Monday, October 15, 2007

Menzies is the Thing

Whatever the reasons for his precipitous demise from the leadership of Britain's Liberal Democrat party, Sir Menzies (pronounced Ming) Campbell's departure has had at least one benefit for the linguistically challenged. There is now one less public figure with a difficult-to-pronounce Celtic name.

At the time of his election, the Member of Parliament for North East Fife was routinely called "Ming-ess" by the media. This is, of course, the correct pronunciation, though within a few months the metro-centric London media set had dropped the second syllable. Sir Menzies was now simply "Ming".

This name, unfortunately, will forever be associated in my mind with children's Saturday television from an earlier era when the highpoint of the morning's viewing was Flash Gordon (in black and white) battling against the evil Ming the Merciless. The racial stereotype of the oriental-looking Ming was not lost at the time, especially as comparisons could easily be drawn with the Fu Manchu movies of the same era (joke: many man smoke but few man chew).

A similarly difficult name is Siobhan. I'm sure we can all remember our first encounter with this difficult Irish girl's name as we tried to impress the Gaelic female before us by greeting her as "see-oh-ban". Siobhan (Sh-vawn) is thankfully as rare as Menzies - Mses Fallon and Donaghy notwithstanding.

Niamh (ni-ev) is increasingly popular, not only with those of Irish extraction, and has been the occasion of many a social faux pas, when the greeter has assumed the red-haired woman before him was actually an American Indian (Good afternoon, nice to meet you.....Nee-um-hah.)

Sinead, meanwhile, has only become recognizable in Britain as a result of the brilliant singer of the same name. Before that, the name was pronounced by most Anglo-Saxons as if it were a piece of cinema advertising (Sin-ee-ad).

The invisible "h" in Seamus and the long "a" in Padraich (being more of of an "ar") have been less difficult, though the increasingly popular Aofie as a girl's name (that's right, ee-feh) looks set to cause confusion in school playgrounds across suburban England.

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