Flemish and Dutch businesses, teachers, governments, and shops seem to have a very difficult time correctly spelling my name, Wouter Groeneveld—and that completely baffles me. My first name is a common name in the Dutch speaking regions and can be compared to (and by Americans is often confused by) Walter. That’s luckily never been a big problem. That last name though… A couple of days ago, we received yet another incorrectly addressed letter. Somehow, Groeneveld—literally translated “Greenfield”—gets morphed into other bizarre stuff:
- Schoeneveld (“Shoefield”)—ever seen those growing in a field?;
- Groenveld—missing an e there that’s the difference between a green field and the green field;
- Groenveldt—if you’re unsure, add a t, in true Alexander von Humboldt style;
- Graneveld (“Grainfield”)—sure, a wheat field can be green;
- Van Groenveld—more evidence of laziness and just making stuff up by adding a German style von preposition;
- Gröneveld—squished those letters together, did you?;
- Geleveld—are you mixing up the colors yellow and green on purpose?;
- Grunnenveld—on the invoice of the locksmith. I’m all out of ideas here.
These silly “mistakes” (some feel like bad jokes) remind me of the name that appears on the weekly TV guide for Joey and Chandler in Friends: Miss Chanandler Bong. I’m not at all offended by the confusion but instead surprised by the incapability of correctly typing in a name in a digital form—or even worse, just copying it, since I am the one who usually has to enter it—especially by Dutch speaking people who should have no problem whatsoever spelling it. I guess it could also be attributed to my incomprehensible mumbling on the phone.
As for English speaking people, Wouter ([ˈʋʌutər]) is surprisingly difficult to pronounce: attempts usually stop at Walter, which is not the same, but I’ll take it. There’s no a in there. I never really understood why it’s difficult: the first part of the name can be pronounced exactly like “wow”, just add the “ter”. Don’t do Walter or Wuwter, just Wowter. That said, I’m probably just as terrible at correctly pronouncing several names in foreign languages. And that’s okay: there’s a culture and language barrier to go through.
But that’s not the case with locals who seem to be reluctant go get my last name right. Confusing a shoe with a color is stretching it a bit too far.