Thursday, May 15, 2014

Amos and the metamorphosis of pronunciation

The Famous Amos brand logo in its Thai incarnation

My youngest son's name is Amos.

It's not a common name, but it could be called a "classic". I suppose it could possibly be becoming one of those retro trendy names, but I wouldn't know.

It's Amos, just like the name in the classic radio show: Amos and Andy. I'm not sure if people nowadays consider the radio show offensive or not. It was before my time, anyway.

It's Amos. Amos as in Famous Amos, the cookie named after Wally Amos, the founder of the brand. Famous and Amos: They rhyme. Here's the IPA: /ˈfeɪməs/ and /ˈeɪməs/. (Test it yourself at PhoTransEdit.) Notice they're the same, except for the initial /f/ on famous. If you know how to say famous, then Amos should be easy.

Evidently it's not.

Since returning to the US, I've been astounded and annoyed by the inability of people to pronounce his name. The most common mispronunciation is a clear strong 'o', like in most (IPA: /moʊst/) rather than the schwa (/ə/) found in general American pronunciation. There's also a stress difference. Thus, I usually hear /ɑːˈmoʊs/ not the correct /ˈeɪməs/.

I have five ideas to explain this, all of which may be partially the case:

  1. People in this century simply don't recognize the name any longer, so they don't know how to pronounce it.
  2. The effect of Spanish and Spanish speaking people on US culture and language has become so strong over the decade I was away that people not see Amos, and assume a Spanish pronunciation, such as in the surname Ramos or in the word/phrase vamos (Let's go!)
  3. Most people named Amos in today's world are hispanic, and the commonly used pronunciation follows that trend.
  4. I've only been in Texas and Arkansas (with a few phone calls about Amos from New Jersey). Perhaps the rest of the country does just fine pronouncing Amos.
  5. Tori Amos has such a huge fan base, that people have made her surname's pronunciation is the standard.
Would you have struggled with this name if you saw it on your list? If you know his surname (Showman), would you assume a general American pronunciation or a Spanish influenced pronunciation. If you weren't sure, which side would you err on?

All in all, I never imagined people would have difficulty with the name Amos. It seemed like such a classic name: not common, yet not unfamiliar. I guess I was wrong.

If you see me and you see my son, please learn how to say his name. I won't get angry with you, but I will feel annoyed.

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