2012-03-29 / Views

From the Braver Institute

“It’s pronounced ‘aims’ said my good friend E.M. Dash, barging into my office.

“What?” I said puzzled. “It looks like it should be ‘eems’, but it’s really ‘aims’.”

A day or two before, Dash and I had been talking about Charles and Ray Eames (husband and wife, not brothers) the noted designers, famous for their modern architecture and furniture.

I had always assumed the name was pronounced “eems”, and now I felt a bit foolish for saying it that way for years. I decided that I now needed to do as Romans do when in Rome and from that point forward; I would say “aims” in conversation, even though it seemed wrong.

It reminded me of a former coworker who had moved to Steuben in northern Schoolcraft County. Steuben isn’t technically a town, and by all official accounts it appears that it is what is called a “populated place”, which sort of means that you won’t find it on a lot of maps, and therefore most likely you will never need to say the name outside of this portion of the Upper Peninsula.

To look at the name, if you were to find it on a map, you would naturally think the pronunciation to be simply “stuben”. I know that this is what I thought whenever I came across the name on a map. But when I moved to Schoolcraft County, and heard the locals pronounce the name as “stu-BEN”, I knew that I had it all wrong, and immediately corrected my pronunciation.

Things weren’t so easy for my coworker. He had been living in Steuben for a few years, and it was apparent that he was on some kind of small-scale mission to get the populace to change the way they pronounced Steuben. In his eyes everyone else was saying it wrong. I remember him saying “I don’t know why everyone calls it Stu- BEN when it is Stuben” with all the seriousness of a heart-attack.

I could see where he was coming from, but I don’t understand why he wouldn’t just give in, and call it what the people who live there call it, after all you would think that they would be the ones who know. Putting unexpected emphasis on a syllable isn’t unheard of, nor is it incorrect. It’s not like it was being pronounced in a way contrary to its spelling. Which leads me to the case of the city of Ishpeming further to the west.

First time readers of the name Ishpeming may stumble a little over its pronunciation, but if you slow down, and read it carefully, you will pick it up in no time: Ishpem ing, or Ish-pe-ming. It is easy enough once you have said it a few times, but if you say it too many times, (which can happen if you decide to move there) you run the risk of adding letters to the name that aren’t really there.

An inordinately large percentage of the population (although not a majority) of Ishpeming, and its surrounding area has managed to work an “R” into the name. Ishperming is used with such regularity; you would swear that every map on the planet has it spelled wrong. Years ago when my good friend Ezra Hammer and I lived in Ishpeming, he would jokingly ask “Just how many R’s are there in Ishpeming?”

On the other hand you have the city of Munising, which usually ends up losing an “I” when spoken by those unfamiliar with the name. Myoo-ni-sing becomes Mun-sing. Once again this is a little bit of an awkward name upon first reading, but it is pronounced properly in short order, most of the time.

Anyway, back to my new-found proper pronunciation of Eames.

It is not every day that I have reason to discuss the workings of the designers of furniture, so the opportunity had not presented itself to show off my pronunciation of the name for several weeks following my conversation with Dash. When the subject finally did find its way into conversation, I proudly pronounced the name as “Aims”, not once, but on several occasions during that conversation.

A month or so after that, I happened upon a documentary about Charles and Ray Eames. Fascinated by their work, and the work of other modernist architects and designers, I had to watch it.

I was surprised to hear throughout the film the people who knew, and worked with Charles and Ray, casually, constantly, and consistently pronounced their name as “Eems”.

I don’t understand why all of them would want to pronounce it wrong.

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