My beautiful daughter's name is Gioia. Go ahead and try to pronounce that, if you feel so bold. Nope, not “Gia,” with either a hard or soft "G" sound. It’s not “Guy-ah." It’s not “Goya,” like the food company, or “Gee-oh-ah” or “Jee-oh-ah.” It’s pronounced “Joy-ah.” It’s Italian, and it means “joy.” I know, it’s kind of a doozy. We knew that the spelling would confuse people when we picked it, but we figured it was a small price to pay for a truly awesome name. Unfortunately, it's also the reason why people are constantly telling me things you shouldn't say to a parent when you can't pronounce their kid's name. Is it worth it? Sure. Is it still pretty annoying? You freakin' bet.
While my daughter’s name is incredibly simple to pronounce, the fact that it does not have a correspondingly intuitive spelling for English speakers leads to some hilarious and earnest attempts by anyone who seeing her name before they’ve heard it. I will admit there’s a little bit of harmless schadenfreude going on when I hear it happening. “Hi, this is Jane from Dr. Blank’s office. I’m calling to confirm an appointment for…( insert long, pause, where I can basically hear the sweat beading at the poor receptionist’s hairline) Ummm… I’m going to screw this up. G… no… Ji… Goya?” I’m never offended, because it is a weird spelling and I know it. I usually try to put them at ease by saying “It’s “Joy-ah.” I know it’s not an easy one to guess and yours was a noble effort.”
Once people learn how “Gioia” is pronounced, their reaction (at least to my face) usually breaks down into the following categories: “Oh that’s beautiful!” (to my surprise, actually, this is the overwhelming majority) or “Oh, I’ve never heard that before!” or “Julia?” However, every now and then, some jerk will respond to my child’s name in a less than pleasant manner. Here are some of my favorites I’ve collected to help you avoid being said jerk, because, you know, just be nice instead.
Your face is weird.
Seriously, this is obnoxious. If you’re saying a name is weird because it’s uncommon, you need to expand your mind (and your metaphorical horizons). If you’re saying a name is weird because it’s foreign, you might be in danger of being xenophobic, and that's never a good look. If you’re saying a name is weird because it’s “made up,” know that a lot of names we that are very common today, including Amanda and Jessica, are completely completely made up. I mean, at some point all names are made up; that’s how etymology works.
In the end, you can have your opinions on names (I certainly do), but voicing disdain to a parent and child is tactless and uncouth.
“Why Didn't You Spell It Normal?”
I did spell it normal. The Italians have given the world many wonderful things, up to and including: the Renaissance, delicious food, and the opera. They did not, however, give the world the letter “J,” which doesn't exist in the Italian alphabet. Sure, I guess I could have spelled my daughter's name “Joya,” or something, but I chose not to. Just like another parent may choose to spell their kids’ names “Bryan” instead of “Brian” or “Leigh” instead of “Lee.” However they’ve spelled their child’s name is now “the normal” way to spell the name of their child. All the snippy condescension in the world won’t change that.
“That Poor Kid”
Because they have an awesome name? Whatever. If the worst they’re going to have to deal with is petty concern trolls judging their name, I think they’ll be fine.
“Your Kid Is Going To Hate You”
At times? Sure, probably, but definitely not for giving her a wonderfully unique and beautiful name. Will she claim she hates me for not letting her go out pass a certain hour on a school night when she's in high school? Probably. Will she claim she hates me when I share those incriminating baby pictures at her graduation party? Almost certainly, but her name? Please.
“But, Like, What Do You Call Them?”
I call my kid by her name. Like, the exact name I just told you. (Also sometimes Gigi, which is adorable.)
“That’s Pretty Trashy”
Are you being serious right now? Like, is this real life? Is this my current reality?
“Does She Have A Normal Middle Name, At Least?”
The presumption in this question (or the follow up to this question in some cases) is, ‘That way she can go by her "normal" middle name instead of the crazy name I don’t like." Sigh.
I always want to ask, “Why are you trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist?” People with less common names not only usually (in my anecdotal data or “anecdata," if you will) love their unusual names. Some go on to be very successful. Just ask Beyoncé, Oprah, Madonna, and Daenerys Targaryen (because she’s real, right?).
“Will You Be Upset If They Change Their Name One Day?"
In the highly unlikely event that this happens: sure. Maybe? Possibly? I mean, I don't know and probably n ever will because that's extremely unlikely. In other words, I'm not super concerned and you shouldn't be either.
Saying Nothing At All, But Making Sure To Include A Visible Eye Roll Or Nose Wrinkle
Look, that clichéd "actions speak louder than words" saying does hold up, so just because you've refrained from opening your mouth doesn't mean you're not responsible for whatever it is your face is doing right now. Control your disdain, please.
“She’ll Never Find A Cheap Souvenir With Her Name On It, And That's The Worst"
Being a woman named “Jamie” born in 1982 (it was the 29th most popular girl name that year), this was almost never an issue for me. That said, my life wasn’t made all that much better by having a key chain of a Florida license plate that said “Jamie” on it.
Is the lack of souvenir options seems to be at the root of some deep psychic trauma for some people? Maybe, I guess, but is it really that big a deal? I’m asking you to do some real soul searching here. Is my Gioia going to grow up with no sense of self because she can’t get a “Gioia” pen or a “Gioia” snow globe, or a “Gioia” snap bracelet? I just don’t think it’s going to be that big a deal. Besides, do you know what the alternative to this problem is? Being one of seven Sophias in your class. There’s no winning folks, so let’s all just trust one another to pick the right name for their child and move on.