a difficult name

2010.01.14 (updated : 2024.02.24)

or: thirty-eight ways to misspell our family name

Updated with a second new misspelling in early 2023!

According to Google, Facebook, and the rest of the Internet, there are several fellows with the same name as me roaming this Earth. Many Michaels Werneburg. At least two are Americans. There's also a motorcycle enthusiast in Austria. And three or four different Germans including an artist. I'm also susceptible to the problem of receiving email for various M Werneburgs.

The name is German, of course, and arose from the Thüringer Wald, a hilly forest in the country's center. The first record of the name "Werneburg" then "Berneburg", dates to 1254 in a town named "bear town" in Germany. The name came to be spelled "Werneburg" instead of "Berneburg" because in German, the "w" is pronounced with a 'veh' sound, and 'v' and 'b' are of course quite close (as we'll see below).

As names go, something dating back to the 13th century isn't bad. In German its vowel sounds have a nice round quality and the "r"s are slightly rolling. It's the non-German pronunciation that have led English-speakers to mutilate the poor thing all my life. Here's a sample.

  1. Beneberg

  2. This is a tortured version of our name, having gone through the translation process to Japanese and then back to Roman characters. When it arrived (2023/04) it took me a moment to recognize that as our name.

  3. Ucemmebug, Mcchacl

  4. Man, this doesn't even begin with a "W"! An unsuccessful job applicant made this most surprising stab at my name. Uccemebug (pronounced Oo'chemebug) became my nickname for a while; I still use it as an alias on various websites.

  5. Vaneba-ku (ヴァネバーク)

    Someone in the neighborhood association took this stab at our name in early 2024.

  6. Vegeburger

  7. I guess we're going to inch our way up the alphabet. I suppose this one doesn't really count, because spell-checking software is .. stupid.

    That's Vegeburger to you.That's Mr. Vegeburger to you.

  8. W.eburg

  9. In the late 90's, Toronto Hydro (what is it with these power companies!) thought that this was how my name was spelled. Honestly, couldn't they recognize a typo when they saw it?? Or did they think I'd adopted some faux-fashionable web 1.0 name? I don't even know how to alphabetize this.

  10. Warenburg

  11. In 2018, Mari spotted this attempt on some correspondence from our son's tennis club.

  12. Warnerberg

  13. This was the name under which I was configured in an employer's Active Directory server. It meant that every document I created had that name tucked away inside it, as did every email I put 'round for the first few hours. Three spelling mistakes in one name.

  14. Wberneburg

  15. Huh? Did the girl at the film counter in Calgary really think someone's name would be spelled that way? Or is this a statement of true apathy. "Whoops, fat-fingered that one .. ah, screw it."

  16. Weinburg/Weinberger

  17. Curiously, this is a constant problem. I don't understand the shift from 'er' to 'ei', but English-speakers are ready to do it at the drop of a hat. In the 80's, one of my teachers even asked if I were related to Casper Weinberger!

    Even Google liked to get into the act. In 2004 I made a screenshot of its suggestion that I try Weinburg when looking up a "Werneberg". They've now stopped for some reason so I took it down. The algorithm has decided I'm worthy!

  18. Wenburg

  19. A new entrant in 2019, this is the first from my son. A teacher at his school put this down when he signed up for something.

  20. Wenreburg

  21. Another new one in 2019, also encountered by my son. This is how someone at the YMCA spelled the name.

  22. Wenvenurg

  23. A colleague wrote this in late 2021. Usually they at least get "Wer".

  24. Werbebuger

  25. Geez Louise. I think this person spelled my name this way on purpose, in the 'comments' section of this site. Back when I got comments, that is.

  26. Werbeburg

  27. A new one in 1995 when the federal government's tax office had something to say, this turned up again twenty years later in early 2015, when one Ms. Glicksman of Waterfront Toronto got it .. closish.



    This came from one of my colleagues in June of '21. I'm pretty sure it's come up before but I noticed that I hadn't added it to the pile.

  28. Wermeburg

  29. Okay, I'm not crystal clear when I speak....

  30. Wernbrienurg

  31. EnergyAustralia had this. Imagine that one said with an Aussie accent!

  32. Werndenberg

  33. Reported by my brother, who shares the struggle. We've now got the first four characters right, we must be wrapping this thing up, right? Haha, no we're just about half-way.

  34. Wernebub

  35. Nope. Maybe you're looking for my neighbor Beezle?

  36. Wernebung

  37. So close, Red Cross donations phone operator. So close. I do forgive you, I'd only read it to you three times.

  38. Werneberg

  39. Wow, all but one character correct. This is a particularly common one. I've seen coworkers, bosses, friends, even my business partner do this.

  40. Werneburd

  41. At a cottage "resort" in the Kawarthas, spring of 2016. I can't believe it took this long for this one to come up.

  42. Werneburger

  43. This is about the only one I actually find irritating. Do we really need an extra syllable? And another "ur" sound, at that?

  44. Werneburgh

  45. "1-800-GOT-JUNK" sent me an invoice for the removal of a sofa in late '18. The next spring I was doing some clean-up and spotted the misspelling.

  46. Werneburt

  47. From the dry cleaner.

  48. Wernebury

  49. My health-benefits-insurance firm thinks my son's last name is "Wernebury" despite having my name correct in their files.

  50. Wernedurg

  51. And on the second day of 2014, the mailbox gave to me (well, my darling wife) a letter addressed to Mari Wernedurg. It came from a company with whom we've been doing business for three years, but with whom we'd entered a new contract. Yes, you guessed it; a mobile phone carrier.

    In early 2015, my son went to a funeral, and nervously wrote his name "Wernedurg". Sigh.

  52. Wernegurg

  53. This is an amusing one, and not too uncommon when I've spelled it to someone on the phone. I suppose if your last name is something like Ford or Chin, Wernegurg's as good as Werneburg....

  54. Wernerbug

  55. I had a fun minute with this one, wondering if I'd be able to cash the cheque from the twits who'd spelled my name this way. The bank accepted it, and didn't miss a beat on trying to up-sell "Mr. Wernerbug" some services.

  56. Wernerbuurg

  57. A new one for '15. Amazingly, this was a transcription error. A postie wrote it like that while looking directly at an addressed package.

  58. Wernevurg

  59. Another amusing mis-spelling I come across from time to time. Of course, it's the famous 'v' to 'b' transwhatever that changed the original name pronounced Berneburg to Verneburg.

  60. Werrneburg

  61. I'm on a committee of five people, where this spelling persists.

  62. Whirlybird

  63. My mum told me that they received mail for 'Whirlybird' in the 70s.

  64. Winterbird

  65. This was supposedly the way that the itinerant workers on our farm thought our name was spelled. I like this one, it reminds me of the AI Wintermute from a novel by William Gibson. My cousin, who shares the plight of this last name, used it for her production company.

  66. Wmeburg

  67. A fresh entry dating to 2013, this is how Toronto-Dominion Direct Investing thinks my name should be spelled. This is after weeks of clowning around to get my account open because their automated account open process was "broken".

    I've been trying to get this fixed for two years without success. TD seems to mean well, they're certainly free of the annoying shi* that CIBC put us through, but they're not great at execution.

  68. Wunabirg

  69. Our six-year-old daughter's attempt, October 2018.

  70. Wurneburg

  71. Someone on one of my boards made this attempt.

  72. ヴェネパーク (Venepaaku)

  73. This is a stab at ヴェーネバーグ (Veenebaagu) which how our name is spelled in Japan.

    (dis)honorable mentions

  74. "Mr. Whatever-it-is"

  75. The fellow who ran the storage outfit in Vancouver addressed me as "Mr. Whatever-it-is", then broke into a digression that suggested I use the name 'Green' to avoid confusion. Another time he called me up asking for "Mr. Werne"; when I told him my actual name, he apologized and hung up.

  76. Werneburg

  77. Wait, that's the right spelling! What was amazing about a recent item of snail mail that arrived was that "Werneburg" was practically the only thing they got right in the entire address sticker. They had "Slingagala" instead of "Shinagawa" for the city name, then tried again with "Sunugawa" which is particularly amusing because it is the same word repeated in my address. They also got the postal code wrong .. and yet the mail arrived.

  78. Michael Minolta

  79. Someone at a camera repair place in 2011 thought this was my name, somehow.

So much for the humorous typos and other oddities that English-speakers have come up with. But if I thought it was a hassle dealing with English-speakers, I learned that it could be far worse when I moved to Japan:

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Very very interesting

yes, Mike, how very interesting! Know any other family stories? Most of them I've never heard. fascinating stuff. So true about Opa and the herbicide. Oh, and you misspelled "Annelise". you put "Annalise". No big deal, but hey,it was her name. how have you been? haven't heard from you since Oma died. looking forward to hearing from you soon,

-Your cousin Kate

P.S. i like the "Winterbird" thing. if I ever need a stage name , I'll consider it. i was thinking, (should the need arise) about using Farcastle, which is a fairly literal translation, but that one is intreguing too.

P.P.S. i'm only 5 foot 8 and a half, but I have no aversion to being billed as 6"2'!

Kate Werneburg
2002.03.25 00:00:00

Only 5'8", tsk tsk. We'll have to revoke your last name....


It is great that you insist upon keeping your ancestors'name. My favourite writer did just that and finally his impossible German name became the very synonyme of truly great absurd literature. Kurt Vonnegut. He got Freuenkirche in Dresden rebuilt from its ashes by way of a short crazy novel, Slaughterhouse Five.

I am a Hungarian. There is no way for non-Hungarians to either write down or spell out our names. I use George instead of my true christian name György. Out of shere politeness. And selfishness,I guess. Avoiding embarrassment when abroad.

2017.08.29 00:00:00

Yes, many Canadians are familiar with Hungarian names (like Nagy, which is pronounced very differently). I don't think I've seen "György" spelled that way before, and understand why you'd modify its spelling. My father and his brothers by and large went by Anglicized names, so Helmut became Hal, Wolfgang became Wilf, and Ulrich became Ollie. Only my uncle Horst stuck to the original spelling. 8)

At the same time, a good friend named Miχalis (he's Greek) goes by Michael, and an employee of 20 years ago named Miroslaw went by Mike. A more recently employee named Youmna went by her middle name, Theresa. It's quite common here where we speak English. As an Iraqi Jew once told my mother: "We say in the middle east, if you speak three languages you're trilingual; if you speak two languages, you're bilingual; if you speak only one language, you're English."


rand()m quote

The wise are instructed by reason, average minds by experience, the stupid by necessity and the brute by instinct.

—Marcus Tullius Cicero