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What’s In a Name?

I was alerted to a direct and sustained attack on my Canadian-ness by our new director of development, Christopher Check (better known as Herr Direktor) in his otherwise fine and insightful blog post of March 14. The issue at hand was the proper pronunciation of Bergoglio, the family surname of Pope Francis.

Before I take a mukluk-clad step further, I must admit that my rhetorical well has been poisoned. Signor (Italian spelling) Check asserted that I acquire a bad mood when I start to lose an argument. And yet he conceded my point. Now, I don’t know if I should opt for a bad mood because I lost or a good one because I won. A studied ambiguity is best.

To the issue of nomenclature, papal or otherwise, my stance is simply that when folks emigrate, they invariably, eventually, adopt the linguistic mores of their adopted homelands. This happened to the Bergoglios of Argentina. Jorge was born and raised in Flores, an inland district of Buenos Aires.

We now interrupt this fascinating blog post with an interesting sidebar: Buenos Aires is short for the city’s original name, Ciudad de la Santísima Trinidad y Puerto de Santa María del Buen—“City of the Most Holy Trinity and Port of Saint Mary of the Fair Winds,” so dubbed by the Spanish conquistador Juan de Garay (1528–1583).

Okay, back to the regularly scheduled post. In Italian, the second g in Bergoglio is indeed, as Herr Direktor noted, a soft one, as in “Bear-GO-lee-o.” But the Spanish language has no equivalent sound for this letter combination, which is known as a true palatal. Ergo, if you vist Peru (as I have) or any Latin American country, you will hear all manner of Italian and German names pronounced with Spanish ornamentations. Jorge Bergoglio and his family are still known all over the Latin world, phonetically, as la familia “Bear-GO-glee-o,” with two long o‘s and two hard g‘s. 

Some Italians may sniff at accommodations like this, but name tweaks are a very common tradition for immigrants to America (Ellis Island was one big editing factory), as well as for immigrants to other countries. 

One thing I must concede is that Herr Direktor Check (pronounced “chek” and not “keck” per the original Upper Bessarabian) has a much more elegant way of putting things, and he anoints his prose with more Latin that I could hope to. I also wholeheartedly endorse his thesis that the Church is not any kind of political movement. (You can’t blame me. If I disagreed with him, he’d just use some of his former Marine officer voodoo on me. Again.)

Viva Papa Francis! And there’s much in that name.


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