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.

Flirting With Perfection: Spelling It Out

We often dream of perfection, but we rarely, if ever, achieve it. There was one exceedingly minor business, in one all too brief period,  in which I did attain such heights: my spelling prowess in my early school grades. I do not know if I ever attained the competency levels of those who excel at the national spelling bees that continue to enthrall so many folks every year, but there was no doubt I was a contender. Classroom testing of spelling prowess was carried out by dint of the dreaded ‘dictation test’: our teacher would read out loud, first, a list of words to be spelled out, and then, a short passage. We listened and wrote.

Through, I think, the fifth grade, (after which such ‘dictation tests’ ceased), I maintained a perfect record in my spelling examinations. I did not spell a single word wrong. (I also never suffered a single spelling correction in any of my essay assignments–this record ran through my high school years.) Indeed, I was often puzzled by the fact that my classmates did not score similar grades. What was the problem–did they not know what the word looked in question like? My spelling prowess was not a secret; word of my never-ending stream of perfect scores in these tests was not slow in spreading among my mates–we were a nerdy bunch. Needless to say, I lapped up the ensuing admiration.

Interestingly enough, I only encountered spelling difficulties–of a kind–once I began using word processors. My physical connection with the medium of writing changed, rewiring my linkages to the written word. I was bemused by the number of typos I generated in my writing assignments in graduate school. (I had written with a fountain pen till my undergraduate days; something about writing with that implement had required a certain deliberateness which militated against the introduction of spelling errors.) Identifying and correcting these added labors to my writing that I was unfamiliar with.

The differences between the two modes of writing were many–perhaps too many to list here. Some were immediately relevant to my spelling difficulties, to the business of orthographic errors. In writing with a word processor, I interacted with a keyboard; my fingers found keys and transferred letters to the screen. In writing with a pen, I traced out the shapes of the letters, my hands pressing directly upon the surface of writing. A word processor always produced a printed draft that I read and corrected before handing in the final version; perhaps I grew careless, trusting myself to remove spelling mistakes from the final version. A fountain pen produced a near-final version in ink that was not easily or cleanly corrected; the tracings of my pen were infected with this awareness. (The introduction of spelling and grammar checkers in word processors might have made things worse for some folks, tempted now to plunge ahead and correct later as the offending words are flagged in rude highlights.)

The valorization of spelling prowess seems, for some reason, a curiously old-fashioned affectation. I’m not sure why. A misspelled word still seems an abomination of sorts.