Rant: English Un-Dunne

The name ‘Dunne’ extends back one thousand years to the Emerald Isle. In old Gaelic it means brown and reflects the darker hair and features of those who make up the clan. In the world’s greatest melting pot, the USA, the Irish Diaspora ensured the name, like here, is in the top ten percentile band of most common surnames.

The slightly more common variant of the name – minus the “e” – reflects an English or Scottish influence. As a youngster, feeble of mind, it proved irrationally irksome that there were more White Pages of ‘Dunn’ in the phone book than there were of ‘Dunne,’ even if both were heavily represented.

Inevitably my schoolyard sobriquet was Dunney, although ‘Dunney-can’ provided temporary amusement for some, until they realised dropping the ‘can’ was easier and still referred to a toilet. But at least in emphasising the “e” phonetically to establish a blokey bonhomie, the name’s actual pronunciation was clearly understood.

Sometime in the mid-seventies when attending Camdenville Public in St Peters, a relief teacher with a long name and awkward grasp of English asked for Jason “Dunney” while reading out the class roll. With the area still having a large working class, Irish Catholic population, the misunderstanding provided great classroom mirth.

For two decades however, such misunderstandings remained rare. Until circa the mid 1990s when something strange happened almost overnight… The name ‘Dunne’ became unpronounceable and continues to be unpronounceable virtually without exception to the present day.

When confronted with the letters D.U.N.N.E, bank clerks, shop assistants, police officers, Green Peace spruikers, nurses, doctors, telemarketers, English teachers and cousins on my mother’s side can only manage ‘doon,’ ‘dune’ (as in sand dune), ