Halifax — Eábhlinnh Eábha Mackay came into the world with a big smile on her face and unlimited potential in life.
She will also spend a considerable portion of that life on the phone with customer service representatives trying desperately to get them to spell her name correctly.
“We felt it was important for her to take pride in her Scottish-Gaelic roots,” said Eábhlinnh’s father, Greg. Both Greg and his wife, Sharon, are of Scottish heritage and draw a tremendous amount of pride and inspiration from their background. Neither speaks a word of Gaelic.
“These were the names our highland ancestors had, fierce clan warriors who guarded their independence with the sword.”
Eábhlinnh Eábha, spelled Evelyn Eva in most English-speaking parts of the world, will grow up to discover she lives in a world where the incorrect spelling of one’s name by government services, hotel desks, airline bookings, utility bills and so very many more can be a serious impediment in life. An operator at a call centre in Lubbock, Texas, for example, might assume she is selecting letters at random from a Scrabble pouch.
It is an experience common to many Maritimers with Gaelic-spelled names.
“She actually laughed and thought I was making it up,” recalled Padráig Mac Ceáoinnháill, a Halifax bartender, of a past customer service call. “I insisted the accent is part of the name and she just thought it was a prank.”
Michael Zrpsow, a professor specializing in consumer relations at the McCain School of Business, estimates that for each gratuitous “h” added to a name, an average of 1.6 minutes is added to every customer service interaction that individual will ever have.
“It doesn’t sound like much, but for some of these kids, that’s an extra four months they’re spending in bureaucratic hell per lifetime.
“I know myself. Zrpsow is a difficult surname to spell.”