What’s in a name?

3 Jul
Learning a new language and living in a different culture give me pause to think about a lot of things. I look at English with a new eye, too, with all its warts and bump and irregularities.  Imagine how hard it is to learn when there are three varying spellings and meanings for a word that is homophonic such as their, there and they’re? Or read (past tense) and red? Or present tense read (reed) and past tense read (pronounced red)? And of course we park in the driveway but drive in a parkway.  Yes, English is nuts.homophones
The fact that languages change the spelling and pronunciation of city and country names is confusing and I have to wonder what self-important systems these are that insist on changing labels. Why is Firenze “Florence” in English?  Why is Venezia “Venice?” For someone making train reservations in Italy, it is mighty confusing as the national train system only accepts Italian names.  Type in “Naples” and you get nothing as only Napoli delivers results. Why do we not learn these native city names as the original language intends?
FirenzeThis practice runs both ways:  London becomes “Londra” in Italian; Paris becomes “Parigi,” and Nice becomes “Nizza.”  It took me about a year to understand an Insalata Nizza was the popular menu item I knew as Niçoise.  Once, when asked my hometown by an Italian official, I had to state it as “Sant Paolo” because the person I was giving it to did not comprehend St. Paul. One of my favorites in Italian: “Paesi Bassi” which literally means low lands but, in fact, represents The Netherlands, a far cry from the Dutch, De Nederland.151.jpg-parigi
I cannot comment on how languages with Cyrillic or Kanji or Arabic characters handle this phenomenon, but there are hundreds of examples in European languages alone. The good old U.S.A. is pronounced “yousa” and written “Usa” in Italian.  Stati Uniti isn’t bad enough, they have to change how the acronym is applied.  For that matter why is Italia “Italy” in English? Why is it necessary to change München to “Munich?” Can we not learn these pronunciations? (OK, Goteborg, in Swedish, is tough! It’s something like “YET-a-boar-ay.” No wonder we call it Gothenburg.)
From now on I am going to use the original language city names in my blog and wherever possible.  I am such a rebel.

11 Responses to “What’s in a name?”

  1. andreapollard July 15, 2015 at 06:32 #

    love “Paesi Bassi” , I shall share with mio marito, (lui e olondese), i have been learning for a year and feel like I’m in serious trouble for my upcoming trip in October, I’m travelling alone to Sicilia, Napoli e Roma and was really hoping to be doing better by now… I guess I shall muddle through.


    • gooddayrome July 15, 2015 at 06:42 #

      Andrea, You will do fine! Having any Italian is useful, and knowing the city names in Italian ever-so-useful! Have a blast!


  2. John Henderson July 14, 2015 at 14:59 #

    Here’s the solution: When writing in English, write Rome and Venice and Florence. When writing in Italian write Roma and Venezia and Firenze. It’s as simple as “ciao” and “hello.”


    • gooddayrome July 15, 2015 at 06:40 #

      Well yes, I could distinguish by language when I write, but my point is that we should not change the names from the original language. Can’t Italians say London instead of Londra? It is ridiculous that I have to say my hometown as San Paolo to get it across to an Italian, and equally ridiculous that we call the great city of Firenze, “Florence.”


  3. mvaden1948 July 3, 2015 at 18:41 #

    Hurray for you!
    For one semester in college I tutored English as a Second Language (ESL). One of my students….Claude (his mother was French and his father Lebonese and his native language was Arabic) came in one day and threw his books on the table and said “I’ve been studying English for three years and I still can’t speak properly” to which I responded “I’ve been studying English for nearly 30 years from the day I was born and I still make mistakes”.
    No wonder I’m still having problems with Italian after only two years even if Duolingo claims I’m 48% fluent. Non vero!
    So we will all be watching for you posts about Roma, Firenze, Venezia and points in between and around. I should do pretty good with the Italian names but when you go to Germany I’ll have to guess.


    • gooddayrome July 4, 2015 at 05:15 #

      48% fluent! Bravissima! Te la cavi in italiano! Forgot to mention the part of Italy where every town, street, etc., has two names: Trentino-Alto Adige. Talk about confusing!


      • mvaden1948 July 4, 2015 at 18:14 #

        Now if I could just get the Italian out of my mouth when I need it!
        In Venezia you have to be careful if you are looking at a map ….sometimes the names are in Italian but the signs on the corner of the calle are in dialect! I try to only look at a map to get my bearings….never for an actual address.


  4. Susan Morgan July 3, 2015 at 17:35 #

    Loved this, but you missed my favorite: Monaco di Baviera for Munich.


  5. Marcia July 3, 2015 at 17:25 #

    I’ve always thought learning English would be terribly difficult. And I have always also been intrigued by the spelling and pronunciation of cities and countries in different languages. When we travel, Americans tend to think things should always also be in English….kind of one sided!


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