Big names at the Olympics

No, this isn’t a post about Mark Phelps (although the heartstopping men’s relay that got him his second goal was worth the loss of sleep), or Kobe Bryant and the US Basketball team beating giant Yao Ming and the Chinese, or 44 year old mom Dara Torres taking silver. There are a lot of names well-known in world sports circles but it’s just names in general that are providing an amusing side bar.

First of all, the announcers have the Hurculean task of trying to pronounce the names of athletes normally spoken in a different native language and dialect. Trying to fit some of those long names in television graphic lane markers must be a challenge. I know from experience that when you’re writing about someone you certainly want to spell their name correctly. How about trying to spell, or pronounce, a name with more letters than the whole English language? Prapawadee Jaroenrattanatarakoon (yep, 31 letters) is a 117 lb. Taiwanese woman weightlifter who broke an Olympic record for lifting 486.2 pounds. Try to wrap your tongue around that name! Thank goodness for the announcer that it’s a sport where athletes are taking turns. Can you imagine that name on a basketball jersey when you’re trying to do a play-by-play? And we thought Afinegenov in hockey was a mouthful!

Most countries’ names sound distinctive. Some have a lot of extra vowels, but we have a Vanderkaay on our own US swim team. Eastern European names are pretty gutteral and similar but gymnast Nastia Liukin is an American team member. We are, after all,the melting pot. I think the oddest are the languages that seem to flip first, last and middle names. It helps to see them written on the screen because all the Changs, Wangs, Yangs, Hos and Wus sound way too much alike to me. It’s like the old Abbot and Costello routine, “Who’s on first.” For most of the Olympians there is no hope of medals or glory but representing their countries is the thrill of a lifetime. Let’s hope they get their names spelled right for the folks back home!

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