When Brittin Boike began teaching 10 years ago, students’ names were spelled in unique, non-traditional ways more often. One year, many of her students’ names had the letter y replacing the letter i; for example, Kaitlyn.
“Now it’s more phonetic, that (parents) want their kid’s name to be pronounced correctly,” said Boike, a first grade teacher at Voyager Elementary School.
The Echo Press asked people with unique first name spellings to share the stories behind the names. The responses were all regarding female names.
Although not as common now, Boike still sees some non-traditional spellings. Through the years there has been Getzael (pronounced Hix-al), Kya (Kaya), Jordyn (Jordan), Graysyn (Grayson) and Alivia (Ah-livia).
“Parents are very creative and as much as you would think that there would be lots of repeats, there are lots of years that it’s 25 different names,” she said.
Gina Christopherson from Kensington named her daughter Khrystyna (pronounced Christina). She also has boys, but spelled all their names the traditional way.
“You can’t give a boy a strange spelling. That would just be cruel,” she said.
Christopherson, like Boike, was a teacher and knew that people associate others with the way their names are spelled.
She did some research and found out that Khrystyna is an East German spelling which fell in with some family ties.
“I think for the most part it worked, because her teachers would go, ‘Oh yeah, you’re the one with the different spelling,’” she said.
However, people spell the name incorrectly and give Christopherson strange looks when she first tells them how she spelled her daughter’s name.
Macaille Mahoney Hafner was named for an Irish saint, Macaille. It is pronounced like the name spelling Makayla.
According to Names.org, more than 99,000 babies in the U.S. have been born since 1880 with the name Makayla, beating out any other spelling of the name.
Hafner said sometimes people think her name is pronounced like Michelle, Marcella or Ma-kale. “I get really anything,” she said.
Her friends and family never gave her any nicknames and she liked that.
Her father’s family is Irish. They were looking through a lot of Irish name books when choosing a name, said Hafner, who was born and raised in Alexandria. She lives in Minneapolis now.
It wasn’t until she studied abroad in Ireland during college that she learned the saint Macaille is actually male. Ireland has also been the only place in the world where people pronounced her name correctly on the first try.
“On the first day of school, when the teacher was taking roll, I always knew when they got to me because there would always be a very long pause,” she said.
Once people learn how to pronounce Hafner’s name, they typically don’t have a problem with it, she said. However, even people she’s known for years can have difficulty spelling it correctly.
With the name she has, Hafner is very aware of other people’s names and spellings. She works in a veterinary clinic with a wide clientele base. “I work really hard at getting everyone else’s names correctly because my whole life it’s been a bit of a challenge.”
Ra Nae Thompson-Antonson of Glenwood was named by her mother, who saw a painting at a baby shower with a little girl. The name of the painting was Ra Nae. It is pronounced like the traditional name spelling, Renee, but with emphasis on the first syllable.
It used to bother her when people would incorrectly spell her name. “It’s really exhausting, because people get so confused when you tell them, ‘there’s a space between the a and the n, and there’s a capital n,’” she said. “A lot of times they think Nae is my middle name.”
Thompson-Antonson has given up on correcting people on name spellings and often gets phone calls from telemarketers asking for Ra.
Having a unique name will cause people to remember that it’s different, she said. She’s happy with the fact that her name is unique.
Her family has a tradition of interesting name spellings. While her husband’s name is Robert, her daughter is named Leyna after the Billy Joel song, “All For Leyna,” her son’s name is Laird meaning land baron, and the name Helen/Helene/Helena has been passed down since 1705. Helene is Thompson-Antonson’s middle name and her daughter’s.
“Whether it’s a name that’s passed down from generation to generation, or if it’s something that meant something to the parents, to me that’s an important way of naming your children, rather than just grabbing a name out of a baby book,” she said.
However, she said baby book names aren’t a bad thing and she looked at baby books when naming her children, too.
Dacotah Stanek of Osakis said her mother named her after KARL-FM DJ Dakota LeAnn Summers because she liked her voice. Her mother wanted a name that was different and uncommon so she changed some of the letters.
Danza Johnsrud of Elbow Lake said her name doesn’t mean anything or stand for anything. It is pronounced Dan-za (not Don-za).
When her mother was pregnant with her, she was riding on a bus, writing letters down on a piece of paper. She was trying to think of a girl’s name in case she had one, and came up with Danza.
Although the name looks like it could be of Hispanic or Latino origin, Johnsrud’s roots are all European. She has siblings with unique names as well: Coral, Paris, Persephone and Carl Carter (C.C.).
Johnsrud was called “Danza bonanza” in school growing up.
“I have always loved my name,” she said. “It never once bothered me. I never felt bullied or made fun of because of it.”
She lived in California for a while and went to Disneyland often. Looking through racks of personalized name items such as mini license plates, she and her siblings would place bets to see who could find each other’s names. But they never felt left out or disappointed when they couldn’t find their names.
Johnsrud had five children and named them all traditional spellings. She said she always kind of wanted to name them with unique spellings. “I didn’t have that creative gene that my parents had. I just couldn’t think of any,” she said.
She currently works as a labor and delivery nurse at Alomere Health and helped a mother with her pregnancy of twins, years ago. The mother was worried that she would lose her babies because her water broke too early.
“I sat with her on the bed and I said, ‘let’s not think about tomorrow or the next day or next week or anything like that. Let’s just think about right now,’” At that point, both of the babies had strong, reactive heart beats. Johnsrud pushed for the mother to keep that in mind going forward, using it as hope.
The mother named one of them Danza. Johnsrud said she was touched when she heard a baby was named after her because she wasn’t trying to say anything profound, she was just trying to help.
And while she was initially a little territorial when she first heard there was someone else in the area with her name, she said she is now happy to share her name with another.