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Why Does Everybody Get My Name Wrong?

My birth first name is Garold. My mother intended for it to be pronounced like Harold, but with a G instead of a H. She went to school with a Garold. I've had an English teacher tell me my name is not spelled correctly -- that my mom made a mistake naming me with that spelling. I was told by another teacher it was Old English for Harold. It seems like most people want to call me Gerald. I'm curious to know what your opinion is about my name, and how it should be pronounced. - Garold

For all that folks complain about eye-popping, unpronounceable names, it's a more modest group of names that are the true mistake magnets. Names like Katheline, Johathan...and Garold. These are the "almost names," just a slim step away from something more common and familiar.

Some people assume they're just typos, or that spelling-impaired parents didn't how to write the real name. Others don't even notice that Katheline isn't Katherine; they just see what they expect to see. Mispronunciations come fast and furious, no matter how traditional the "almost name" is. Amabel, for instance, is an older name than Annabel but is constantly mistaken for that popular young whippersnapper.

As for you, Garold, despite what any snippy teachers told you, your name is not a mistake. Your mother made it clear that she chose the name because she knew it and liked it. Garold is not Gerald, and it's not Harold -- Old English or otherwise. It's a blend of the two that arose during Gerald's heyday in the 1930s-'50s, and is usually pronounced with a hard G like Gary. (In fact, many parents who chose Garold back then were really aiming for the trendy name Gary, but thought that sounded like a nickname and wanted a longer formal version.)

So Garold is Garold. But as a grown man you have the right to shape your name destiny. If the mistakes still get you down, you can introduce yourself however you please. You can also take comfort that the hassles you've faced now stand as a lesson to other parents considering unusual names: when you're thinking about how hard a name is to pronounce, it's not just about what the name is, but how close it is to what it's not.


Please do not add links to your comments. Thank you.

July 12, 2010 4:48 PM
By Abby@AppMtn (not verified)

Nicely said!

I've heard of teachers who refuse to call kids by diminutive forms (Kate for Kathleen, Joey for Joseph) because School is a Serious Place. And I've tangled with IT folk who don't want my name to appear as "A. Abigail" or "Abby" in outgoing email because the system is set up to call me "Amy A."

This is all craziness. The only person who can tell you your own name is ... you. :)

July 13, 2010 7:54 AM
By Megan W. (not verified)

I find it helpful to have a tagline when I introduce myself: Like, "My name is Garold, rhymes with Harold".

July 13, 2010 10:44 AM
By Kelly (not verified)

Here's some other names that are close to something more common that I've heard people mistake:

Kirsten (often mistaken for Kristen/Kristin)
Lara (often mistaken for Laura)

July 13, 2010 11:54 AM
By Sue (not verified)

My "Suzannah" is constantly read as Suzanne or Susan. I think it's pretty clear, but...

July 13, 2010 12:03 PM
By Joni (not verified)

It does happen that people see something that somewhat familiar and they assume it's what they already know. I do wonder if that's the way our eyes/brains work with reading - that we don't read the whole word and/or associate something semi-familiar with what we already know.
This happens to my Christiana all the time. She always gets called Christina. That extra 'a' in her names gives people a hard time.
When I named her, I knew we'd be correcting people, but I thought we'd be correcting pronunciation ("it's Chris-tee-AHH-na not Chris-tee-ANN-ah) not correcting a whole name.

July 13, 2010 12:29 PM
By Pamela S (not verified)

People really should consider the spelling rules, fickle as they are. I have never heard of a case, in ANY language, where G followed by an A is soft. That's a hard G. Yeah, we make our own rules when naming our children, but this makes the namer appear illiterate, and is a poor reflection on the child. People will make assumptions about the intelligence of the child based on the appearance of a lack of intelligence in the parents.

When, as a new art teacher, in a large inner city elementary school, I was calling a role and come upon "Devanne'" with an accent mark over the terminal 'e' I pronounced it Devan-AY and expected a little girl to respond. When an angry little boy who called himself "deVAHN" explaind that his momma insisted on that "little line because it makes the name look important" Someone had to explain to him that that little line is called an accent mark and it makes that 'e' the most important letter in the name, and until he drops it, he is going to have to live with people reading it to sound like 'ay', with that being the most important syllable.

