a difficult name

m. werneburg, 2010.01.14

or: twenty-eight ways to misspell my name

Updated with a three new mis-spelling in 2016!

According to Google, Facebook, and the rest of the Internet, there are several fellows with the same name as me roaming this Earth. Many Michaels Werneburg. At least two are Americans. There's also a motorcycle enthusiast in Austria. And three or four different Germans including an artist.

The name is German, of course, and arose from the Thüringer Wald, a hilly forest in the country's center. The first record of the name "Werneburg" then "Berneburg", dates to 1254 in a town named "bear town" in Germany. The name came to be spelled "Werneburg" instead of "Berneburg" because in German, the "w" is pronounced with a 'veh' sound, and 'v' and 'b' are of course quite close (as we'll see below).

As names go, something dating back to the 13th century isn't bad. In German its vowel sounds have a nice round quality and the "r"s are slightly rolling. It's the non-German pronunciation that have led English-speakers to mutilate the poor thing all my life. Here's a sample.

  1. Ucemmebug, Mcchacl

  2. Man, this doesn't even begin with a "W"! An unsuccessful job applicant made this most surprising stab at my name. Uccemebug (pronounced Oo'chemebug) became my nickname for a while; I still use it as an alias on various websites.

  3. Vegeburger

  4. I guess we're going to inch our way up the alphabet. I suppose this one doesn't really count, because spell-checking software is .. stupid.

    that's Vegeburger to you.

  5. W.eburg

  6. In the late 90's, Toronto Hydro (what is it with these power companies!) thought that this was how my name was spelled. Honestly, couldn't they recognize a typo when they saw it?? Or did they think I'd adopted some faux-fashionable web 1.0 name? I don't even know how to alphabetize this.

  7. Warnerberg

  8. This was the name under which I was configured in an employer's Active Directory server. It meant that every document I created had that name tucked away inside it, as did every email I put 'round for the first few hours. Three spelling mistakes in one name.

  9. Wberneburg

  10. Huh? Did the girl at the film counter in Calgary really think someone's name would be spelled that way? Or is this a statement of true apathy. "Whoops, fat-fingered that one .. ah, screw it."

  11. Weinburg/Weinberger

  12. Curiously, this is a constant problem. I don't understand the shift from 'er' to 'ei', but English-speakers are ready to do it at the drop of a hat. In the 80's, one of my teachers even asked if I were related to Casper Weinberger!

    Even Google liked to get into the act. This screenshot was made in 2004 when I was looking up a "Werneberg".

    Google doesn't like Werneberg
  13. Werbebuger

  14. Geez Louise. I think this person spelled my name this way on purpose, in the 'comments' section of this site. Back when I got comments, that is.

  15. Werbeburg

  16. A new one in early 2015, one Ms. Glicksman of Waterfront Toronto got it .. closish.

  17. Wermeburg

  18. Okay, I'm not crystal clear when I speak....

  19. Wernbrienurg

  20. EnergyAustralia had this. Imagine that one said with an Aussie accent!

  21. Werndenberg

  22. Reported by my brother, who shares the struggle. We've now got the first four characters right....

  23. Wernebub

  24. Nope. Maybe you're looking for my neighbour Beezle?

  25. Werneberg

  26. Wow, all but one character correct. This is a particularly common one. I've seen coworkers, bosses, friends, even my business partner do this.

  27. Werneburd

  28. At a cottage "resort" in the Kawarthas, spring of 2016. I can't believe it took this long for this one to come up.

  29. Werneburger

  30. This is about the only one I actually find irritating. Do we really need an extra syllable? And another "ur" sound, at that?

  31. Werneburt

  32. From the dry cleaner.

  33. Wernebury

  34. My health-benefits-insurance firm thinks my son's last name is "Wernebury" despite having my name correct in their files.

  35. Wernedurg

  36. And on the second day of 2014, the mailbox gave to me (well, my darling wife) a letter addressed to Mari Wernedurg. It came from a company with whom we've been doing business for three years, but with whom we'd entered a new contract. Yes, you guessed it; a mobile phone carrier.

    In early 2015, my son went to a funeral, and nervously wrote his name "Wernedurg". Sigh.

  37. Wernegurg

  38. This is an amusing one, and not too uncommon when I've spelled it to someone on the phone. I suppose if your last name is something like Ford or Chin, Wernegurg's as good as Werneburg....

