On “in-der-welt-benannt-sein”*

*”being-named-in-the-world” in German, according to Google translate

Who Are You?

If you Google-search my name, the links on the first page are for a business-oriented motivational speaker, a professional juggler, a professor in computer science, and a pedophile living in Florida. As it turns out, I am none of these people.

Who I am

My name is relatively uncommon: Jeffery Peden. According to this website, there are 4742 people in the United States with Peden as a last name. The current population of the United States is 314,071,999 (as of my typing this). That means people with my last name makes up roughly 0.00151% of the US population. Yet, when you Google-search my name, I am not on the first page. To be fair, that’s the case if you search ‘Jeff Peden’. However, searching ‘Jeffery Peden’ doesn’t bring up much different. Perhaps the most interesting part of searching ‘Jeffery Peden’ is that Google tries to fix the spelling:

Did I mean ‘jeffrey peden’? No, Google, I did not. As it turns out, I am capable of spelling my own name. But, maybe it wants to correct the spelling for a reason.

Jeffrey versus Jeffery

There are 7 people named Jeffery Peden in the United States. I am roughly 14% of the Jeffery Pedens in the US. The only Jeffery Peden I’m friends with on Facebook lives in Canada, so I don’t know any of my six American namesakes. Alternatively, there are 24 Jeffrey Pedens in the US. That is a nearly 350% increase. So, perhaps Google is not so crazy. This point gets driven home when you drop my last name and just consider Jeffrey vs. Jeffery.

Jeffrey is the 41st most common name in the United States. Some interesting facts about Jeffrey:

1) There are 903,207 people with Jeffrey as their first name (as of Feb 2011).
2) The state with the most Jeffreys is Wisconsin
3) Jeffrey reached its low point shortly after Bill Cosby’s stand up show “Himself”.

Well, okay, only 2 of 3 are true. I’ll let you guess which one is false.

Jeffery is the 403rd most common name in the United States. That’s a substantial drop on the list. Some interesting facts about Jeffery:

1) There are 124,088 people with Jeffery as their first name (over 7-times smaller than the number of Jeffreys).
2) The state with the most Jefferys is Alabama.
3) The ERY spelling derivation is the result of people who cannot spell correctly (at least, this was my parents’ excuse)

But Still…

Okay, I am willing to concede that Google can be forgiven for suggesting I misspelled my name when I searched ‘Jeffery Peden’. But, there are only 7 Jeffery Pedens in the United States. People named Jeffery Peden make up roughly 0.0000023% of the United States population. That is 1 in every 44,867,428 people.

When you search something in Google, the front page brings up at least 10 entries. There are only 7 Jeffery Pedens. Our Facebook pages should be 1 through 7. Instead, I am no where to be found. I’m pretty sure this borders on tragedy.

What’s in a Name?

Names are pretty ubiquitous parts of our lives. We put them everywhere. To get one’s attention, we say that person’s name.

This ubiquity forces us to form a relationship with our names. Probably the most common relationship is going by a short version of our names: Jeff as opposed to Jeffery, for example. Some of us go by middle names. Some names have cultural commonness: Maria among Latinas or Muhammed among Muslim men.

Global immigration has forced local cultures to be exposed to foreign names. Pronunciation butchering has become more common. When you have an uncommon name, you create little tricks to maintain accuracy.

A good example of this is when we have to give our name over the phone. Spelling out ‘Peden’ over the phone is tricky because so many of the letters sound like other letters. To adjust for this, we develop mini acrostic poems for clarity: p as in Paul – e – d as in David – e – n as in Nancy. Or, if you’re clever, you use military letters: papa echo delta echo november.

First names can also be tricky, especially when you have a culturally common name that has an uncommon spelling. When I say my full first name is Jeffery, people instinctively write ‘Jeffrey’. Even when they are copying my name from a form, the r and the e get transposed regularly. A common part of my lived experience is submitting name-change requests to get my first name spelled correctly on official documents.

Name Games

Although everyone’s name is ubiquitous in their lives, people with some kind of uncommonality about their name spend a disproportionately large amount of time dealing with their names. However, because it is so common, we don’t really notice how much we incorporate our uncommon names into our lives. I was recently speaking with a woman named Jenifer with one n. She worked in career development and had previously held jobs in hiring.

I asked her about how her uncommonly spelled name had impacted her life. At first, she was perplexed. But, after thinking about it for a moment, she remembered that she would key in on how applicants would spell her name on cover letters for positions she was looking to fill. Likewise, she recounted how, when she would say that there was only one n in her name, they would often put two f’s. People are so accustomed to there being a double letter in Jennifer that they would inaccurately add an extra f.

For some reason, I have been hyper-aware of my relationship with my name. As a result, I have purposely played games with it. The primary one is pronunciation.

Take a second and say my full first name: Jeffery. Odds are you pronounced it ‘jeff-ree’. And you would be correct for most Jefferys. However, this pronunciation is used because Jeffery is considered an alternate spelling of Jeffrey. Wanting to make a game out of my name, I pronounce it differently: ‘jeff-er-ree’. Or, to pay homage to the fact that I’ve had a proper amount of facial hair since I was 10 years old: ‘jeff-furry’.

If someone calls me ‘jeff-ree’, I correct them. I will, however, accept ‘jeff-ray’. This pronunciation is rare, but the second syllable is usually said with a flair and a panache that I can’t reject it.

The thing about Jeff, it makes for a good comedy name (BTW, I am an only child. I am not the Jeff for whom that was made). It’s common enough to work as an ‘everyman’ name, and it is only one syllable, which helps in the delivery of the joke. But it doesn’t suffer from the stereotyped ‘everymanness’ of names like John or Bob or Tom. This helps in having fun with my name.

My last name is source of good fun, as well. Peden, it is pronounced ‘pee-den’. Think urination and a bear’s home. The pronunciation follows standard English pronunciation rules: a single consonant separating two vowels makes the first vowel long. We’re even familiar with this in names: Peter.

However, very few people pronounce it correctly. More often than not, people will say ‘peh-den’. And, truth be told, the Peden clan is pretty comfortable with this pronunciation.

The thing is, when people set about butchering names, they can get creative. Here’s a short list of common mispronunciations:

Penden
Perden
Pelden
Preston
Pederson
Preden

Figuring out when my family’s table was ready was always an adventure: “Penden, party of three. Penden, party of three.” Oh, shit, that’s us.

In the End

Is my insistence on a certain pronunciation pedantic? Probably. And, I really don’t get worked up about it. But, I figure, my name is the most truly symbolic aspect of me. Why not have fun with it? I mean, if my name is going to be out there representing me, I should make sure my name is my own. I may be 1 of 7 Jeffery Pedens in the United States, but I am probably the only that insists it be pronounced ‘jeff-furry’.

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