Sunday, October 21, 2007

What’s In a Name?

This week on In For Questioning Angie interviews Debut Dagger short-listed writer, Scotsman and international traveler James Oswald on the program.

Oh, and did I mention that James is a friend of mine? That he and his lovely Horse Doctor wife have visited me in Canada and that we broke bread at Harrogate and I bugged him about his retro 70s wardrobe?

This is all important, because James mentions me in his interview. Which is very lovely (or should be) except for the fact that he says my name wrong.

I mean, so I’ve been told. I haven’t listened yet. But yes, word has spread that James referred to me as a Ruttin’ instead of a RUE-tan.

Ruttin’ is the bastardized form. It’s the hillbilly version, rhyming with “nuttin’”.

“Whatcha doin’ Peggy Sue?”
“Nuttin’.”

However, my name is pronounced RUE-tan. Rue rhymes with Sue, tan rhymes with fan.

And what would James know of mispronunciations? How many people say Jam-ez instead of James, and how could you mispronounce Oswald? That would take concentrated effort.

But when you have a name that’s not so straightforward, this is what you must contend with.

Personally, I blame whoever was doing the census in the 13 Colonies back in 1675. Abraham Rutant sailed to what would become the US, and for some reason, they changed Rutant to Ruttan. Don’t ask me why.

We can argue if the name is French or Flemish. What I know is that Abraham apparently fled Metz at the ripe old age of 13 in 1670. Now, since Louis XIV invaded in 1670, maybe things weren’t good. My understanding was that the Rutants were Huguenots, and that Abraham fled to Mannheim, Germany, and five years later sailed to America.

And because the Ruttans were United Empire Loyalists, they ended up in Quebec after some tea went in the harbor in Boston. Which is an interesting thing, if you think about it. Fleeing what became part of France to go to the US, which they left to maintain loyalty to Britain, and in the process ended up living in Quebec.

Once, when I was driving home from Calgary I had the radio on, and Deric Ruttan’s song ‘When You Come Around’ was playing. Afterward, the DJ started to say “That was Deric Ruttan…” and then his partner prompted him and he went into this big explanation for hesitating because he said it looked like the name should be said Ruttin’ instead of the correct way, which was how he said it, and he was very funny and made a big joke of it, and I almost drove off the road laughing… But the truth is, it really really sucks having a name people always mispronounce.

Add to that the fact that some people think I should want to be called Sandy. Hey, if other people like it, that’s great. I will punch you. Okay, only in my imaginary world, in my little fantasyland between my ears, but I hate being called Sandy, and I hate being called Susan even more, it’s not funny, it wasn’t funny ten years ago and no, you aren’t the first person who thought of it and you aren’t that damn clever.

Which is making me feel guilty, wondering whose name I’ve made fun of over the years. I went to school for 8 years with a guy named Julius Puckler. I am not joking. And many kids substituted an F for the first letter of his last name. I have to say, Julius was a bit cruel. The name, not the guy. He had an older brother named Rocky. Come on. Rocky is a tough guy name, and Julius, well... It was a 'get your ass whooped at school' name and he got bugged a lot.

I actually have a cousin named Ruttanna, and I once had friends who laughed in her face, because they thought her name was Ruttanna Ruttan. No, dummies. Her mother had been a Ruttan, and so Ruttanna had her father’s surname, which was Stahls.


When I was a kid, I wished I had a common name. I guess most kids just want to fit in. Sandra was a boring name. Now, I never understand why people insist on calling me other things. I suppose it's some sort of twisted symbol of intimacy, but very few people call me anything other than Sandra.

One thing I learned traveling? Sandra is a universal name. In Africa they had no trouble with it (In Tunisia, in the Arab countries) in Europe, in Costa Rica. It's actually very nice having a universal name people can handle almost anywhere.

Few people mispronounced my surname when I was a kid because there are a lot of Ruttans where I grew up. Great big community of bootleggers left over from Prohibition…

Then as an adult I learned what a difficult name Ruttan apparently is. In my career, I worked with so many kids with speech impediments, my first name was impossible for them (with a three consonant blend, and one of my kids couldn’t pronounce ‘S’) so with some I was called Sara, and some, well, I guess Anna is the closest name.

And now, my friend is on In For Questioning and even he can’t say my name right.

Before you ask, my married name is always mispronounced as well, and now that I'm legally changing my name back.. Maybe I'll change my surname to Brown instead. Sandra Brown.

I can’t imagine why anyone would have a problem with that.

17 comments:

angie said...

Heh. Lovely little rant, my dear!

'Course, I never get any crap at all with my hyphenated last name, or end up with the "Schmit" bit misspelled. Nope, not me. No one ever tries to add an extra "t" or that "d" that I seem to have forgotten...

Sandra Ruttan said...