And the SMARTEST little girl I had in my first grade class one year was done a huge disservice by her mother who named her "shaREEka" but spelt it Charkia. I can deal with the 'ch' pronounced like an 'sh', at least there is precedence for that, but there is no excuse for not moving the 'i' to a place that could make a bit of sense.

Same story with the nicknames we give ourselves... but worse, 'cause we have no one to blame but ourselves.

If a girl named Jacqueline (a roommate I had in college, believe it or not, a law student) insists on spelling the usual nickname "Jaci" she has no right to be upset when people pronounce it "Jacey" not "Jackie". Same story with the lady I met yesterday, named Yavonne, who chose her nickname to be spelt "Voni" Generally, a vowel followed by one consonant and then another vowel is long, and people did read that as a name that would rhyme with "bony" or "Connie". If she had chosen to spell her nickname Vaunie, or even the less precise (phonetically) Vonnie or Vonny she would not have had reason to be so temperamental about everyone mispronouncing her name.

July 13, 2010 12:53 PM
By Mandy (not verified)

Well, Gerald also rhymes with Harold, so that distinction doesn't really work, does it?

July 13, 2010 1:43 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

One's name is one's own. Don't tell me how to pronounce or spell it. I'll tell you.

July 13, 2010 2:26 PM
By Pamela S (not verified)

If a name is spelled in a way that makes no sense, fine, but it's unfair to get upset when people pronounce it in a way that makes more sense with the spelling. If it makes sense in French or Gaelic, but not in English, that can be justified; a little education on other languages is great. But you really can't justify being surprised or unhappy about an artificially constructed name being "mispronounced". Live gracefully with the annoyance, or bring the spelling and pronunciation into accordance.

July 13, 2010 2:30 PM
By GeorgiaPeach (not verified)

I also think that accents and "twangs" are important, too. I have this problem living in New England now, after spending most of my life in the southern US -- to me, "pin" is pronounced the same as "pen," "Mary" the same as "Meri," and, like @Mandy said above, I'd pronounce "Gerald" in such a way as to rhyme with "Harold." I think if you wanted me to say "GAIR-rold," the best explanation would be to link it with Gary (GAIR-ry), as Name Lady did above.

As far as naming children, I think this is something parents should keep in mind. I'm all for naming kids what you want, but be reasonable and understand that what you want should be for your kids to be happy and not "singled out" or made fun of for their name.

July 13, 2010 3:03 PM
By Anya (not verified)

My youngest one's middle name is Harold (after his great-grandfather and great-uncle). The first time he used it was in the hospital right after he was born - and they wrote it down as Herald. I laughed, actually, since I'm a journalist and it made sense that I might want to name my child Herald.
I agree that people often don't really read the name if it looks like a name they're used to or has a difference of 1-2 letters from a more popular version.
Garold is okay, but I'd never pronounce it as Harold, it's a hard G.

July 13, 2010 3:21 PM
By Maria (not verified)

In Spanish, the name Garold would be pronounced as Harold. It's not very common, but it would make sense. It's like the Spanish "German" being pronounced like the English "Herman."

July 13, 2010 3:29 PM
By Maria (not verified)

To add to my comment above, it's common among Latin American parents to take a typically English-sounding name and spell it to suit Spanish pronunciations. I know a girl named Jana, but it's pronounced like "Hannah" because her parents really like that name. Of course, this probably isn't the case for the letter writer, but in this day and age, it seems like anything goes.

July 13, 2010 3:34 PM
By Pamela S (not verified)

'G' followed by an 'a' is a hard 'g', even in Spanish. Gerald would be pronounced similarly to Harold, but not Garald. In English, 'g' followed by 'i' or 'e' is hard if the word is of Germanic origin, soft if it is of Latin origin. 'G' followed by 'a' is hard in all three languages.

July 13, 2010 4:21 PM
By Tirzah (not verified)

I think the commenters are pronouncing Harold in different ways. I'm from California and pronounced Harold like hair, with a long a, not like hat, with short a.

July 13, 2010 6:58 PM
By Hilary H L (not verified)

I'm a firm believer in avoiding self-righteousness on all sides. A defensive attitude doesn't help anyone involved.

