This week on Twitter, I did the unthinkable. I went viral.
Well, okay, not viral viral, but I got more than a thousand likes on one of my comments, which is close enough for me (hell, I shared the blog on the thread after it hit 200 likes — that’s how starved for attention I am). To be fair, thread was featured in articles on BuzzFeed and theCHIVE!!! I actually told my coworker that this week I would go viral for this tweet:
…but alas, this was not my fate.
My Twitter friend and fellow author Marcus Vance always asks some great questions on his feed, and this week, he asked this question:
As someone with an uncommon name (at least here in the US), I was super excited to share my experience. I even had a fun picture of my nameplate at work to post!
I really love how this tweet has brought people together. While I’ve seen many angry and contentious threads on Twitter, it’s much more fun to see threads where people are rallying together under this sort of common cause. I got all different kinds of responses from across the Twitter-verse!
Some of the most common responses that I got were from people who thought it crazy that anyone could mispronounce or misspell Renata, especially on a work nameplate! While many responders came from countries where the name Renata is more common, some just couldn’t believe that anyone could mess up a name that is completely phonetic.
After having this name for 26 years, I am very used to people spelling or pronouncing my name wrong. At this point in my life, I congratulate anyone who is able to pronounce it correctly on the first try. It’s not a particularly well-known name, so I don’t want to fault people for not knowing what it should sound like immediately.
For a long time, I just assumed that no one would really pronounce it correctly, so I let every mispronunciation go without correction. One of my friends in college, Esprit, broke me of that habit when she heard my on-campus boss mispronouncing my name and watched me respond without even a flinch. Esprit was appalled and sad for me. Knowing full-well what it was like to have a unique name, she thought it was important for people to respect me and get my name right. I try and remember her lesson to give gentle reminders of how my name is supposed to be pronounced whenever I’m faced with someone who continually mispronounces my name. She’s right, we all deserve that much respect.
I agree that it’s an important part of self-respect to make sure someone who I’m interacting with regularly can correctly pronounce or spell my name, but when I’m just emailing someone once who I will never email again, what’s the point of going through the process of correcting them if they get it wrong? It just feels like a waste of time to me. It’s just not worth the effort when it comes to those one-off exchanges.
When prompted for a name for my order somewhere like Starbucks, I’ll just give a common alias like “Rachel” so that we don’t have to go through the anxiety-inducing hassle of me spelling my name and the cashier hearing every other letter. I chuckle when they occasionally ask me how I spell “Rachel” because then the entire thing was in vain! Usually I tell them to take their pick of the spelling, which is something I don’t think their training prepared them for.
As far as the nameplate goes, mistakes like that are just funny to me. It’s like a little quirk that makes me smile and laugh when I see it. I remember the day at work when we saw the seating chart of where we would be in our new office. I found where my team would be sitting and searched for my name. My seat read “Renato Leo.” All I could do was laugh. When I finally arrived at the new office, I was most excited to go in and check my nameplate. Not to set up my desk, not to see the spectacular view, not to use the new espresso machines, but to see if my name was misspelled on my nameplate. And so it was.
I actually received an award in high school where my name was spelled incorrectly, and the only reason that I got it fixed was because my parents insisted. If it were left up to me, I would have looked upon my Teacher’s Choice award for Renato Leo with pride and fondness. Things like that just don’t bother me. They bring an extra bit of joy into my world. There are some things that I take seriously, but this is just not one of them.
While several Twitter peeps couldn’t understand how anyone could get my name wrong, there were plenty commiserating with me because they have commonly-misspelled names, too. Some people also jumped in because they noticed that my last name (Leo) is also considered to be a man’s first name. Considering the fact that my last name is far more common than my first name, I do get referred to as “Leo” fairly frequently, especially by people who have never spoken to me before and only communicated with me via email. This used to happen to my dad as well. It happened so frequently, in fact, that he went by his mother’s maiden name in college instead of his last name. I totally get it. Getting called “Renato” is bad enough without being called “Leo”. I swear whenever I get an email addressed to “Leo,” I feel like Patrick Star:
Then there were the people who hopped on the thread to comment that they have friends or family members named “Renata” or they had heard my name before in pop culture. It was like when I went to college and everyone just had to tell me about the other Renate (pronounced the same way as my variation, just spelled differently) on campus. Seeing a Renata in the wild was such a rarity for them that they couldn’t help but let me know that she existed. People also got us regularly confused…I can’t tell you how many of her emails I received during my college career…
Like anyone with an uncommon name (and probably some people with more common names?), I’m a sucker to hear my name in any sort of media. Like I mentioned in my Thanksgiving post, I’ve seen my name in the Twilight series and on BoJack Horseman and I was thrilled to have what feels like my own little private mark on series that I loved.
I had several people come onto the thread and say that they were surprised that people still have issues spelling and pronouncing my name since Big Little Lies came out (a show that is now on my must-watch list!). A few people brought up the movie Once Around, which is actually the movie where my parents first heard (and then decided on) my name. Finally, and obviously most importantly, someone came on to say that I had the same name as Luigi’s mom in the Disney/Pixar movie Ratatouille. A fact that I forgot, but now that I have been reminded, I can die happily knowing that my name was in a Disney/Pixar film.
While I enjoyed reading and responding to all of the comments in the thread, my favorite had to be commenters that were tagging fellow Renatas to share in my pain. Multiple people brought other Renatas into the conversation, and it was neat to hear that they go through the same mispronunciations and misspellings that I do. Renatas of the world, unite!
I have no idea what it’s like to have a common name. I’ll never know what it’s like to not have to spell my real name to a Starbucks barista or to be able to find a keychain with my name on it in a gift shop. I will be forever correcting pronunciation for people with a knowing eye roll like Cady on Mean Girls. Nameplates, emails, awards, and plenty of other things I get will have my name misspelled. But to be honest, I don’t really feel like I’m missing out on much. I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way.
Photography by my talented fiancé. You can find him on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/hope_grows_here/