  39. Wernerbug

  40. I had a fun minute with this one, wondering if I'd be able to cash the cheque from the twits who'd spelled my name this way. The bank accepted it, and didn't miss a beat on trying to up-sell "Mr. Wernerbug" some services.

  41. Wernerbuurg

  42. A new one for '15. Amazingly, this was a transcription error. A postie wrote it like that while looking directly at an addressed package.

  43. Wernevurg

  44. Another amusing mis-spelling I come across from time to time. Of course, it's the famous 'v' to 'b' transwhatever that changed the original name pronounced Berneburg to Verneburg.

  45. Werrneburg

  46. I'm on a committee of five people, where this spelling persists.

  47. Whirlybird

  48. My mum told me that they received mail for 'Whirlybird' in the 70s.

  49. Winterbird

  50. This was supposedly the way that the itinerant workers on our farm thought our name was spelled. I like this one, it reminds me of the AI Wintermute from a novel by William Gibson. My cousin, who shares the plight of this last name, used it for her production company.

  51. Wmeburg

  52. A fresh entry dating to 2013, this is how Toronto-Dominion Direct Investing thinks my name should be spelled. This is after weeks of clowning around to get my account open because their automated account open process was "broken".

    I've been trying to get this fixed for two years without success. TD seems to mean well, they're certainly free of the annoying shi* that CIBC put us through, but they're not great at execution.

  53. Wurneburg

  54. Someone on one of my boards made this attempt.

    (dis)honorable mentions

  55. "Mr. Whatever-it-is"

  56. The fellow who ran the storage outfit in Vancouver addressed me as "Mr. Whatever-it-is", then broke into a digression that suggested I use the name 'Green' to avoid confusion. Another time he called me up asking for "Mr. Werne"; when I told him my actual name, he apologized and hung up.

  57. Werneburg

  58. Wait, that's the right spelling! What was amazing about a recent item of snail mail that arrived was that "Werneburg" was practically the only thing they got right in the entire address sticker. They had "Slingagala" instead of "Shinagawa" for the city name, then tried again with "Sunugawa" which is particularly amusing because it is the same word repeated in my address. They also got the postal code wrong .. and yet the mail arrived.

    So much for the humorous typos and other oddities that English-speakers have come up with. But if I thought it was a hassle dealing with English-speakers, I learned that it could be far worse when I moved to Japan:

    Related articles

    katakana blues

    2010.06.18

    Living with a foreign name in Japan is tricky, tricky.

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    reader comments

    Very very interesting

    yes, Mike, how very interesting! Know any other family stories? Most of them I've never heard. fascinating stuff. So true about Opa and the herbicide. Oh, and you misspelled "Annelise". you put "Annalise". No big deal, but hey,it was her name. how have you been? haven't heard from you since Oma died. looking forward to hearing from you soon,

    -Your cousin Kate

    P.S. i like the "Winterbird" thing. if I ever need a stage name , I'll consider it. i was thinking, (should the need arise) about using Farcastle, which is a fairly literal translation, but that one is intreguing too.

    P.P.S. i'm only 5 foot 8 and a half, but I have no aversion to being billed as 6"2'!

    Kate Werneburg
    2002.03.25

    Only 5'8", tsk tsk. We'll have to revoke your last name....

    -Michael

    rand()m quote

    (In which I leave the final word to someone else.)

    If I had my life to live over, I'd try to make more mistakes next time. I would relax, I would limber up, I would be crazier than I've been on this trip. I know very few things I'd take seriously any more. I'd certainly be less hygenic... I would take more chances, I would take more trips, I would scale more mountains, I would swim more rivers, and I would watch more sunsets. I would eat more ice cream and fewer beans. I would have more actual troubles and fewer imaginary ones. Oh, I've had my moments, and if I had to do it all over again, I'd have many more of them, in fact I'd try not to have anything else, just moments, one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of my day. If I had it to do all over again, I'd travel lighter, much lighter than I have. I would start barefoot earlier in the spring, and I'd stay that way later in the fall. And I would ride more merry-go-rounds, and catch more gold rings, and greet more people and pick more flowers and dance more often. If I had it to do all over again - but you see, I don't.

    -Jorge Luis Borges

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