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Erin or Aaron
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I’m back from the DMDays NY Show, where I got to discuss my work. The key word here is “discuss.” I look at, think about, and write about names daily, but I don’t say these names out loud. In this line of work, pronunciation only comes in to play when articulating my work, for example, at shows. But as a name nerd, it does come in to play in my life.

I have a good friend named Erin. When I used to live with her, I’d shout across the apartment, “Eh-rin, are you home?” Then our other roommates would make fun of my pronunciation of Erin. They didn’t like the “eh” beginning. (I apologize for my unconventional spellings here, but without IPA, writing phonetically is the simplest way to capture pronunciation nuances.) Since Erin actually introduces herself as “Air-rin,” that is what our other roommates call her. It’s a subtle difference you don’t always hear, but it matters to me.

I call her “Eh-rin” to differentiate her from Aaron, which I pronounce “Air-rin.” Although we didn’t have another roommate, or even a good friend named Aaron, in my mind, these are two separate names, which I would associate with different people. Erin, a girl’s name, is the Anglicized form of the Gaelic meaning Ireland. Aaron, a boy’s name, is of Hebrew origin, meaning mountain, exalted or strength. In the bible, Aaron is Moses’ older brother. My friend Erin is Irish Catholic. (She has a brother Sean… don’t get me started on spelling and pronunciation with that one.) She is a part of my college world, not the American Jewish world in which I was raised, where every other person had a friend or relative named Aaron.

When I originally explained my pronunciation to my roommates, I told them it was to differentiate Erin from the boy’s name Aaron, stressing the gender difference. As androgynous names proliferate our culture, I tend to keep names distinct. As I reflect on instances like Erin/Aaron, however, where pronunciation is important to me, I realize that I may have pigeon holed my thoughts into gender research or ethnic research. It is all these pieces together that construct the identity of a name, something central to the identity of a person. When I connect a name to a person I know, I’m that much more conscious of what the name means.

I don’t know Dziadzan, Zydrute, Kielo, or Shaghosgi. I looked at those names last week without ever articulating them. I am interested in assigning them ethnicity and gender purely as names, with potential to be connected to people, but not as individuals in my life with complicated identities. At the DMDays NY show I thought about pronunciation because my difficulties articulating this research stemmed from an inability to pronounce examples like these. Whereas pronunciation doesn’t usually affect my research, as a name nerd, it affects my life in a way most people don’t notice or care about (except maybe to make fun of me). When the name is connected to an individual, pronouncing a name a certain way is part of my connection to a person and my relationship with their identity.

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