Friday, May 13, 2005

...and even more names in the news

If you've ever been to a high school or college commencement ceremony, you've no doubt listened to the littany of names being read as the capped and gowned graduates parade across the stage and get their ceremonial handshake from the high school principal or college president. Some of the names are easy ("John Smith"), some are a little more difficult ("Mitch Teich"), and some guaranteed to make the name reader start, stop, look at the student, start again, and plow through with questionable success ("Seewoosagur Ramgoolam"). And you've thought, "Man, I'm glad that's not me reading those names."

Alas, I don't get to think that thought, because I am the guy reading those names. For the past few years, the 19 Minutes parent organization has engaged my services to read names at commencement ceremonies. There are a couple key reasons behind this.

First, as an experienced radio professional, I can read the names in such a way that I sound authoritative, even when I've screwed them up so badly that parents don't recognize their own children as they walk across the stage. And second, as long as I'm reading the names, it means university administrator aren't the ones making idiots of themselves by messing them up.

And so, today is Spring commencement around the corner from 19 Minutes World Headquarters. There's a morning and an afternoon session, and I'm sharing the duties at each with a colleague. Generally, the university has sent over a list of names a couple weeks in advance, so we can practice and get so used to saying the names wrong that we don't have a prayer of getting them right on commencement day. This year, for some reason, they didn't send the names over. So the first time I see the students' names comes as they hand me their card en route across the stage.

That gives me roughly 1 1/2 seconds to look at the name, decipher the sometimes illegible handwriting, and -- if neccessary -- lean over to them and whisper, "So is that 'see-WOO-sagur ram-GOO-lam'?" To make matters worse, some students feel compelled to fill in the name pronunciation blank, no matter how easy their name is (e.g., "JOE-ns"), which naturally causes me to second guess a name I would never have thought twice about.

Some of the students (speech pathology majors, mostly) are smart enough to use pronunciation symbols on their cards. This would be helpful, but I can never remember what those upside down e's (schwas?) connote under normal circumstances, much less in the split second before they head across the stage.

So this gets back to the theme of our previous post. When it comes to deciding on a name for your next child, consider closely how it's going to sound when an experienced radio professional screws it up as he or she receives a college degree.

And for those of you who want to experience the vicarious excitement of reading names at a college commencement, you can check out the webcast from Flagstaff here.

1 comment:

Albert Lai said...

Or you could also factor in the inherent embarassment problems that come when you grow up.
I'm looking at you ESPN, Joe 2.0, and Sephiroth.