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  • Writer's pictureJose Arrieta

Jose ("ho-SE") the 4th most common name. Yet, hard to pronounce

My name is Jose. As a Latin American, I pronounce it "ho-SE" with emphasis on the end and a soft J. Jose is ubiquitous in the Spanish-speaking world. According to a site that compiles 30 Million unique names, Jose is the fourth most common name in the world. Only Mohammed, Maria, and Nushi are more common than my name.

Yet, in contrast to the prior, Jose is apparently hard to pronounce. This fact was completely unexpected when I first emigrated from my home continent. I came to Switzerland and learned that people would shy away from talking to me. Swiss have this custom of needing to say the name of people when they want to start a conversation and my exotic name proved a barrier. I would find out that people ask others to convey messages to me as a way of shying away.

Like many immigrants, I was faced with an unexpected challenged. I turned this challenge into a joke: "My name is Jose, it is pronounced like pants in German". I introduced myself in this way the first time I was faced with facilitating a design thinking workshop and needed to communicate with around ~100 students fluently. It took a couple of seconds but after a while, laughs would sprout in the room as locals would translate pants into a mispronounced version of my name.

The thing is, pants in German is not pronounced exactly "ho-SE" but "HO-se" and Swiss tend to add guttural sounds to all their consonants. A fact that led connoisseurs in the audience to complain about my homonym. Importantly though, by providing a crutch people could talk to me and know I would not be offended by them being unable to pronounce a name shared by around 1% of human males, By linking my name with Lederhosen, I could have conversations I would have missed otherwise.

In my view, communication is the cornerstone of integration and by enabling people to talk to me we could work together better. That said, I am lucky though. Sure, Jose is hard to pronounce for Germanic- and Asian-speakers, but it is easy to write, short, and rememberable after a few tries I did not need to call myself Josef or choose a pseudonym as many of my colleagues have done. In the end, language is hard, we are all raised with the limited phonemes of our mother languages and each set of phonemes brings in its own limitations. That is no reason to prevent us to meet each other and live in our big and colorful world.

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