Languages Magazine

München, België

By Gabrielscala

Years ago, when I was traveling through Mexico, I found myself constantly correcting people’s pronunciation of my name. My name is Gabriel – and it sounds just like it’s spelled. But the people of Mexico kept insisting that my name was Gabriella. It couldn’t possibly be Gabriel, because Gabriel was a man’s name. And I was clearly not a man. This is true, I would say. Nonetheless, my name is Gabriel – there’s no translation for a name. It just is what it is. In America, I would still call you Jose or Juan – I wouldn’t change it to Joe or John. Why? Because that’s your name. It’s as simple as that.

But it’s not that simple. Not really. I know this. Still, I was surprised to learn that place names are also changed. And I’m curious as to why that happens. Sure, I know that pronunciations differ from place to place – Mexico in Mexico is pronounced Meheeco. And even Italy, in some places, is pronounced Italia. Okay. Close enough. But, I have to ask – what the heck is going on with Munich and Belgium?

Munich – everywhere in the world as far as I can tell, is pronounced and spelled Munich – except for in Munich, where it’s called München. And Belgium? Well, they’re België in their own land. And don’t even get me started on Bruges – which has at least four different spellings based on where you are when you’re spelling it. The Netherlands is Nederland. Spain is España. What the heck?

Here’s my question: if The Netherlands is Nederland – how did it ever become The Netherlands in the first place? If Munich is München, why don’t we call it that? It’s not like España is so much more difficult to say than Spain. And even if it were – if we’d learned it that way to begin with, it wouldn’t seem difficult at all. I mean, we all know how to say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, don’t we?

Names, it seems to me, are sort of important. They have meaning and history and carry with them a whole host of implications and innuendo. Well, I may be stretching that one a bit, but you get the idea. My name is Gabriel. It’s not Gabrielle, Gabriella, Gabby, Gabe or Georgine. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that someone learn my name. Certainly the places, grand cities and tiny towns alike, of our world deserve the same.

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