Comic: Pros and Cons of having a “rare name”

There are plenty of good (and bad) things about having a difficult-to-pronounce last name - trust me, I would know

OB_15_17  comic comics life in japan texan in tokyo cartoon pros and cons of having a difficult to pronounce name

Growing up, I had a love-hate relationship with my last name. It’s “Buchele.” Pronounced “Byuk-ley.”

I’ve never met someone who could correctly pronounce my (old) last name – just by looking at it. Every year in elementary, middle, and high school, teachers would do “roll call” for the first two weeks of class – before they learned everyone’s names. Which meant for most of the first week, teachers were coming up with all sorts of creative ways to pronounce my last name.

Looking back, it’s actually pretty funny.

The teacher would hit my name (see all the notes they had written beside it), and call out “uhhh, Bu – kel – ley?”

A couple people would chime in “No, it’s Byuk-ley!”

I got made fun of quite a bit for my odd last name.

But… to someone painfully shy (like me), it was actually a blessing in disguise. Having a rare name meant that people remembered who I was. I was “that girl with a weird last name.”

Then, of course, I got married and took my husband’s last name. I ended up changing my name to Grace Buchele Mineta (getting rid of my former middle name) because I just couldn’t bear to part with “Buchele.” It’s a weird name, but it’s grown on me~


Like these comics? Check out my comic books (on Amazon):

My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy: The Comic Book


My Japanese Husband (still) Thinks I’m Crazy


Confessions of a Texan in Tokyo

About Grace Buchele Mineta

I got into the writing business by accident. Now I live in the countryside near Tokyo with my husband, Ryosuke, where I draw comics, blog, and make videos about our daily life. Contact: Website | More Posts

27 Comments on Comic: Pros and Cons of having a “rare name”

  1. My name is Tiffany. Tiffany Ng.
    How do you pronounce that?
    “N.G.” ?

    It’s pronounced: -“ing”.

  2. Beth Buchele // 25 May, 2015 at 10:39 am //

    Grace, I tell people it is Buchele,
    like Buchanan. That seems to help them “get” the pronunciation.

  3. I don’t think my last name is rare, it’s Simon, lIke the game. But even so, it gets butchered. I’ve had a substitute teacher call me semon once. But when I say my name people butcher it then too! They will add extra m, n, s I’ve even had someone try to spell it Symmonds. Sigh.

  4. My last name is Brost and for the longest time, nobody could decide how to pronounce it – was it pronounced like ‘post’ or like ‘cost?’ It turns out, it’s supposed to be pronounced ‘Brotz’ and the correct, non-anglisized spelling is Broß. When my German ancestors came to Canada the dudes who wrote down my ancestor’s names kind of butchered them, thus how it’s spelled ‘Brost’ (correctly rhyming with ‘post.’) There’s other English versions of it too, for example, ‘Bross,’ but all the Brosts/Bross’ are related – ALL of them – and all descend from Germany.

  5. I’m Rhiannon Cherise Ries, now that I’m married. The middle name isn’t something used often/at all so I can live with it. But it’s just that having three hard to say names is kind of nightmarish – I’ve been called Brianne, Rihanna, Fiona, Rhianne, Rhianoon…Ryeannin…ugh.

    And Ries? I get called Mrs Reece, Mrs Ryes, Mrs Rye-ess. It’s said like ‘bees’ but with an r instead of the b. So ‘rees’ lol.

    Anyway, sorry for venting on your blog! Difficult name owners unite!

  6. I have that problem with my first name, Cheyenne. Of course, Japanese people cannot tell at all how to pronounce it from reading it (they usually think it’s “chain”). But even when I pronounce it for them they still struggle with it. I think that all the vowel variation is not easy for them to pronounce because it will always end up diminishing into “Shain”. Then I’m just like “No! That’s a boy’s name!” So I ended up taking my middle name and translate its meaning into Japanese. It happened to be a common name in Japanese and I liked it. It saved me from pronunciation problems but then I got a lot of “How can she have a Japanese name? She’s foreign.” -.-

    I think when I return to Japan I will just use “Shai” even though it sounds just like “shy”. I never thought my name would be such a hassle~

  7. Another uncommon surname, here in the UK, the northern vowels have ended up pronouncing as Ebb-rull.

  8. I have a rare maiden name and my husband also has a rare Japanese last name that is not very common, so I understand your experience. Teachers and many people I met in my life could never pronounce my maiden last name right or spell it correctly, and they would say my name sometimes on the intercom at school which was embarrassing because they would pronounce it wrong lol.

  9. Both my name and surname are not rare at all back in Italy but they are impossible to spell for most foreigners, which usually leads to a lot of misunderstandings. I learned to be patient about that, even though sometimes I still feel frustrated when people just don’t get it!

    In case of emergency, I learned to just butcher my name from Margherita to Ma: when you are lining up at Starbucks for a cup of coffee, you just don’t have time to stop and spell all 10 the letters of your foreign complicate name!

  10. I have a similar experience too, I have a double barreled surname, of which the second name is rare for the UK. When pronouncing for the first time people always hesitate and give me the ‘please help me’ look and I usually just laugh jovially (refusing to assist) when their attempt is inevitably bad.

