My name is an odd one. Lewis William Denby. Lewis is of Welsh origin. [Next-day edit: Actually, that’s a complete lie, isn’t it? It’s French. But it’s the Welsh appropriation of it.] Denby like the Dale, which I believe originates from the Scandinavian settlement in the area: “Dane” as in the nationality, “-by” being a suffix attached to make it into something like “A place where the Danes live.” William’s about as English as you can get. I’m mainly English and a bit Scottish, in case you were wondering. My parents just thought the name sounded neat.
I like the name, too. But I have a confession to make: I find it nearly impossible to say and not make it sound rubbish. Other people manage fine. They say it in a way that makes me feel I have a name that rolls off the tongue, that manifests as a part of beautiful, flowing speech. They say it how I wish I could say it. I never can.
Whenever I have to introduce myself to someone, I get nervous, for this very reason. For whenever I try to tell somebody my name, it comes out a bit like this:
“Loose Done Bee.”
I have no idea why. I’ve tried experimenting with ever-so-slight shifts of pronunciation, but can only ever make it sound worse. If I try to lose the “loose”, as it were, my mild West Yorkshire accent (with a hint of North Yorkshire from my dear mother) makes it sound like I’m over-emphasising the ‘W’, and it ends up sounding like “LooWis”, which is repulsive. Trying to make the ‘E’ in ‘Denby’ sound like I want it to invariably leads to me somehow stumbling over the ‘N’, coming close to stopping it instead of nasalising it, resulting in a sort of horrible ‘Dengby’. A variety of friends call me “Lew”, but I have never, ever been able to adopt this for myself and not have it sound like the most preposterous thing I’ve ever heard. I absolutely don’t mind being called “Lew”, but I would never call myself it.
Other people, mainly friends I’ve known since childhood or ones who are Kieron, often call me just “Denby”. Which is fine, and sort of serves a purpose. Especially since they can invariably actually say my name in a more pleasing manner than I can. I especially dig hearing this in a really broad Yorkshire accent. “Den-beh.” It’s good. It led to some teenage joshing-around with the internet tag “Denbear”, but then I stopped using Livejournal when I was about 16, and it’s always sounded astonishingly silly since. I’d love nothing more than to be able to emulate people’s not sounding ridiculous when saying my name. I’ve been learing my name since the 1980s! Why can I still not pronounce it in an aurally satisfactory manner?
I suspect it might have something to do with the fact I hate my voice generally. I haven’t really sounded much different since I was about 14 or 15. Or, I don’t perceive that to be true, anyway – a quick listen to old Mr. Charming recordings (age 16-17) makes me think it might have ‘gruffed-up’ a little, so to speak. But I still think of myself as having a somewhat nasty, nasally, adolescent voice. (I mentioned this to J.D., who hates his own voice so much he has never even listened to the podcast he co-hosts, and he told me I sound like a real man. I don’t believe him.) I blame the fact that I’m only 5’6″ tall. My vocal tract isn’t long enough to make me sound cool.
But I would love, just once, to stand up in front of someone new and say “Hello. I’m Lewis Denby,” without immediately cringing or, worse, stumbling over my name entirely because I’m so bloody nervous about how stupid it’ll sound.
Is this just me? Am I really that weird?