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Proper pronunciation, punctuation, spelling of Foreign names should be important to NHL, teams, journalists

Craig Morgan Avatar
November 16, 2023
The proper pronunciation and spelling of foreign names is important.

My obsession with the proper pronunciation, punctuation and spelling of non-American hockey players’ names began with Coyotes 2001 first-round draft pick Fredrik Sjöström. When then-Phoenix drafted him, the team and league told us that his name was pronounced “Shoe-strum.” One day, I asked him just to be sure.

“It’s more like ‘Huhsstrum,'” he said, extending the pronunciation of the S and making the first vowel sound somewhere between “oo” and “uh”.

I wasn’t into umlauts at the time. That would come later in my evolution as a journalist. And even later than that, I learned that those two dots over the O in Swedish, and the two dots over A in Finnish are not umlauts. They designate actual letters, distinct from O and A in both the Swedish and Finnish languages.

Twenty-two years later, I don’t understand why journalists refuse to spell players’ names properly when writing about them. I don’t understand why the league doesn’t spell them properly on its website. I don’t understand why teams don’t spell them properly on the back of team jerseys.

I have heard copy editors suggest that our spelling is just the English translation of their names. That argument is absurd. There is no translation of Välimäki. That’s literally his name. Sure, there are first names where you can get away with using the English pronunciation. Daniel exists in multiple languages. But when it comes to spelling, I don’t buy any of the arguments for journalists. We are in the business of accuracy, yet we willfully misspell names all of the time. It’s unconscionable and it’s disrespectful.

I have also heard it suggested that the players don’t care. Writers have asked them and they say they don’t mind. Well, what is a 20-something guy in a foreign land going to say to someone who has the power to portray them in a positive or negative light? 

You offend me!”

It shouldn’t be a matter of discussion. Again, it should be a matter of accuracy and respect. I’m not talking about typos here. I’m talking about willful mispellings.

The same goes for the league, which likes to consider itself global, and it goes for teams, which like to believe that they take care of their players.

There are a few teams in the NHL that take this to heart; most of them in Canada. Perhaps it was a product of being isolated French speakers in a league full of English speakers, but the Montréal Canadiens extend this gesture of respect beyond the accent aigu and accent grave that you will find in French names such as Jérémy Langlois and Daniel Brière. They even spell defenseman Jesse Ylönen’s name correctly on his jersey. By the way, Jesse’s dad, ​​Juha, played for the Coyotes and we were butchering his name all of those years.

The Toronto Maple Leafs pay this form of respect to forward David Kämpf. The New York Rangers do it for forward Alexis Lafrenière. The Ottawa Senators do it for German center Tim Stützle (those are umlauts). Under pressure from fans, the Vancouver Canucks corrected the spelling of Nils Höglander’s name on the back of his jersey. It’s encouraging to see more teams taking the hint.

But far too many teams refuse to make a simple fix. Far too many teams stand obstinately by their glaring mistakes.

Pronunciation is much trickier than spelling. You can practice a name a thousand times, but when the actual letters and sounds don’t exist in your native tongue, it can be a challenge.

It took me a long time to realize that there was an odd accent over the I in Jan Jeník’s last name. It took me even longer to master the pronunciation of his name, even after he told me that it was more like “Yen-yeek.”

The NHL offers a pronunciation guide for its players, but even that is sometimes incorrect.

PHNX Sports invited former Coyote Radim Vrbata on the show last year to pronounce Czech names in his native language. It was both eye-opening and mortifying, knowing how badly we had been butchering some of the names (the Cross Czech segment begins around the 16-minute mark. Excuse the static in parts of the interview; my headphones were malfunctioning while I was on vacation).

Play-by-play broadcasters and color commentators deserve a little more leeway in this area. The game moves fast. If you have to pause for even a moment to get the right pronunciation, the puck may have moved on to two other players.

But I dream of a day when Juuso Välimäki, Victor Söderström, Jan Jeník, Aku Räty and Miloš Kelemen have their names spelled correctly on the backs of their jerseys, and on the official websites of the league and teams (again, some teams already do this).

I dream of a day when broadcasters stop pronouncing André Tourigny’s last name as Tourney. I dream of a day when we confidently roll the R in Xavier Gutierrez’s last name. I dream of a day when journalists and teams ask players how their names should be pronounced and spelled, and then adhere to those simple instructions.

I learned on Tuesday that we may be mispronouncing Välimäki’s last name. A Finnish source told me it sounds more like “Valley-Mackey.” I learned that Juuse Saros’ first name should sound more like “Yoo-seh.” I learned that Roope Hintz’s first name is closer to “Raw-peh” than “Roo-pay.”

I’m glad he told me. There’s enough inaccurate information in this world, and there’s enough disrespect in this world. Let’s be respectful and get people’s names right. It’s the least we can do.

Top photo via Getty Images

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