I’ve had the idea for this post for months but I could never make up my mind whether I wanted to write it or not. I feel like explaining the decision-making process that went in to naming my child might in some way be considered an admission of guilt. And what is it, exactly, that I am guilty of? I guess it would be encumbering my child with an uncommon (though not unusual) name with an unusual (though not uncommon) spelling. That name is Sonja.
I knew the day would come when somebody read my child’s name off a piece of paper and pronounced it Sawhn-Jah. With a hard “J.” Of course, the correct pronunciation is Sohn-Ya. I chose the Scandinavian spelling of the name because I like that it has a J in it, just like my name, and I like that all the letters of her first name are also in her last name. It also seemed to me, believe it or not, that it would be the most common spelling of that name in America. Why is it no one can read anything anymore unless it’s spelled phonetically (fo-Net-i-Kal-lee)? Why is it so few people seem to understand language origins? There’s a reason those spelling bee kids ask for the language of origin and it’s not just a way to stall for time. I digress. I got a call from the local YMCA asking where Sawn-Jah and I had been, and the lady said the name about three times that way before I corrected her. I know this is just the first of many, many, many corrections I and eventually Sonja will have to make. It disheartens me.
I don’t have this problem. The only person I know who can’t spell Jennifer is my grandmother. I have been saddled with a very, very common name and that has plagued me my entire life, being called by my first and last name in school and having to identify myself at banks and various places by my address or social security number. There was no way I was going to inflict this particular kind of name torture on my daughter, but now I’m afraid I have inflicted upon her an entirely different kind of name torture.
For instance, she will always have to spell her name. My husband has a common name with an uncommon spelling – Shaun – and he always has to spell it. He says he doesn’t mind because he likes the unique spelling and I can only hope Sonja feels the same.
Shaun doesn’t have to deal with pronunciation issues though. And honestly, when we decided on – FINALLY agreed upon – Sonja, it didn’t really occur to me that alternate pronunciations would be that much of an issue. Boy was I wrong.
There are two ways to pronounce Sonja (and three ways to spell it, if you’re counting.) Sohn-Ya is the way we chose, and Sawhn-Ya is the way we didn’t choose. But from the moment she was born and we announced the name I’ve been correcting people on that pronunciation. Most people just need the one correction, but I’m not sure either grandma will ever get it right. I personally hear a BIG distinction between the Oh and Ah sounds, but I guess that’s not the case for everybody.
To be fair, it even took me a while to decide upon exactly how I wanted this name pronounced, with the Son and the Ja (Ya) syllables being nearly equal in emphasis, instead of putting the emphasis on the Son.
It makes for a big answer to the question, “What’s in a name?” doesn’t it? And I guess that’s where I start to feel guilty. But I still love the name we chose and I know that she won’t be one of 8 Sonjas in her middle school home room class. Actually, I feel there’s a greater emphasis nowadays on picking unique names for children, probably because all the Michaels and Jennifers and Davids and Sarahs of a generation ago got fed up with everyone having the same name. So maybe I followed the trend, just in an unusual way.
It’s going to be a while before I find out what she thinks of her name and the particular hassles that come with it. I hope she loves it but I have a feeling it might not be smooth sailing at first. How on earth am I going to explain that whole Ja = Ya thing to a kid just learning to spell? Serves me right, I guess. All I can say is, at least I didn’t spell Chloe with a K.