Sunday, October 3, 2010

Lanaii and Google

I grew up with a name that no one could pronounce. My mother and father each were partially to blame. My father was in the US Navy in the Pacific during World War II. He remembered the name of an island in Hawaii that he believed was spelled Lanaii. However in the 1940s and still today, that island is spelled Lanai.

My father believed that Lanai was pronounced like Hawaii but with the letter L in the place of H and the letter n in place of the w. My mother, it seems didn't like the pronunciation of the name that my father proposed and chose to make the double i’s sound like the vowel y. So when people see my name in print and try to pronounce it, they rarely pronounce it correctly. I tell people that my name is pronounced like René with an L.

When my mother and father were having the dispute over how my name should be pronounced, very few people in the Midwest had been to Hawaii. Amongst my parents' relatives, there were none to dispute my mother's pronunciation. So at the start of each year school year, I faced a teacher who had no clue as to how to pronounce my name. One embarrassing moment was the first day in my science class of junior high school (now called middle school).

Mr. Hayda apparently had a class roster that was written in cursive writing. Many people in the area in which I lived were of German descent, so I think that my teacher assumed that the two dotted letters were the letter U with an umlaut. So when he called my name, he pronounced it with a u sound and said my name as Lanow. After that, Peter Hauschild called me Lanow the cow.

After my family moved to California, my teachers didn’t seem to have a problem with attempting to pronounce my name. Houses being built in Southern California often were advertised as having a lanai. At that time, typically Hawaiian houses were built with a lanai, or as mainlanders would call it, a veranda. Unfortunately for me, the structure called a lanai on new houses was a patio. So when teachers first called my name, they pronounced it like the Hawaiian word lanai. After that a few kids called me patio. Within a year or so, the kids had become more mature.

A lanai (veranda) and the island of Lanai are not pronounced the same. And, neither is pronounced the way that my name is pronounced. Hey! The spelling looks the same, but that is because we look at the spelling from an English language point of view and ignore the subtleties of the Hawaiian language.

Lanai, the veranda, is pronounced la-nī (short a, long i). Lanai, the island, is pronounced La-na-ee (short a, long e). Over the last several years, I found that the island of Lanai was often written as Lana’i to distinguish it from a veranda, the lanai.

I periodically do a Google search on my name to see what Google finds. The Google search-process knows about the island, Lanai, as well as the structure, lanai. Google assumes that I made a typo when I enter Lanaii but allows me to say that I mean to search for Lanaii and not for Lanai. The search results are interesting.

When my father was in Hawaii, very few mainlander Americans had been in the Hawaiian Islands. So I was not surprised that my dad and mom together created both the spelling and the pronunciation of my name. It wasn’t until 1990 that the island was opened to tourism with the building of the first resort hotel. Until then, the island was primarily used for growing pineapples and access to the island was limited.

When the results of my search on Google appeared, I was very surprised at the number of hits that were about the island of Lanai but spelled Lanaii. Some of the hits contained the word Lanai’i. It would appear that the Hawaiians have been successful in getting mainlanders to pronounce the name of the island correctly. However, it also appears that people are making the same mistake that my dad made years ago.

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