Years ago, a feature article I wrote for Word magazine appeared (without my knowledge) in a novice publication called Prelude. I’d expand further on the unethical practice of reprinting a writer’s work without her permission, but the magazine folded after one issue, so I’ll save my rant. The feature profiled Carl Cassell, an artist and restaurant owner who invented a method to creating his art. I was already irked by Prelude’s brazen lift, so imagine how I burned over the misspelling of Cassell’s name in the title.
Really. On paper there is no excuse for a journalist misspelling a name. In practice it happens all the time, much to the shame of the reporter and managing editors. In a good look at this pervasively bad phenomenon, Mallary Jean Tenore writes in Poynter.org that despite how easy it is to confirm the proper spelling of a name, “we often fail to take this extra step.”
Never assume the spelling of a name
This advice applies to bloggers, tweeters and aspiring writers. Misspell a name once and watch your credibility as a writer lose weight. Smith might be spelled Smyth, Ford might be Forde, and Poyce might be Powys.
In our shrinking world, we’re seeing diverse ethnicities and even newly-invented names. Going that extra step to learn proper spelling is a crucial part of a reporter’s job.
I’ll be the first to admit I have made the mistake. One time my amateur self was ready to argue all day that Siobhan is every writer’s trap, and, “doesn’t Chivonne make more sense?” But there’s no excuse for getting it wrong.
Journalism programs worth their salt might go as far as my now retired, Ryerson professor, Don Gibb, did.
In his newsprint reporting course, he automatically failed any assignment that did not accurately identify its subjects. A misspelled name is inaccurate. Might seem harsh, but the A-chasers checked and checked again.
Don’t just do a Google search. Websites can easily follow the wrong leader
- Ask your interview subject for a business card. When it’s time for spell check, refer to it.
- While recording, ask your subject to spell his/her name. Now you’ve got it on record.
- Look up a name in google.com/news. Check multiple sources for the right spelling.
- When in doubt, call your subject by phone. Confirm by spelling it back aloud.
Remember, when checking with your source, “s” can sound like “f” and “t” sounds like “b,c,d,e, g,” etc. over the phone and in a recording. You might come off as anal at the time, but try saying the phonetic alphabet to be sure. For going to that level of detail, you’ll be appreciated and respected.
What misspelled name have you seen recently? Where? And were you the culprit?
Penned by Saada STYLO © 2012: S as in Sierra, A as in Alpha, A as in Alpha, D as in Delta, and A as in alpha.