I grew up in a town of about 5,000 in northeastern Wisconsin. Of those 5,000, probably 200 had the last name ‘Gorges’. People with the name had been in the immediate area since the 1850s, when my great-great-great grandfather Gorges migrated with his family from Pomerania. As a child, I took for granted that it was a “normal” name, and that everyone knew how to pronounce it.
When I was in ninth grade, my family moved. Our new home was just 25 miles from the old one. But few in our new town knew anyone with the name ‘Gorges’, and no one knew how to pronounce it. We quickly adopted a modified pronunciation of ‘Gorges’, one that was meant to better match the way it was spelled (GORE-guess). The improvement was marginal. Preemptive spelling became a coping technique. When asked for my family name, I would (and still do) often omit the pronunciation altogether and skip straight to G-O-R-G-E-S.
As an adult – living far from the epicenters of Gorgesdom – I started to think more critically about the whole situation. Years of experience had shown that any pronunciation, however modified, was going to require a follow-up spelling. That meant that, in exchange for a pronunciation that never felt natural, I wasn’t getting any practical benefit. As a teenager, I’d switched because my family had switched. But my family is far away now. And if there’s any one normative fact about the world that an individual ought to be able to dictate by fiat, surely it’s the “correct” way to pronounce his name.
So I went back to my native pronunciation, which my wife and son use as well. Which is different from the (modified) pronunciation still used by my father and (I’m pretty sure) by my younger siblings. It’s an odd state of affairs.
On balance, I’m actually a pretty big fan of having an unusual last name. The “gorgeous” pun is a dynamite icebreaker, especially for someone as good-looking as me. (See?) Some people are quite particular about the way others say their names (which is within their rights), but I long ago learned not to care very much, to the point that I’ve never offered corrections even to some fairly good friends. This nonchalance is like tossing off a burden I’ve carried since I was a kid. And – bonus – my usernames are never taken.
[For the record: two hard Gs. GRR-ghiss.]