By Any Other Name

by Kieran Healy on February 20, 2004

If current trends continue, “‘John Quiggin'”: may begin to challenge “‘Kieran Healy'”: as the most frequently misspelled name on Crooked Timber, with “‘Eszter Hargittai'”: a surprisingly distant third. In terms of sheer variety, however, “Kieran Healy” looks set to retain its dominance, as virtually all Quiggin-related mistakes are accounted for by “‘Quiggan'”:, whereas both the first and last parts of “Kieran Healy” offer multiple opportunities for error. Transposing the “i” and “e” or moving the “e” after the “r” are universally popular choices[1], while others show interesting cross-national variation. English readers find it hard to to resist converting “Healy” to “Healey,” while Americans love to change “Kieran” to “Kiernan.” This latter variant is linguistically interesting because Americans usually choose to misspell words by removing letters rather than by adding them. These errors are sometimes compounded with another common mistake. Beginning an email with the words

bq. Dear Ms. Healey,

does not encourage a sympathetic reading of your comments, for instance.

A subsequent post will give some handy tips on more advanced CT-related topics, such as how to tell “John”: from “Jon”:, “Henry”: from “Harry”: and “Ted”: from “Tom”:

fn1. Though their simultaneous use has yet to be observed in the field.



W. Kiernan 02.20.04 at 10:19 pm

Well, Kiernan is a fine name.

yrs WDK


Kieran Healy 02.20.04 at 10:23 pm

A fine surname, absolutely. Plenty of Kiernans is Ireland. Fine people. No first-namers though.


Nick 02.20.04 at 10:25 pm

Perhaps the reason ‘Eszter Hargittai’ comes in a distant third is that the spelling of it is noticeably diffcult, thus people are far more inclined to check the spelling before using it whereas ‘Kieran Healy’ and ‘John Quiggin’ both seem easy to spell, thus people are less inclined to check they’ve got the correct spelling.


Brian Doss 02.20.04 at 10:54 pm

Mea culpa on the Quiggin quibble- I read it fine, it jumped about in my mind, then when I typed it out it changed somehow… Maybe its a quirk of American English, but when I hear “-in”, its often from a word spelled as “-an” at the end, hence the quick misspelling. That may be going on before other people’s brain-finger interfaces as well.


John Quiggin 02.20.04 at 11:10 pm

Nothing specifically American here, I’ve had it all my life (contra Kieran, ‘Quiggen’ also gets quite a good run).

I must say I was surprised to find that the frequency of mis-spelling wasn’t much changed when it came to people who’d only ever seen the name in print, not heard it spoken. But I long ago reached the same conclusion as Nick on the explanation.


Walt Pohl 02.20.04 at 11:19 pm

Give it up, ‘Kieran’. We know that you are all pseudonyms for the same teenage boy (except for ‘Harry’, of course, which is a pseudonym for the boy’s sister).


sidereal 02.21.04 at 1:56 am

“…Americans usually choose to misspell words by removing letters rather than by adding them.”

But at least we pronounce a quorum of them.



nnyhav 02.21.04 at 2:33 am

Kreian — I loathe blogfootnotes.


Ralph Luker 02.21.04 at 3:37 am

Apologies to Kieran Healy, who got an extra e from me, but really commenting at blogs does leave me feeling naked without spell check. I’m grateful when Kieran sends the kind reminder and I can self-correct. On the other hand, my family gave up the umlaut over our u when we came to the United States about a century ago and that is near e-quivalent. You may want to make your compromise with higher standards here, Kieran.


Mr Ripley 02.21.04 at 5:11 am

Americans often misspell Barbra Streisand, Stepan Chapman, and Samuel Delany by adding letters to them.


eszter 02.21.04 at 5:21 am

The most common mistake people make with my name is spelling it Hargattai. This makes no sense to me, but that’s probably b/c I know how it is supposed to be pronounced (and spelled:). What really confused me yesterday was when the woman at the airport called out my name pronounced “Hargattai” even though she had never heard it pronounced and she only had the correct spelling in front of her. I don’t get it.

As for my first name, what I find fascinating is that people misspell my name when they email me. All of my email addresses have my name in them. So if you get my email address right then it takes extra effort to get my first name wrong. Nonetheless, Eszther and Estzer are quite common, in addition to the more traditional English variants.

This entire issue becomes an actual issue when people misspell our names while citing our work. These then get recorded mistakenly in all sorts of bibliographic and citation data bases and that’s unfortunate.


bad Jim 02.21.04 at 7:09 am

Of course, even d² can’t be bothered to spell his own monicker conventionally.


cs 02.21.04 at 1:09 pm

Transposing the “i” and “e”

If I look closely, I know what you mean Kieran.


bryan 02.21.04 at 4:56 pm

‘Beginning an email with the words

Dear Ms. Healey,

does not encourage a sympathetic reading of your comments, for instance. ‘

To The Sexy Ms. Healey seems a bit foreward though.


Anne C. 02.21.04 at 7:23 pm

Isn’t the proper way to spell your name “Ciaran”?


Tom Runnacles 02.21.04 at 7:24 pm

I’m easily distinguished from Ted by the fact that, er, he posts a lot more than I do. (When does a hiatus turn into actual retirement, I wonder?)

However, ‘Runnacles’, which I’m told derives from the Anglo-Saxon for ‘rye fields’, does seem to morph into the much more exciting Greek name ‘Runnaclus’ in certain circumstances. I discovered such a transformation had happened to a plane ticket to NY just this month.

If I’d not caught it in time, I suspect the discrepancy with the name on my passport would have been sufficient for me to be refused entry to the USA.


Chris Clarke 02.21.04 at 11:09 pm

Wonderful post, Karen!

Perhaps it would make things easier if you reminded people that it’s actually pronounced “Kee . chester . oatswain . eatherstonhaugh”?


Nix 02.22.04 at 12:44 am

I was wondering how on earth anyone could assume `Kieran’ to be female; I suppose `Karen’ explains it.

Still, nobody can beat mailing list address typos. I got some junk from Britannia last week, addressed to `Mr Ncnc Ncnc Ncnc Allk’ — the wrong number of components, the last misspelt (three letters missing, one duplicated), and the rest, well, I haven’t a clue where they got them from; perhaps someone conflated my initials and just kept whamming them into a computer they didn’t know how to use…

… and these guys are my mortgage providers: I hope they’re better at record-keeping than at data entry. (Foolish hope, I know…)


billy 02.22.04 at 9:40 pm

You actually have an easy to spell/pronounce Irish name Kieran. So do I. My siblings though are named Siobhan, Daithi, Aoife and Fionnualla and my parents are Oisin and Eithne. They create havoc and hilarity every time they leave Dublin.


Douglas 02.23.04 at 7:18 pm

‘Quiggin’ is easy to get right, just remember the Marxist critic J. G. Quiggin from the Dance to the Music of Time..


John Quiggin 02.23.04 at 11:45 pm

This hint also comes in handy if you’re trying to spell “Widmerpool”.

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