It's inappropriate for anyone to insist to another that their name is spelled or pronounced incorrectly (even if it technically is). Once told by the owner how their name is pronounced and spelled, do your best to remember and honor that and pleasantly apologize if you get it wrong in the future.

Whatever your name is, but especially if it's spelled unusually or inconsistant with the local language/dialect, be prepared for people to get it wrong at least the first time and gracefully correct them. If you are cheerful about it and provide a pleasant explanation, people will be more motivated to remember it (and you) more positively. A darling little girl in a class full of Eva/Ava/Eve/Evies pronounced a jumble of ways, would get hostile if anyone, including newly introduced people, mispronounced her name "Eva" as EE-va or AY-va instead of her given EH-va.

Which brings us back to parents. I'm all for finding names that are special in some way so your kid doesn't get lost in a sea of sames. Consider that spelling is not the only way to do this! And model for your children how to handle misunderstandings pleasantly - especially if you have made them fairly unavoidable!

July 13, 2010 8:36 PM
By GilaB (not verified)

My name is Gila (hard g, long ee sound), which is reasonably common in circles that use Hebrew names but is completely unfamiliar to most Americans. Occasionally, people read it as Gilda; for some reason, this is usually done by black women. More often, I get 'Gilla,' 'Gyla,' 'Jilla,' or 'Jyla,' as people try to work their way through a name they've never seen before.
I don't get huffy about it - it's not familiar to them, and they're guessing, or defaulting to something they know. I'm happy with my name, but if you want to keep your unusual name, you need to make your peace with it, or use an easy nickname of some sort.

July 13, 2010 8:44 PM
By Penni (not verified)

When Michael Jackson died for a while on Twitter "MICHEAL JACKSON" was a trending topic (no sign of MICHAEL JACKSON). I'm not sure exactly how the trending topics work, but I assume that means that significantly more people were spelling Michael wrong than right.

July 13, 2010 8:55 PM
By Nina (not verified)

A schoolmate of mine had the name Jeanny but it was pronounced Janey. Our English teacher (I'm not from an English speaking country) told her that her name was either spelled wrong or pronounced wrong.

July 13, 2010 8:59 PM
By Jen (not verified)

My legal name is Jenny, after my grandmother, but I go by Jen. I am constanly having to correct people that my name is not Jennifer. It really bugs me that people decide that they can call you what they presume your name is rather than the name you use to introduce yourself. I took my frustration and when naming my daughter, Elizabeth, while I like the look of spelling it with a "s" rather than the "z" we spelled it with the "z" so she wouldn't have to go through her whole life correcting people on the spelling.

July 14, 2010 3:22 AM
By Katy (not verified)

I have a lot of the same problems with my name. It's Katy, with a Y. Most of the time, people automatically try to spell it 'Katie'. Others misread it as Kathy. (Seriously, how do you throw an extra letter into a four-letter name?) But I can sympathize, Garold. I have also had people tell me that either my name was spelled wrong or that it's just a form of another name - despite Katy being the older of the more noticeable spellings.

To top it off, my dad had to give me a double whammy when it came to 'correcting' my name around strangers. My middle name's Rene.

So, good luck and keep a smile on as you tell people just how your name is, because it just doesn't do well to become bitter due to others' ignorance.

July 14, 2010 4:30 AM
By Lisa (not verified)

I have a 16 year old Carolynn. My mum's middle name is Carolyn, but in hospital when I wrote Carolyn Skye I thought the extra 'n' was needed. Carolynn Skye. We've had a few problems, often people accidentally called me Carolynn because they thought it was a very grown up name as it's not been used much (I am in Australia if that makes a difference) I can deal with that. She's often been called Colour-in by her peers, even now which makes me laugh :P What annoys me is the number of times she's been called Caroline, especially since one teacher just didn't "get it". She used to write "Caroline" as well. It's not just a spelling error to me, Caroline and Carolynn (or Carolyn, or even Carol-lynn) are pronounced differently! Thankfully Carolynn loves her name and laughs it off when people make mistakes. I was told when I named her that I was setting her up for a lifetime of correcting people, oh well LOL

Oh, and to Abby, I've noticed some schools here have the option for "preferred name". School shouldn't be a Serious Place, but that's JMHO :)

July 14, 2010 7:05 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Parents just don't think the child has to live with the name and pay the consequences. I would change my name if I had this problem or tell people to call me Gerry.

