This issue of how Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) says his last name has been percolating for a while. There’s a video that’s been floating around social media for months now in which DeSantis is shown introducing himself in various venues: Ron DEE-Santis on some occasions and Ron DIH-Santis on others.
In mid-March, former president Donald Trump stumbled onto it through whatever mysterious process meme-ish content permeates his awareness. On his social-media platform, he shared a video of a tweet from a supporter that included the aforementioned video.
It’s amusing and, for many people, a little baffling. At the time, there was a flurry of articles about the shift, including a lengthy examination of DeSantis’s pronunciations of his own name at New York magazine. The issue faded.
Until Thursday morning, when Axios spurred it anew. It wasn’t just that the news site noted the discrepancy, it was that it asked both DeSantis’s presidential campaign and a super PAC supporting his candidacy for clarification.
Neither offered any.
Instead of finalizing the proper pronunciation of DeSantis, though, I’d like to talk about someone else: Teresa Giudice. A certain, large part of the American population knows where I’m going with this. For those who don’t, I’ll probably need to explain who Giudice is.
Teresa Giudice is the longest-running member of the cast of the television show “The Real Housewives of New Jersey.” Since the reality show launched in 2009, it has centered heavily on a couple of overlapping families of Italian American heritage including the Gorgas, of which Giudice was born a member.
Teresa Gorga Giudice began her television career being referred to as Teresa JOO-dice. A few seasons later, though, she began saying it as joo-DEE-chay. When she was on “The Celebrity Apprentice” in 2012, she also used the latter pronunciation. So: Why?
During a 2018 podcast, Giudice explained what changed: nothing. She just uses both.
“I’m fine with it. I’m not like, ‘Oh my God, you just said my name wrong, like, I’m going to freak out,’” she said. “No, I’m just like, ‘It’s fine. Whoever can say joo-DEE-chay, they could say it; whoever can say JOO-dice is fine.”
It is absolutely the case that Giudice is not a reliable narrator of her own life, as her 14 years on television (and a brief stint in prison) have made clear. It is also the case that Giudice offers dubious pronunciations for a lot of other things, too. But this particular divide is itself not that abnormal.
“I am Italian American,” New York’s Margaret Hartmann wrote in that March piece about DeSantis. “I have plenty of family members who say their last names differently from their cousins and even their parents, and I know firsthand that it’s often easier to shrug off other people’s mispronunciations.”
Part of this is simply a function of adapting the Italian language to English-speaking boundaries. In 2018, writer Michael San Filippo explored the ways in which the surnames of famous Italian Americans had been squeezed into our less melodic formulations. Joe dee-MAH-joh becoming Joe dih-MAJ-ee-oh, for example. Where has the original pronunciation gone!
So a nation turns its confused eyes to the Florida governor. Is DeSantis just saying DEE-santis sometimes and DIH-santis other times because he just sort of says it different ways at different times? That’s the distinction here, of course. It’s not a DiMaggio-esque imposition from outside but a more Giudice-y malleability.
It’s useful to remember that there are a lot of things that seem static or obvious in our own lives that are for others less solid. Some people have unusual first names and don’t really police how others pronounce them or how consistent they themselves are in switching between a full name and a nickname. Some people have a parent of one race and another of another and identify their race in different ways at different times. I’m sure you or the Florida governor can think of other examples.
All of which is to say that … it doesn’t really matter. It’s not impossible that DeSantis made some calculated decision to stop identifying as DEE-santis in favor of DIH-santis, but one might then think his campaign would rapidly confirm the latter. It’s more likely that the answer is the one Teresa Giudice offered: He just says it in slightly different ways sometimes.
The governor would likely agree with my suggesting that we let him identify his surname in whatever way he sees fit. It’s his surname. Who are we to insist he has no right to change it? Why would we impose some stringent insistence that last names have only one correct pronunciation?
It’s June 1. Let’s make this month a month in which we take pride in our last names, however we choose to pronounce them.