At Commencement, Getting the Names Right

Since 1996, Rose Marie Beebe, a Spanish literature professor at Santa Clara University near San Jose, Calif., has been responsible for reading the names of graduates from Santa Clara's college of arts and sciences. Those names aren't all "Smith" or "Jones." Try Dana Keali'nuipi'ilaniomaui Creston Wolfe.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Here is something that typically happens before an interview in this program, something you don't hear but today, we'll do it on the air. Can you please tell me how you pronounce your name?

Professor ROSE MARIE BEEBE (Spanish Literature, Santa Clara University, San Jose, California): My name is Rose Marie Beebe.

SIEGEL: And you're a professor of Spanish literature at Santa Clara University in San Jose, California, correct?

Prof. BEEBE: That's correct.

SIEGEL: Now, it is precisely because we do this all the time for radio - ask people how they pronounce their name - that we felt a sense of shared experience when we read about Professor Beebe in the San Jose Mercury News. And Rose Marie Beebe, why don't you describe your special role at the university at commencement every year.

Prof. BEEBE: I'm the lector who reads the names for the graduates in the College of Arts and Sciences. I get to read close to 600 names at graduation, and the diversity of students on campus makes this quite - I don't want to call it a job, but it's quite a task. I have to prepare about a month in advance…

SIEGEL: Wow.

Prof. BEEBE: …to say the names properly.

SIEGEL: American universities, of course, are melting pots nowadays and it's not all the Smiths and Jones that you're reading. What are some of the more challenging names that you've had to remember?

Prof. BEEBE: Well, I remember one name that I read in 2001. It was the valedictorian and I definitely practiced that name so much, I was dreaming the name. The student's name was Dana Keali'nuipi'ilaniomaui Creston Wolfe, which is quite a mouthful. And I recalled that when I said the name, as he was walking across the stage, the student turned around and he winked at me, and some of the faculty started clapping because I was able to pronounce the whole thing effortlessly.

SIEGEL: Now, I just wonder whether you have the same experience that we have here when we frequently ask people how do you pronounce your name. I mean, do you say, Greenstein or Greenstine(ph)? It is remarkable how many people will say it really doesn't matter. You know, it doesn't matter however you want to say it, is okay with me.

Prof. BEEBE: I've gotten that from a few students, and I said, but this is your name and we want to say it correctly, so just tell me how you want it done. So sometimes I have to pin them down on that, but when I speak to parents over and over they say to me, thank you so much for taking the time and the care. It means a lot to us especially after we spent all this money on our child's education. We want to hear it said correctly.

SIEGEL: Well, can you show with us some names that you're working on right now?

Prof. BEEBE: Well, I have one name, Shevis Hadeimi Kakaiwakuta(ph), which is quite a long name. I have some Indian names, Ratanjit Sohal(ph).

SIEGEL: You will have to read out 600 names. What's your method for rehearsing and preparing so that you'll know how to pronounce the more challenging names when you have to?

Prof. BEEBEE: Well, what I do is I have a list of all the names - I get the list a month in advance - and I have phonetic pronunciations that the students give me. But sometimes the phonetic pronunciations are not - they're not quite right or the students don't know how to write the phonetic pronunciation correctly. So I will call a students. I'll ask them to leave me a voicemail with them saying their names so that I can listen to that pronunciation over and over.

I practice everyday, morning and evening, about 15 or 20 minutes, do this in my kitchen. And I do have a four-legged supervisor, which is my dog who - I think I bore him to death, but he lays there on the little carpet in the kitchen, listens to me saying the names, so I have an audience.

SIEGEL: And what is your dog's name?

Prof. BEEBE: My dog's name is Conde Duque de Olivares - that's a mouthful for some people. But he's a long-hair dachshund and he's named after a minister in the court of Philip IV of Spain. And you may have seen a painting in the Prado of the Conde Duque de Olivares. He's on a horse so I named my dog after that person.

SIEGEL: Well, thank you very much.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: That's Professor Rose Marie Beebe of Santa Clara University in San Jose, California, who is the lector. She reads aloud the names of the graduates at commencement at Santa Clara.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: