05 April 2011

Why Spelling Matters

First, a little segment from our favorite psychic detectives…

While I would fail in a spelling bee (I am a visual speller, I have to write a word to spell it properly, so if they ever invent a writing bee I’m set), I absolutely prescribe to proper spelling. Never will you catch me using, cuz, gonna, or b4, in text messages or any other forum. I tried I’ma go last night and about gave myself a heart attack (although that is a pragmatic issue, not one of spelling). I just can’t work against spelling prescriptions until they have been fully adopted into the lexicon.

But that has nothing to do with this post.

K, lie. It is tangentially related (don’t you love that word?). What I actually want to talk about is my name. I just got sidetracked by the type of yellow fruit scene.

To a certain extent, names reflect personality. We discussed this in my semantics course with Dr. Oaks (great linguistic professor): think about the names Betty and Reginald. You come up with a type of person in your head, don’t you? Names have a sense even before they are attached to a person. Because of this idea (and other ideas), naming is such a powerful privilege. You help shape someone’s identity for their entire life.

Okay. I like my name. It’s common enough that people know it and get it right, but not so common that everyone else has it. Although I don’t like it when other people have it (see this post), which is probably partly due to the fact that your name says something about you, and perhaps somehow I don’t want to be defined by another Allison. (Semi-related anecdote: I was once introduced to a guy as Allie and he told me later that it took him a long time to be comfortable with that because I didn’t fit the Allie stereotype he held in his head based on a girl he’d known in high school.)

But while everyone would know that an Allison is different than a Miranda who is different than a Hailey who is very different than a Brittany (I once knew a Brittany who told us in no uncertain terms that the proper pronunciation of her name was Britt-a-ny, not Britt-ny), I don’t think that everyone thinks about the differences in spelling as well. But there are. Observe:

Kaitlyn, Katelyn, Katelin, Caitlin, Caitlyn, Catelyn. I’m sure there are more. But just because they are pronounced the same does not mean they are the same name. They feel very different, and they are.

Likewise, Allison and Alison and Alyson are all very different. My preference is for the first, naturally, because it is mine. People tend to get that right though; it seems Allison is the standard. What they rarely do get right is Allie. And that is the point of this post:

When calling me Allie, it is spelled as I have just typed it (which is what I always thought was the standard spelling of the name). All you do is take the –son off my original name and add an –e. No dropping Ls or adding Ys. Why take out a letter that is already there? You might counter with, why add a letter that doesn’t need to be there? This is why:



Which looks more complete?

I don’t think I ever encountered this problem before I moved to Utah, but since I did that nearly five years ago I’ve had people misspell my name more times than I can count. Stupid Mormon culture with its weird spellings of normal names. But my name is important to me, as I’m sure yours is to you, and I want it handled the way I want it handled.

Also, don’t try to pick up a new nickname if I’ve known you over a year. It’s too late; you’re stuck with whatever you currently use.


  1. You should check out Freakonomics. I haven't read the book (maybe you have?) but I saw the movie and there was a very interesting segment about naming children that I think you would like. It relates nicely to this post.

    I agree with the guy that was uncomfortable calling you "Allie". Same thing with me. Although, I think I was introduced to you as Allison, and I like using people's full names.

    I used to always get ticked when people would spell my name wrong, especially when they wrote Abbey or Abbi. Abbie, not so much, but it is still wrong.

  2. Abby, it's funny you mention that. I always introduce myself as Allison, and if people pick up Allie it is for one of two reasons: they just naturally adopt it, or they hear other people using it. Megan's friends, for example, all call me Allie because that's what she calls me. But the only other people outside my family who were not influenced by family usage are the girls from your summer hall and their subsequent friends--Kait called me Allie and it stuck with them. It's a little weird how that works, and I really don't care what people call me, but there is a small window of time when they get to choose and then they have to stick with the one name. The only exception to this is the adoption of "Al" by my old apartment, most of whom I'd known (if not lived with) for at least a year.

    Obviously I feel very strongly about my name.

  3. I own freakonomics if you would like to borrow it, although you are miles away. I just call you Allison--I usually just stick with introduction name. Mitch gets called Mitchell when he does something that bugs me however. In the case of Alison, I would argue that Ali looks much better than Alie, which I am guessing is why Ali Sessions spells her name Ali.

  4. This post made me laugh due to the fact that my name is Ali, and Allison. Misspellings of my name are inevitable. Also I hate being called Allison. I give my parents grief about it all the time. They intended to name me Ali; spelled that way- short and sweet. Then they felt that three letters was too short for a person's name since I have no middle name and they chose Allison. In their baby name book it was only spelled with two L's, so they went with the 2 L Allison and 1 L Ali, causing immense confusion for everyone. My grandmother spelled my name wrong for 16 years. Probably I always call you Allison because it weirds me out to talk to other people named Allie. Luckily, I strongly dislike being called Allison and we spell Ali differently, so you can probably still like me. :)

  5. Hahaha, okay, Ali, to be perfectly honest I was a little bugged when I got to Jerus and discovered there was an Ali and an Allie in our group. I would have opted for my full name there anyway, but that made it inevitable. And I remember having that spelling conversation with you before, I can imagine the confusion. But you really are an Ali, not an Allison at all. And the older I get the more I am an Allison. So I like you a great deal :)

  6. Allison it is then. Since I've known you for over two years, I can't turn back. :)

  7. Freakonomics was a very enjoyable book. I would recommend it as well. I always have trouble remembering if you like Allie or Ali because I have an aunt Ali. But it makes more sense to spell it that way for her because her real name is Alexandra. So if we spelt it Allie, we would be adding an L.

    I totally agree with different spellings signifying a different type of person. I for one and glad I am a Rachel and not a Rachael.

  8. Confession. When people started calling me Kir/Kirst I really hated it. One of my High School friends was the first to call me that and she is a friend I had known almost my entire life and when she started calling me that in High School it drove me nuts.

    It still bothers me when some people call me that {not you though). Mostly people who use it in a patronizing way--don't even get me started on my hatred of pet names.

    It also bothered me when my little sister first got her license and immediately nicknamed the volvo we'd had for 20+ years "Speed Demon". Which is first of all a terribly unoriginal name for a car, but the car also already had a name--Ingmar (since she was swedish).

  9. I agree that a name is very important - I have never understood people naming a baby before it is born! I had to hold, snuggle, kiss, and talk to each baby before I felt I knew what her name should be. I am only called by my full name by my mother, sister, and aunts and uncles - all others call me by my nickname - I never asked for that, it just happened when I hit high school! I am fine with either.

  10. Love this post ... as obviously many others do. Went through a stage in high school when I wanted to spell my name Amie or Aimee .. cuz I thought mine was too boring and ordinary. My mom freaked. Glad I kept it as is. Though I have always hated having a "y" in my name ... annoying on signature lines. None of my kids have letters that hang down. And don't get me started on Kristen with an "i" or an "e". :-) I call you both ... probably from walking with your mom for so many years ... have unintentionally adopted the family usage.

  11. 1. I tried to use "ya"—as in "see ya later"—in my blog post today, and just couldn't do it. I have a compulsive need to use appropriate spelling, usage, and punctuation, in everything from blog posts to texts.

    2. People misspell my name all. the. time. (As I typed that I knew I was misusing the period. I'm just glad I know the rules so that I can break them stylistically. You understand.)