July 14, 2010 2:27 PM
By Erin (not verified)


Actually, my best friend's mom is named Caroline but it is pronounced like Carolyn normally is. Luckily, most people don't even know that is her full name, since she goes by Carrie most of the time.

I don't have many names issues, but my brother does. His given name is Edward, but from day one we have always called him Ted or Teddy. He has teachers who will refuse to call him Ted/Teddy! They will only shorten his name to Ed or Eddie! We have never ever called him Edward or Ed or Eddie. Its one thing for a teacher to refuse to shorten it. Its another to refuse to shorten it to his chosen nickname.

Also, most people assume my brother's given name is Theodore and have said that it is "weird" that we call him Teddy when his name is really Edward. Hello, have you ever heard of Ted Kennedy? His real name is Edward, not Theodore.

July 14, 2010 8:00 PM
By GeorgiaPeach (not verified)

@Erin -- my husband has the same problem, only his name is Robert, and he goes (and has always gone) by Rob or Robbie. Apparently, when he was younger, most people were ok calling him Robbie, but now, as an adult, it seems everyone wants to shorten Robert to Bob. Even if Rob introduces himself as Rob, inevitably, new acquaintances will assume he said "Bob" instead.

I think William may have a similar problem with "Bill" vs. "Will."

July 14, 2010 8:01 PM
By Mnemosyne (not verified)

Katy -- What is with people inserting letters? My name is Alicia and I've been called Alison. Two people in separate incidents saw Alicia on the page and read it aloud as Alison. Go figure that one....

People who read Alicia as Alissa don't make sense to me either (if I spelled my name Alisha it would be more understandable), but really? Alison?

Charkia. That's unfortunate.

July 14, 2010 9:27 PM
By Katsy (not verified)

I believe that when choosing to name your child something you should always be prepared to correct anyone! My name is totally normal..Katherine. Everytime someone writes it down, I have to spell it out loud. My spelling is the tradtional Latin spelling, but people are always drawn to the more trendy "Kathryn" or the phoenetically correct "Kathren. Also, since Katherine is my middle name, I have a double whammy of correcting people. "Yes, it's Katherine, not Mary or Mary Katherine, and that's K-A-T-H-E-R-I-N-E."

I have a friend Monique who's name always gets changed to Monica when people read it out loud. Also, my friend Katlyn (kate-lynn) is always called kat-lynn, thanks to her parents spelling preference.

On another note, a friend of mind has a student who's name is "Abcde" or ab-suh-dee. Go figure. Another student of hers is La-Ah. luh-dash-uh. The hyphen or "dash" is pronounced.

July 14, 2010 9:53 PM
By Nia (not verified)

People constantly read my name as Mia. I'm fine with it if I'm saying it (which also happens all the time, I don't think I've ever said Nia and the person actually call me that the next time they refer to me) because that's pretty easy to mishear.

But reading it? Come on, M and N do look slightly different.

I also get asked if it's a nickname (nope, that's what it says on my birth certificate) and if my parents made it up (I've seen it in a baby book, so it wasn't totally original, but I was named after my two aunts Naomi and Anita, so sort-of) but that's another story...

July 14, 2010 11:24 PM
By Meg (not verified)

I'm Meg, short for Margaret, which is a perfectly legitimate name, but people either think it's short for Megan, or that I go by Mag, or Maggie. When I started at a new school, one teacher introduced me as Mags, which is a name I really loathe.

July 15, 2010 8:30 AM
By GilaB (not verified)

Katsy, the La-a story is a well-known racist myth discussed by Laura on her blog last year. Part 1 of the three-part series is here:

July 15, 2010 2:26 PM
By Matilda (not verified)

How come Americans say FEBUARY..what is wrong with FEBRUARY? Can't pronounce an extra letter R?
And FIFTH (#5) becomes FITH? ;-)

July 15, 2010 5:45 PM
By Darice (not verified)

I feel your pain! My name is Darice and my twin sister's name is Darcy. Look again, they aren't the same name. People always transpose the "i" and the "c" in my name to pronounce it as "Darcie". It absolutely makes me crazy! And, to have to explain to people "no, my parents did not name us the same name" it just too much sometimes. I wish my parents had thought about what my name looked like in writing with the name Darcy... My only options are to grin and bear it, or change my name... I'm getting short on grins...