    My first name is uncommon in the UK as well but usually people mutilate the spelling and not the pronunciation, k, i and e’s make appearances where they have no right to be, it makes adjusting reservations and appointments ‘interesting’ :)

    I’ve learned to just roll with it, it’s usually quite a good ice breaker when meeting strangers, people never forget you, weird and wonderful nicknames emerge and many people have admired my name.

    I’m not too sure if a name makes a person but I’m sure I wouldn’t trade my name in for a boring one, even with it’s annoyances.

    I’m travelling in Japan later this year, it’s going to be interesting to see how they handle the pronunciation…

  11. We had once a guy from the US as an exchange student during my high school time withrhefamily name of Buchele. He wrote on the blackboard that it was pronounced Bukley. But also stated that it entirely depedingon the region the family was from. I think it is irignaly an Anglo Saxon name but not too sure anymore :)

  12. Hey, I think that’s pretty close to how I would have pronounced Buchele! But then, I’m German and I have a little experience with the English pronunciation of germanic last names!

    My own last name (which I won’t state because it’s super rare) used to be Scottish. But 4, 5 generations in Germany have messed up the spelling so much that neither Germans nor Scots can pronounce it properly!

  13. You know your last paragraph here only serves to make people think: “So what’s Grace’s former middle name?”, right?

  14. I’m still a little confused about the pronunciation.
    Is the “u” a short “u” (as in duck) or a long “u” (as in Buchanan)?
    Is ley pronounced lee (as in your comic) or lay (as in ley line)? (I figure it’s lee, but thought I’d ask since I’m asking about the “u” anyway.)

  15. Sounds like we had much of the same experience. If I wasn’t known by “the girl with the weird last name,” I was “quiet girl.”

    My maiden name is Italian. I’d rather not say what it is for privacy reasons, but it’s ten letters and four syllables long. In my entire 22 years of pre-marital life, I’d only ever heard one person correctly pronounce it on the first try just from reading it. About half the time I’d have to recorrect people’s pronunciation after I’d already told them. Then, there’s always that one person who couldn’t get it right if they had a gun to their head. I eventually resorted to adding pronunciation markers to name badges, et cetera, and also using clip art to say “it’s really these four little words put together!”

    I may have a super common last name now, but I also no longer care if people say my first name wrong. Japanese words are hard enough for Westerners, let alone forcing them to say one just to get my attention. My attitude now is “go ahead and call me ‘Curry’ — it’s just easier!”

    Though I’ve been over the mispronunciation of my maiden name AND my first name for years, I still can’t speak any word or name if I’m not 100% sure how to say it. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for this important info, haha. n_n

  16. Happily I did not try to say your name when I talked about your manga cause I pronouce it French style haha !

  17. Beth Buchele // 23 March, 2015 at 10:53 am //

    Grace, I tell people to think of “Buchanan” and then our pronunciation makes sense–the first 4 letters of both names are the same.
    Twice in my life people have pronounced it right, one was my music teacher, whose daughter had married a second cousin. The other was a lucky guess, she said.
    Moving back to the sort of small town where your dad & I grew up means people can pronounce properly. It is almost weird when that happens. Most people remember your dad (he’s a memorable guy!).
    Aunt Beth Buchele

  18. Bren Shuler // 23 March, 2015 at 10:27 am //

    My family name is not that uncommon and except for Japanese tongues easy enough to pronounce. But my given name is pretty rare and unusual except that everybody would assume it ended with the letter “t.” It doesn’t help that my middle name begins with “T.” Both my brothers have rather unique first names. When asked about this I just joked that my parents played a lot of Scrabble.

  19. My wife didn’t even flinch to pronounce your name right! She said it was a common name in Minnesota. I pronounced it Boo-shay-lee. Glad you put up this post. People pronounce Reyes wrong all the time. Can’t figure that out.

  20. Well I never would have guessed that’s the way to say it! My maiden name was also very rare, it was easy when answering the phone to tell if it was a solicitor or someone who knew us, because strangers never got it right the first time!

  21. One of the Chinese characters of my husband’s name is very rare – so rare that most people do know how to pronounce it or write it. It is funny to hear my husband on the phone trying to explain to the person on the other end how to write the character of his name.

  22. Viet Lee // 23 March, 2015 at 9:07 am //

    Half the time people including fully grown Adults can’t pronounce “Viet” right even though America been involved in Vietnam for 20 years. But at least I don’t have a even more exotic name like my Indian friends, they have tricky names

  23. Haha Grace, all this time, I DID think it was Bu-CHELLE! Is that the most common mispronouncing?

    As for my last name (Japanese, begins with K), to NON-Japanese people who are apologetic about pronouncing my name wrong, I laugh and say, “Don’t worry, Japanese names are hard to pronounce.”

  24. Oh, maybe it’s the French part in me, but I always thought it was pronounced “Bu-chelle”. Sorry~ haha
    For me, people never get my last name right if I tell them and they have to write it. NEVER. I have to spell it everytime, and even then, they get it messed up. It’s funny :)

  25. Yeah, I would have never guessed how to pronounce your name from the spelling. I don’t know why teachers didn’t do to you what they did to my unpronounceable childhood surname when calling roll: “Ashcroft.” “Here!” “Blackstone.” “Present!” “Caldwell.” “Here.” Looooong pause, followed by a tentative, “Autumn?”

    • Haha, I have the same problem, my last name is German, so the pronunciation is always butchered. On the plus side, we always know when telemarketers are calling!
      I always thought Buchele was French, is it a European name?

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