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On using diacritical marks in players’ names

New York Mets v Washington Nationals

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 08: Adrian Gonzalez #23 of the New York Mets hits a grand slam in the third inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on April 8, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

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I’m Bill, short for William (for some reason). I’m named after my father, who was named after his father. When I was a kid, I went by Billy. My grandpa, who was otherwise terrific, insisted on calling me Willy or William throughout my childhood. I hated it. It felt so wrong to my ears. Despite always saying, “It’s Billy!” he continued to call me Willy. He did so in humor, not malice, but it wasn’t any more enjoyable knowing that.

On Twitter this evening, a discussion emerged concerning the use of diacritical marks in players names. For those unaware, a diacritical mark is a small symbol added to a letter. Essentially, it tells you how to pronounce a certain part of the name. For example, one would likely pronounce Ronald Acuna’s last name, sans accents, “Ah-coo-nuh.” One pronounces Acuña, “Ah-coo-nyuh.”

The distinction is important. Writing and pronouncing a person’s name how they want it to be written and pronounced is part of acknowledging and respecting their humanity. Until recently, most sportswriting has omitted diacritical marks. The reason for that isn’t out of disrespect or wanton cruelty. Rather, it is because of educational chauvinism and ignorance. Chauvinism is often used in the context of gender, as “chauvinist pig” was a common insult for a sexist man. “Chauvinist” generally means to believe one’s own cause to be correct. Many schools don’t teach the use of diacritical marks -- mine didn’t -- so it is implicitly chauvinist. Names without diacritical marks are normal, according to these institutions. We graduate from these schools having learned this. Then some of us become sportswriters who retrofit people’s names to fit what we were taught. Sportswriting by and large omitted those accents from players’ names until very recently, including here. Sportswriters rarely asked players how to properly write and pronounce their names. Unsurprising, given the past and current demographics of sportswriters.

I say all of that to point out that our failure to use diacritical marks isn’t necessarily malicious, just ignorant. There are also other issues to contend with as well. Readers may have noticed, for example, that players with accented letters in their name don’t get properly linked to their Rotoworld pages in our posts. This is an automatic process as part of our CMS (content management system). My knowledge of coding is rudimentary, but getting the system to identify and properly handle diacritical marks seems fairly complicated. That our systems fail to handle accented letters by default is chauvinist, however.

Last month MLB sent out, via email, its “2019 Player Name Presentations and Pronunciation Guide.” It goes team-by-team, listing the players’ preferences for their names and how to pronounce them correctly. The guide doesn’t appear to be available on or anywhere else, though it should be -- here it is. All baseball writers -- and, ideally, all fans -- should read the guide and be mindful of the players’ preferences. The Dodgers’ second baseman is Kiké Hernández. The Twins’ right-handed pitcher is José Berríos. It isn’t difficult to write this way, either. Aside from copy-pasting from the Internet, a Windows user can hold ALT and press a sequence of numbers on the numpad. A Windows user can also open up the character map, or “charmap” program. Mac users can press Option as opposed to ALT and punch in a series of numbers corresponding to a specific diacritical mark. On phones, one can generally press and hold a letter to bring up various options.

I didn’t like it when my grandpa called me “Willy.” I can imagine players don’t like it much when sportswriters and fans write or pronounce their names incorrectly, especially when they now have a league-sponsored guide for it. Putting in the tiniest amount of extra work to respect someone’s name preference is truly the least we can do.

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