I've misspelled your name before, I know it. I grew up with a family just down the road, for most of my life the closest kids to us, and the last name was Johnston. And then I had a very good friend with the last name Schmidt.

When I met Stuart MacBride and he was signing my copy of Cold Granite he asked if I was a strange Sandra or a normal Sandra. At the time, I thought he was certifiable, but I guess his first signings had been in Norway and he learned fast to ask how to spell everything.

Note to new authors there - always ask.

RAC said...

I always thought my name was too normal. It's hardly ever mispronounced, except in the South, where they somehow change COOper to CUPper.

Hey, Sandra, on another topic, is Spinetingler accepting submissions yet? I sent one and got an automated response, although I thought it was the correct date. Hmmm.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Ah, yes, I asked our technical expert to amend the site and auto-reply. Mainly the auto-reply is so people know we received it. Don't worry - I have it.

And the twisting of your name in the south is a bit bizarre. But then, I do have a few American friends who say my name Sondra. And a few British friends, now that I think about it. I don't mind that, though.

RAC said...

Okay, thanks for the clarification of the technical dealie. I know a woman from Germany who changed the spelling of her name in the U.S. from "Sandra" to "Sondra" because she wanted people here to pronounce it like in Germany. She seemed annoyed by that when she told me the story.

Bronwyn said...

i once got a dressing down from a Sandra because I pronounced it Sarndra (elongating the a). man I still remember the embarrassment.
My real last name is great Cleathero try getting that spelt right. In fact all of my real name is spelt incorrectly by most.

Sandra Ruttan said...

RAC, I think pronunciation is important to a lot of people, and some are very sensitive about it. The Sandra/Sondra thing doesn't bother me, personally.

Bronwyn, yikes! I can imagine your surname is misspelled all the time as well. And that people say it wrong.

I only really get choked if people call me Sandy or Susan.

Jersey Jack said...

There is a woman named Rhonda who will never speak to me again because I accidentally called her Susan once. Point being, people make a lot of mistakes. Our minds wander.

JamesO said...

I'm so sorry, Sandra. I knew as the word came out of my mouth that I'd mispronounced it, but of course by then it was too late.

I'm not sure how I'll make it up to you, but I'll try.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Jack, I can imagine scenarios, none good!

James, it's okay. I've had my moment of revenge here!

Pepper Smith said...

Erm...Okay, I have to admit that whenever I see your name, I have to correct myself from thinking of you as Susan, and I can't for the life of me imagine why I would think that name, but apparently there's a reason if you've been called that before.

Growing up, I had a last name that was perfectly straightforward in its spelling, but people were continually misspelling it because it wasn't the common form of the name. After a while, we just sort of nodded and went on, if it wasn't a legal document. For some reason the name just confused people.

And growing up with Pepper for a name--Try being in grade school and having a neighbor down the street with a dog named Pepper. There was a year I insisted on being called by my middle name instead. And both my husband and I endure the Pepper jokes. (He's been dubbed 'Salt' by any number of people by now.) Every single one of them seem to believe they're the first to have thought of it.

You really have to develop a good sense of humor about it if you want to avoid killing people, with a name like mine.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Pepper, I can only imagine. And I probably would go mental if it was me!

The reason for the 'Susan' thing is because of Susan Ruttan, an actress from LA Law (she played... Arnie's secretary, I think?). I didn't watch the show much, caught some repeats there for a while. I think her character name might have been Roxanne.

Josephine Damian said...

Sandra, it's because of that actress who played Arnie's paralegal being interviewed when LA Law was a hot show that I heard her name pronounced, and therefore knew how to pronounce your name.

But if I hadn't, I'd probably be a rootin' tootin' fool the first time I said your name.

Everyone remembers that devilish kid from "The Omen" so I have no trouble with Damian.

Sandra Ruttan said...

That actress, she's a blessing and a curse!

Pepper Smith said...

Hmm. We hardly watch TV at all, and I don't think I've ever seen LA Law. I must have heard her name somewhere, but I have no idea where.

It is funny when I tell people my name. If they're writing it down, they'll stop and ask me how to spell it, as if they can't quite believe they heard that correctly.

norby said...

I watched L.A. Law, but I never made that connection.

My married name is shaffer-I thought for sure I was in for an easy time with it. One of the most common names there is right? Hah!!! Everyone wants to put a damn 'c' in there-even my sister spells it wrong.

However, I think I'll be keeping it after my divorce. My maiden name was theiss, and no one was able say or spell that one. To make matters worse, there was a family in my hometown named theis, to whom we were not related. One of the kids was my age-it was nice to finally meet my supposed 'brother' my freshman year of high school.

Peter said...

Rac, that rendering of the first syllable of Cooper like the cou in could has always driven me nuts. I am so glad to see I am not alone.

My last name has sometimes been a stumbling block to the thick-tongued and the ethnically challenged. It also offers at least three locations perfect for spelling mistakes.
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