On a beautiful Saturday in July, I found myself where most people would love to be on a beautiful Saturday in July: sitting in a painfully boring continuing education seminar, hopelessly trying to remain awake. The air conditioner must have been set at a brisk 52 degrees, and after catching a glimpse of my now cerulean blue toes, I wondered if my lips had suffered a similar fate. My chattering teeth thankfully prevented me from entirely nodding off, but I was in need of a more cerebral distraction. Desperate for entertainment, I decided to count the goosebumps on my lower left arm, first by twos and then by threes.
As the counting fun began, I happened to glance at a piece of paper in front of the 20-something-year-old woman sitting to my left, and I realized that she had written her name in the upper right hand corner. Ever the name nerd, I simply had to take a peek, and after a lingering glance, I discovered that her name was Mykailah. Figuring it was code for Michaela, I naturally wondered about my other neighbor’s name. Pretending to do some right arm goosebump counting, I quickly looked at her paper, and was pleased to meet Tyffani. Mykailah and Tyffani? Tyffani and Mykailah? I was now the official filling inside of a yooneek name sandwich.
My mind flashed back to 1986, and I remembered watching the introduction to the television sitcom “Head of the Class.” Not yet a teenager at the time, I was baffled even then when the name of one of its stars, Khrystyne Haje, appeared on the screen. I’d never seen anything like it, and simply reading her name made my eyes hurt. Now, back to the present and sitting between Mykailah and Tyffani, I realized that yooneek names were more prevalent than I’d realized. And every bit as confusing.
I’ve always viewed names as words with meaning, and have never understood why people choose to dismantle them. If a child chose to spell “California” as “Kalyfornya” on a spelling test, the teacher would whip out a red pen faster than you can text the letters WTF?, but it’s apparently okay to throw the English language out the window when it comes to names. If a contestant on Wheel of Fortune decided it would be a fabulous idea to spell “Byzantine Empire” as “Byzyntyne Empyrx” (with the x being silent, of course), he or she wouldn’t win that amazing trip to Acapulco, and Vanna would likely be too stunned to smile or clap.
And while I am sometimes shocked by yooneek spellings (Khase pronounced “Chase” and Qaiden prounced “Caden” come to mind), I feel sad when I think of an Addysynne constantly having to correct people who mispronounce and misspell her name, and I worry about a Makennzi applying for a job and potentially being viewed as less professional or competent than an applicant who spells her name Mackenzie. Likewise, I find myself confused as to why many parents don’t seem to take these factors into account or realize that regardless of how many innocent As, Es, Is, Os, or Us are sacrificed for Ys, yooneek names are pronounced the same as their authentic counterparts.
As I sat in the frigid seminar on that beautiful Saturday in July and waited for hypothermia to set in, I couldn’t help but wonder if Mykailah had ever wished she were Michaela, or if Tyffani had grown up longing to be Tiffany. I also wondered why my left arm had sprouted more goosebumps than my right, and why the instructor had yet to give us our lunch break. Thinking about yooneek names had made me hungry, and I was in the mood for a hammburgher and fryze.
JILL BARNETT, a lifelong name fan, enjoys working with children, painting, drawing, writing, running, cooking, traveling, and following popular culture and politics. She wrote previously for us on both name fame and name shame, and is famous on the nameberry message boards as just plain Jill, always dispensing excellent advice.