brit in Bosnia - Denial is a great name. There are some amusing ones here too, but I have to say some of the wackiest ones I have come across were in Nappy Valley! Littleboy 1 had a Thisbe in his class there....

Rosie Scribble said...

Oh that's just hilarious! I often get cards with the wrong age on and offend a six-year-old by producing a card that announced they are five, but at least over here I don't have to worry about the whole name-gender issue!

P said...

For future reference, my family anyways have always pronounced it "Keh-vul" but who knows if thats correct as we've all grown up over here.

nappy valley girl said...

Rosie - I haven't got the age wrong yet, but I can quite see how it would happen....

P - thanks for the heads up - I think that is quite likely to be right, (especially as Littleboy 1 is not reliable in these matters!)