July 15, 2010 11:05 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

As a teacher, I often get the names that are unfamilar. If you don't want your kids' names to be mispronounced, then use a regular spelling. It's really unfair to get upset with people when they are just doing what their brains have been taught to do!

I lived by 2 rules when naming my 2 boys...
1. can people say it, so he doesn't have to correct everyone everytime?
2. Will someone reading his resume in 20 years be able to pronounce the name.

If I answered yes to both of these questions, the name was on the list!

July 16, 2010 10:45 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Pamela S, I think you meant "precedent" when you said "precedence." Also, I pronounce "bony" with a long "o" and "Connie" with a short "o." So I'm not sure how it would be correct/obvious for me to assume that "Voni" rhymes with both.

As an aside, I would pronounce "Vaunie" differently than I would "Vonnie" or "Vonni" (VAW-ney vs. VAH-ney), so perhaps your "rules" aren't as universal and as hard-and-fast as you think they are.

July 16, 2010 10:48 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Oh, and Pamela--you also meant calling "roll," not "role." So maybe you shouldn't be so judgmental about how other people spell things, n'est-ce pas?

July 18, 2010 10:59 PM
By Julia (not verified)

Well, Garold, believe it or not, I can relate. Unfortunately, graciously correcting others on one's name is a necessary skill even if one's name is considered to be a classic, because making mistakes is part of being human.

My name is pronounced with three syllables (JOO-lee-uh) just like in the Beatles song, just like Julia Roberts, just like Julia Child. I can understand and don't mind when people call me (JEWL-yuh) because that is just a variation on the pronunciation of my name.

When people read my name as Julie, I just correct them because their eyes have skipped reading the final letter and Julie has the same general shape as Julia. However, I still find it inexplicable when people call me Julie (two syllables) or write down Julie when I tell them my name. (And, no, I don't mumble or speak softly. I speak clearly and resonantly.) Sometimes they will even write down Julie when I spell my name for them. Julie is one of my best friends, but her name has never been Julia any more than mine has ever been Julie.

It has taken me many years, but unless it is important for them to have my name right (like at the DMV), now days when people call me Julie, I just smile and quietly laugh at them.

July 19, 2010 11:17 AM
By <3sgc<3 (not verified)

GilaB, even though the La-a story is a well-known myth, sadly that doesn't mean that people aren't naming their children that. admits that even though this and other similar type names are urban legends, some people may still use them.

Matilda, says that both pronunciations of February are correct: "Many people try to pronounce February with both [r] sounds, as shown above. The common pronunciation [feb-yoo-er-ee], with the first [r] replaced by [y], is the result of dissimilation, the tendency of like sounds to become unlike when they follow each other closely. An additional influence is analogy with January. Although sometimes criticized, this dissimilated pronunciation of February is used by educated speakers and is considered standard."

My name is Shelley and almost no one spells it right. Many people even have trouble pronouncing it, thinking it's Sheila or Shirley. It is spelled to be a complete name in and of itself, not like "Shelly" or "Shellie" which are more common spellings for nicknames of Michelle. It frustrates me when people think my name is really Michelle or that my name is spelled without the E or with an "-ie" instead. With the extra E, my name, to me, is more balanced and complete. It has history as a last name-turned first name, and has meaning completely separate than the "Michelle-Shellys". Sometimes even good friends spell my name wrong! I get so tired of correcting people. I went through a phase in high school where if people spelled my name wrong, I'd spell theirs wrong right back. But it didn't really work (I guess people who don't care about spelling don't really have a sense of humor like me). Nowadays, I mostly ignore the off-spellings, unless it's important.

July 20, 2010 12:08 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I am in complete agreement
about the importance of spelling rules and phonetics. This seems to be such a hard concept for people to grasp.

The only people who have an issue with the pronunciation of Garold would be those who cannot read or listen properly.

My name is Suzanne (nn Suzie) and it has constantly been mistaken for Susan or spelled Susie my entire life. Really? "Z" makes a "zzzz" sound while "s" makes an "ssss" sound. Thus, the correct pronunciation of Susan would be "Susan", not "Suzan".

