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The Perilous Pitfalls Of Problematic Names

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I'VE always put it down to the vowels. In my name there are rather a lot of them -- well, four, to be exact -- three all in a row, and at least two of them are quite unnecessary.

I'm sure the entire family could have gotten along perfectly well without the last two. But there it is, we've all simply accepted them as inevitable and unremovable, and as a result we have spent a substantial number of seconds each day spelling them out.

Usually these vowels -- E-A-E -- have to be spelled out slowly twice; people rarely get hold of them the first time. Mostly this is over the phone, I find, and I would not care to attempt a calculation of how much this has cost in phone bills over the decades if it were added up.

Even when those on the other end of the line lead you to believe that they have at last mastered the correct arrangement of these enigmatic letters, it frequently turns out that, on later consideration, they have allowed themselves to doubt their own notes or handwriting, and the letters they then address to you begin: ''Dear Mr. Andree,'' ''Dear Mr. Andraea'' or ''Andrews'' or ''Android.'' Or even ''Dear Mr. Ombrey.''

This last version results from the fact that it is not only the three vowels that are the problem, but also the pronunciation of the whole caboodle. For some reason that nobody has ever explained, we Andreaes are all utterly convinced that -- phonetically -- our name is pronounced Ondray .

Why, I ask you, would some strange ancestor of mine be so perverse (when I am such a reasonable chap) as to insist that And should subsequently and forever be pronounced Ond?

My father ran for a number of years, with a partner called Wicksteed (I hope I have spelled him as he spelled himself), a wool-cleaning and combing business. The wool came in raw from the sheep, and left the works ready for further refinement before being used for knitting or weaving.

One can only sympathize with the correspondent who addressed an envelope to that firm one day, ''Wicksteed Laundry.''

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