One of Oprah Winfrey's self-help proteges is a woman named Iyanla Vanzant, whose claim to fame is serving as a so-called empowerment specialist, inspirational speaker, and new thought spiritual teacher. She spouts words of wisdom like "If you see crazy comin', cross the street!" Maybe she is an expert of some sort, I really can't say. I mention her because of her name. And her attitude about it.
I caught a piece of a show recently where she and Oprah were handing out relationship advice to callers. When one lady caller pronounced Iyanla's name "Ee-lan-ya" (the correct pronunciation is apparently "Ee-yan-la"), Ms. Vanzant chewed the caller out, advising her that if she was going to get advice from Ee-yan-la, she'd better get the name right...or something along those lines.
I'm sorry, but if you have a name like Iyanla, you need to work on toughening up your hide. Take my last name, for example: YASAS. Yasas is of Lithuanian origin, and in fact was spelled Jasas before the folks at Ellis Island got hold of it back when my grandparents made the trip across the pond. I've heard every imaginable mispronunciation of my name, which I've taken in stride. The correct pronunciation, YA-sis, with the accent on the first syllable, has been transformed into such versions as ya-SASS, YAZ-is, yaaaay-sis, and yas-ASS, the latter a popular one with grade school bullies. Worse still are attempts to spell it, including Yasiss, Yassass, Yassas, Yaesis, Yases, and, my personal favorite, Wasas. Wasas usually comes about when I spell my name over the phone and the person at the other end hears "Why-A-S-A-S." Many the situation has occurred when I'm checking into a hotel or trying to pick up a rental car and am told I have no reservation. "Look under W," I say patiently to the frowning clerk. I'm always polite when, embarrassed, they apologize for the mistake. Whatever, I inevitably say. It's a weird name and I've accepted it. I don't chew them out, and I certainly don't inform them that if they want my credit card they'd better get my name right.
Iyanla Vanzant, like so many people these days, has an unusual name. Parents at some point in our history decided that having a weird last name wasn't enough, and so started giving their kids names that would challenge the best of spellers. Take for example some of these: Morania, Aaliya, Navaeh, Beautiphul, Sophronia, and Xylophila. I personally blame this trend on Frank Zappa, who either under a drug-induced haze or who had a particularly odd sense of humor named his daughter Moon Unit. Moon Unit Zappa. Can you see the question mark over my head? And let us not forget other celebrities who followed suit with such first names as Daisy Boo, Apple, Indiana August, Kae-El, Nahla Ariela, Pax Thien, Petal Rainbow Blossom, and Poppy Honey. I ask you: isn't life hard enough without having to slog through name pronunciations, explanations, and spellings to the sometimes impossibly dense employees of insurance companies, internet providers, telephone services, and the department of motor vehicles? If my parents had named me Daisy Boo Yasas I would have run away from home.
So yes. Okay. The world has moved on. As I'm fond of saying these days, it is what it is. However, when I -- who has a last name like Yasas -- hear a self-proclaimed counselor mouthing off to a person who called her for help, I want to drop a note and give HER some advice: "Dear Ee-Yan-La -- I don't know if your parents gave you that name or you gave it to yourself, but it is what it is. If you don't like the way people pronounce your name, Ms. New Thought Spiritual Teacher, then change it to Sally. And if you don't want to change it? Then buck up and be nice. Signed KATH-leen YA-sas, New Thought Get Over Yourself Teacher."