What’s in a Name?


monster-children-filipe-toledoWords by Jamie Tierney / Image by Kirstin Scholtz via WSL

If Brazilian surfer Filipe Toledo wins the Pipeline Masters next month and clinches his maiden WSL World Title, the first thing he should tell the audience on stage and online is how to pronounce his name, because no one can seem to get it right.

Listen to the English feed of a WSL webcast and you’ll hear commentators Ronnie Blakey, Ross Williams, Joe Turpel and Peter Mel give him the Spanish pronunciation, “Felipe.”

While Martin Potter and others go with the French, “Philippe.”

Strider Wasilewski thumbs his nose at both by calling him “Phil” or “Philly boy.”

Now listen to Filipe’s compatriot Italo Ferreira say it the Portuguese way on stage at the Rip Curl Pro in Peniche where they finished 1 and 2. It goes like this guys, “Fee-Lee-Pee.”

Filipe’s last name doesn’t get treated any better.  Everyone pronounces it like the city in Ohio “Toh-Lee-Doh”, rather than the one in Spain, “Toh-Lay-Doh.”  The commentators struggle with Italo’s as well. Some put the stress on the first syllable and say “IT- allo” while others put it on the second, “It-ALLO.”  Both are wrong. It’s “E-tallo.”

#3 ranked Adriano de Souza rarely catches a break on his surname. It’s pronounced with a long O – “de Sooza”, not “de Suza.”  Even Wiggolly Dantas, whose moniker is fun and easily rolls off the tongue of an English speaker, gets screwed. 1989 World Champion Potter calls him, “Wiggolly Dantay” during his color commentary. WSL commentators are not trained linguists, but it seems telling that they don’t mind taking an imprecise approach to their Latin name-calling, but it’s a disaster if they mix up an Anglo name. Last year Pat Parnell copped a heap of shit online for hilariously mashing Owen Wright and Julian Wilson into “Owen Wilson” when he announced Wright’s heats. Parnell was not brought back for this year’s tour, but no one bats an eye if commentators manage to mangle Hizunome Bettero or Gonzalo Zubizarreta into something unrecognizable.

Brazilian surfers have long felt like second rate on tour. They’re usually paid much less in sponsorships than their American or Australian counterparts, receive sparse media attention, and they’ve often felt like the judges scored them lower in heats. These days, however, they dominate the tour. Gabriel Medina won the world title in 2014, and right now four out of the top six in the rankings are Brazilian. Isn’t it about time WSL commentators respected their accomplishments by learning how to say their names correctly?  Mainstream commentators deal with way more difficult names and work hard to get the pronunciation right. Think about what an ESPN announcer must go through trying to sound out the alphabet soup of Mike Foltynewicz of the Atlanta Braves, Erisabel Arruebarrena of the LA Dodgers, or TJ Houshmandzadeh of the Cincinnati Bengals.

English speakers aren’t the only ones with the problem, though. I’ve heard local beach announcers butcher the names of famous Anglo surfers in different countries. I’ve heard Kelly Slater become “Kerry Shrata” in Japan and CJ Hobgood announced as “Hobjigoodjee” in Brazil. A top junior surfer in the Canary Islands told me with a straight face that his favorite surfers were “Yulian Wilson,” “Yordy Smith” and “Nat Jung.”

So if Filipe takes the crown, he could politely teach us all a lesson. Or he could go Marlo Stanfield on us from “The Wire” and shut everyone up by saying, “My name is my name!’

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