August 04, 2007

Getting the name right

On August 1, the New York Times printed an affecting op-ed piece "Leave Your Name at the Border", about the Anglicization of Mexican names -- pronouncing the names as if they were English, replacing them by English "equivalents" (Connie for Concepción, Raymond for Ramón), or abandoning traditional names in favor of decidedly non-Mexican English names (Ashley, Bradley) -- and its personal and social significance.  The author was the writer Manuel Muñoz, who grew up bilingual in the Central Valley of California.  (His collections of short stories, Zigzagger (2003) and The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue (2007), picture the lives of "Mexicans", as they are referred to locally, there; gay characters play an important role in both books.)

The Times published the piece with Muñoz's family name spelled correctly, tilde and all.  And, if you try to search the Times site for the writer, you'll have to spell it correctly too: a search on {Manuel Munoz} gets no hits, but {Manuel Muñoz} works just fine.  I was surprised at how scrupulous the Times was -- though, frankly, it would be more helpful if its searches treated n and ñ as equivalent (as Google does).  A glance at Amazon's listings for his books suggests that the site replaces "funny" characters in its headers, uses them variably in text, but treats n and ñ as equivalent in searches.

Muñoz's own site gets it right, of course.  But not in the url, where the ñ has been de-tilded:  Anglicization lives on the web.

[Addendum: in the face of e-mail complaining that the last sentence is just wrong -- this isn't Anglicization, it's just that the DNS system uses only alphanumeric characters (plus a very few punctuation marks) -- let me clarify things.  The alphabetic characters that count as "alphanumeric" in the DNS system are just the ones used in English, for the obvious reason that it was speakers of English who set the system up; speakers of Spanish, German, French, Finnish, etc. would have made different choices.  The result is that spellings in languages that use a different set of alphabetic characters from English have to be Anglicized in order to be parts of valid addresses.  Anglicization is built into the system.]

[Later addendum: Michael Wahlster reports: "Since 2004, domain names can have special characters. It is not very useful, though, since it requires the potential visitors to be able to reproduce the special character in the address field. See here."]

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Posted by Arnold Zwicky at August 4, 2007 01:57 PM