July 21, 2010 9:21 AM
By Kristina (not verified)

I have a friend named Iris. She was born in Holland, and in Dutch, her name is pronounced EE-ris. Her family came to Canada when she was young and they settled in Quebec. In French, everyone pronounced her name correctly, because that's how it's pronounced in French as well. She says it wasn't until she started learning English that people would say her name "wrong", saying EYE-ris. After a while, she stopped fighting it and now goes by EYE-ris...even her own parents say it that way.
I guess that's a case of "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

July 21, 2010 1:31 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

funny.... I am Kristin, but people always call me Kirsten...

July 27, 2010 5:20 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I think a lot of people are misunderstanding the original question. The mother didn't want the name to be pronounced as "Harold" but rather, to be pronounced as "hard G + (Harold - H)" to put it mathematically.

It's essentially Gary + Harold. I think that's just obvious from reading it. Someone else commented on how in English it's very uncommon for the G to make a J sound in front of an A, and that's exactly it, but, well... nobody seems to try and pick up on patterns. Gah.

August 2, 2010 6:30 PM
By Charly (not verified)

The name is merely a Scandinavian variant of Gerald, peaking in the 1940s, breaking into the top 1000. My brother's name is much more popular for its era (Gunnar, 1990s), but his name ended up as the non-name "Dunnar" on our health insurance card. I don't think it's a variant of Gary at all, though it was certainly influenced in style by Gary/Garry/Garland.

August 21, 2010 6:36 PM
By Smismar (not verified)

My original surname is a simple one-syllable name - Wills. But thanks to inattentive people, and more famous types like Bruce Willis and *cringe* the Willis (nee Sears) Tower, I constantly have to tolerate people saying and spelling it wrong. I took to spelling it out for people, and STILL had it spelled wrong. The only place I went that people thought it odd for me spelling it was the UK. Guess the English just pay better attention than Americans.

My point is, I think it is a matter of people hearing what they expect and what they think they hear rather than what is actually said or written.

August 22, 2010 4:09 PM
By L. (not verified)

A few years ago people started pronouncing my name Loren as lah-REN instead of what seems to me the obvious way (i.e. rhymes with foreign). Even though my parents didn't invent the spelling, I would have preferred that they choose the vastly more common "Lauren" or else a wholly different name.

December 5, 2010 10:11 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

If I were to read your name I would pronounce it Geh-rold or Guh-rauld. I'm an English teacher.

July 2, 2011 12:25 PM
By Desiree (not verified)

My sister has the same problem, Jenny. Her name is Jessie, after our paternal grandmother...not Jessica, Jessie. There are always those people who will call her Jessica. When she politely corrects them, their first response is almost always, "Well, what does it say on your birth certificate?" To which she replies, "Jessie." That usually puts them in their place :)

January 8, 2012 7:05 PM
By Marea (not verified)

My name is Marea, my twin sister is
Maria. Yes, Marea and Maria. MAR-e-uh and Muh-ree-ah. But, how many times have I been called Maria? I've started saying "Marea, like Mario"

October 10, 2012 4:54 PM
By connie (not verified)

HELLO to my friends out there i am testifying about the good work of a man who help me it has been hell from the day my husband left me i am a woman with two kids my problem stated when the father of my kids travel i never help he was living but as at two weeks i did not set my eye on my husband i try calling but he was not taken my call some week he call me telling me that he has found love some where easy at first i never take to be serous but day after he came to the house to pick his things that was the time i notice that things is going bad i help he will come back but things was going bad day by day i needed to talk to someone about it so i went to his friend but there was no help so i give it up on him month later i met on the the internet a spell caster i never believe on this but i needed my men back so i gave the spell caster my problem at first i never trusted him so i was just doing it for doing sake but after three day my husband called me telling me that he his coming home i still do not believe but as at the six day the father to my kids came to the house asking me to for give him the spell work to said to my self from that day i was happy with my family thanks to the esango priest of (abamieghe)esango priest he his a great man you need to try him you can as well to tell him your problem so that he can be of help to you his content email is this indeed you are a priest thank you for making my home a happy home again. remember his email is

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