When I was a freshman nearly 60 years ago at Southern Mississippi, a girl named Mary Ann Hebert lived on the third floor of our dorm, and she had many visitors for whom she was summoned over the loudspeakers linking the halls outside our rooms to the lobby. “Mary Ann Hee-bert,” came the calls, and nobody ever enlightened those manning the desk downstairs as to the proper pronunciation of her French name.
Fred Hebert, who played football on our school team, just gave up and had his name printed as “Abear” on the roster of linebackers.
Anglo and Scottish and Irish Americans — which USM students mostly were at the time — are famous for messing up “foreign” names. My husband’s friend from Rayne, La., was called by the surname “Rich-erd” as long as he was a private in the U.S. Air Force. When he was promoted to sergeant, he insisted on “Ree-shard.“ Rank has its privileges.
And it’s not only French that’s mangled by our tongues. As long as Spanish has been spoken in Texas, they still manage to call it the San Jah-cinto monument near Houston. To the credit of the residents of my small home further north, we did spell the name of the basketball team from Joaquin correctly and, furthermore, called their town Wah-keen.
And I can’t resist telling you that when my husband and I spent a night or two on the Isle of Skye, we called the village our hotel was in Slig-lach-gan, exactly the way it was spelled, only to find out when a friend also went there that locals pronounce it Sli-gan. The Brits like to leave out a whole syllable — or two — when pronouncing names. Think “Lester” for Leicester and “Chumley” for the surname Chalmondley. My husband had trouble getting a bartender in a pub to serve him a Smithwyck beer until he began calling it “Smid-ick.”
All this info is but prelude — albeit a meandering one — to my telling you that my husband’s brother and sister-in-law are in from California and we plan to take a road trip to “Ree-shard” country in and around Crowley while they‘re here.
Martin Anding has gotten into genealogy in a big way and has already used the Internet to scope out locations we need to visit. Since the Anding dairy farm near Crowley is gone, most of our “field“ work will be in cemeteries where repose the mortal remains of his and my husband‘s ancestors through their father and grandfather That part will be easy since the Andings have been no way as numerous as the other side of the family through their grandmother, Ezora Richard. Just figuring out who among that clan is close kin will probably mandate a trip to the courthouse.
Years ago, when my husband and I were in Canada’s maritime provinces for an Acadian study set up by Elderhostel, he asked one of our instructors whether any Richards lived nearby. We were on Prince Edward Island at the time, and the man just swept his hand across the landscape visible from our hotel porch and said, “Take your pick.”
I wonder whether any of these folks — and their relatives from southwest Louisiana — went far away from home to live and gave up and just called themselves “Rich-erd.”
Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.