Can You Just Try to Get My Name Right?


I’ve tried to keep this blog going at the galloping speed of one post per week, but I have failed miserably.   I’m taking an Epidemiology class that has suddenly made my life very busy, and the post-a-week pledge has taken a hit. With sincere apologies to the handful of people who read this blog, here is a long overdue post, written quickly and off the cuff, inspired by a Freshly Pressed post from Tamara (that’s Tam-MAH-rah). 

Some people have difficult names, myself included.  I never have a problem with my first name, but always a problem with my last name. I’ve had to get prickly about this more than once in my life, usually with customer service reps or telemarketers who mangle the hell out of my name.  For the benefit of all the telemarketers who read my blog, and others, here are some of the common ways to get my name wrong, and an explanation of how to get it right.

First, some people think my last name is German, not Dutch, so they pronounce it “von Hasselt”.  The prefix “von” is usually reserved for the names of German nobility, and since I’m not German, or noble, “von” is decidedly incorrect.  My name uses the Dutch cognate of “von”, “van”, pronounced like the Honda Odyssey. In Dutch, the “van” does not signify a noble name, as the Dutch are a pretty democratic bunch, I guess.  The name, by the way, means “from Hasselt“, and there is a town called Hasselt in the Netherlands, another in Belgium, and one more for good measure in Germany.   Of course, I was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, so I am not from Hasselt.  Nevertheless, I am proud of my name.

Second, even though the “e” is clearly before the “lt”, when reading my name people often mangle “van Hasselt” into “van Hasslet”.  I wonder if when they skin beavers, they get “plets”, and if they cover pool tables in “flet”.  Is it really so hard to keep the letter order straight?

Some people want to get creative with my name and pronounce it “van Horselt”, “van Has-SELT”, “van Hazel”  or “van Hustler”.   It is  a real hassle, which is sort of like how one should pronounce my surname.  Just  say “van Hassled”, only sharpen the “d” into a “t”.  Remarkably, this is exactly how it is pronounced if you just read my name from left to right.

And don’t even get me started on the spelling of my name – yes, it is two words, and yes, the first word begins with a lower-case letter, the second word with an upper-case letter.  And,  it is correctly alphabetized under “v” in the U.S., although under “h” in the Netherlands, where you will find  a lot more “van Somethings” in the phone book.  I don’t know how many times I’ve had to tell the pharmacist to look for my prescription in the “h” bin, and, voila, there it is!  What a surprise.  For the pharmacist, not for me, as it happens at least once or twice a year.

When I lived in California, my driver’s license  had my last name as “VAN HASSELT”, which, except for the upper-case “VAN”, is about as accurate as I expect from a government agency.  When I moved to North Carolina, I distinctly remember being told by a DMV officer, determined to live up to the stereotype of a inept bureaucrat, that California had it wrong, there isn’t a space between “van” and “Hasselt”.  When I came back with my birth certificate, and pointed out that my birth certificate had a space between  “van” and “Hasselt”, the officer informed me that the DMV’s antiquated computer system – this was 1987 – would not allow a space in the last name field.  For years, there it was, my incorrectly spelled name on my driver’s license.  Because I had to use my driver’s license as part of the employment process at the University of North Carolina, the University misspelled my name on each and every paycheck.  Every two weeks, I boiled a little inside, but figured as long as the bank honors the check, I’ll live with it.

Then, years later, I got my license renewed.  A sympathetic woman at the DMV somehow figured out a way to get a space in my surname.  A few years later, after losing my license, a not-so-sympathetic character at the DMV said that the other officer hadn’t followed regulations, and something about living in a post 9/11 world.  I again pointed at my birth certificate, to no avail. Oddly, the Department of State accepted the space between “van” and “Hasselt”, so my driver’s license and passport do not agree, which probably means I am on someone’s naughty list.

Getting someone’s name right is a sign of respect.   My name is a little hard, but not that hard, really.  Just try a little harder, people!

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About Chris van Hasselt

I eat, sleep, play guitar...but wait, there's more!
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