Dear ‘Fellow’ Indians, Please Spell My Fucking Name Correctly

It’s ‘Samir’, not ‘Sameer.’ That, really, should be enough. Here is the correct spelling of someone’s name; please abide by it. But Indians will simply not comply. I’m a middle-aged man, about to hit fifty-one in a few weeks time, and my entire life,  Indians have been systematically misspelling and butchering my name with this horrendous lexicography. All are equally guilty: strangers, family, and friends. I can excuse those who have only heard my name and written to me–for after all, the pronunciation of ‘Samir’ is ‘Sameer’ and for those used to spelling phonetically, this might suggest itself as a plausible spelling. But what excuse do those have who have seen my name in print, who indeed are corresponding with me by email and have seen my name in the message header? Or even worse, what excuse do members of my family and my many friends of many years have, who continue to misspell my name? Some of these folks have known me for over thirty years, some for over twenty years. The prize must go to those who begin an email correspondence with me using the correct spelling and then a few messages later, decide they have had enough, and decide to start using ‘Sameer’ instead. On the many occasions I’ve tried to issue corrections, my pleas have been greeted with some bemusement, and never have I been granted the courtesy of a simple mea culpa.

‘Samir’ is, of course, a common name in the Arab world (especially, I believe, in Egypt, Lebanon, and Palestine.) There, it means: “jovial, loyal or charming companion.” (I’ve rarely had this description used for me.) The Arabic spelling is (سمير); the English spelling is as indicated (and preferred by me.) In India, where it means ” gust of wind or gentle breeze”–though my friends prefer to think of me as “hot air”–the Hindi spelling is (समीर) while both Samir’ and ‘Sameer’ are used as English spellings. That is, in India, the spelling ‘Samir’ is not unknown, though perhaps just a little less common than ‘Sameer.’ To reiterate, Indians simply have no excuse for their misspelling of my name.

Americans cannot pronounce my name correctly; I’ve slowly grown used to this frustrating state of affairs where I’m referred to as ‘Shamir,’ ‘Smear,’ ‘Sameyer’ and so on. (Pride of place though, must go to the Irish lad who called me ‘Izmir.’ No, no, call me Ishmael. Please. It shares more vowels with my name.) I suppose it’s the price that an immigrant must pay: lose your ‘homeland,’ lose your name, and so on. I’ll deal with it. (Though it will remain a mystery to me that people capable of mastering the pronunciation of ‘Arkansas’ and ‘Massachusetts’ cannot flex their linguistic muscles for a much simpler word; perhaps my ‘foreignness’ trips up their tongues.) With one rare, recent exception, Americans don’t misspell my name; once they see my name in print, they spell it correctly. Indians pronounce my name correctly; how could they not? But they can’t spell it. I wonder if those Indian kids who win the spelling bees year after year in the US could pull it off. Or perhaps their parents’ sins have been visited on them, and they too, would mangle my name.

I will make sure, in my will, to include the provision that no Indian should be allowed anywhere near the writing of my epitaph; I have no faith they will get the spelling right.

7 comments on “Dear ‘Fellow’ Indians, Please Spell My Fucking Name Correctly

  1. Nqabutho says:

    Colonial legacy

  2. Manuel Montes (not with Z) says:

    But what is it in a name when it does not really mean a thing? It is just conditioning, an inherent and very difficult thing to change. In my situation, when I say my name I include the noticed not with Z but S.
    Manuel Montes

  3. Charles Pigden says:

    Dear Samir,
    Please forgive me for once addressing you as ‘Shamir’ (it was just a typo to which I am very prone). But having your name misspelt or mispronounced is not just an immigrant thing. It can happen to people with phonetically spelt Anglo-Saxon names living in predominantly Anglophone countries. My surname is ‘Pigden’ , pronounced as spelt with a hard ‘g’. Stangers mispronounce it about seventy per cent of the time, probably because it is so ugly and bizarre that they can’t believe it. I have to explain ‘It’s pig .. den – like the den of a pig.’ As for the misspellings, the favourite is ‘Pidgen’ though there are others. There are books which discuss my work at some length, some by friends of mine in which my name is misspelt throughout. Perhaps this is why my younger daughter often uses her husband’s name. It is hard to go wrong with ‘Dennison’.
    Feeling your pain
    Charles Pigden (as in den of a pig).

  4. My name is “Jon Anderson Hall”, so I have my own issues with the people who automatically spell my name “John” or assume that it is “Jonathan”. These days when I am asked my name I simply spell it out “J-O-N”, then say “Haul” (or Haw) or some other misspelling of a common word.

    For the past 40 years I have used the nickname “maddog” (all lower case, please…even if at the beginning of a sentence). Since you wrote a book on Free and Open Source you may have heard of me. If not you can search for “maddog linux” and see what pops up.

    I use the name “maddog” to remind me never to lose my temper, but it has the side “benefit” of having people (even those who have known me a long time) write my name as “John Maddog” or “Maddog Hall” or “John Maddog Hall”. This even made me miss an airline flight, because I noticed (too late) that the tickets were made out to “Jon maddog”, and the airline had no sense of humor.

    Often I will show up at a hotel reservation desk and it will take ten minutes to find me in the computer system…you guessed it.

    My advice to you is not to let it bother you. Correct people gently, but move on. Your stress on it will only cause you harm.

    As an example, you are lucky I purchased your book before I saw this rant….otherwise the title and tone would have turned me off and I would probably have not purchased your book. Instead I will read it and give it gentle consideration.

    Warmest regards,

    maddog (aka “Jon”)

  5. Samir Okasha says:

    Hi Samir,

    A friend directed me to your amusing blogpost.

    As a lifelong resident of Anglophone countries, all I can say is: I feel your pain!

    Samir Okasha
    University of Bristol, U.K.

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