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By Any Other Name…

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My Irish friend grew up in an almost entirely Irish-speaking household, and is pretty passionate about preserving the language.  Over the years she’s taught me a few phrases – starting with “slan,” which is how she signed off her very first letter to me (it means “goodbye”).  I still use them when we write – basic things like “go raith maibh agat” (thank you), “Nollaig shona” (Merry Christmas), stuff like that.  I’ve nowhere near her competency, but I like making her happy.

I also like using the Irish spelling of her surname – which is quite different from the English spelling.  And that sometimes causes some double-takes.

I went to ship her a package recently, at a place on my block that does that kind of soup-to-nuts packing and shipping service, including typing out the address label.  I got there first thing on a Saturday, when the only staff included one harried guy at the register and a teenage kid working in the back room and doing general fetching-and-carrying.  The kid brought his boss an envelope for my friend’s package, then loped back to the back room.  “So, Ireland,” the boss said.  “What’s the full address?”  I told him, and he typed it out, checking it on Googlemaps.  “Yep, there it is,” he said, showing me when it came up.  “Great  – okay, what’s her name?”

I hesitated.  “Okay, brace yourself,” I said, “This is gonna be funky.  But just trust me.”

“…Okay?”

“Okay.”  I told him the first name – which isn’t that odd – and he typed it.  “And the last name is – brace yourself, now – N, i, a space, and then d, h, o, double-n, a, b, h, a, i, n.”

“…Wow.”  He typed that in, eyes going slightly wide.

“Yeah, it’s Irish.”

“Okay, I usually don’t ask, but…can you check this for me?” he spun the computer around to show me.  I gave the name my thumbs-up, and then as he spun the computer back around to print the label, I glanced behind him – and cracked up when saw that the kid had come from the back room and was staring at me, brow furrowed in confusion.  He said nothing, just stared for a good 20 seconds before shaking his head and heading back to the back room.

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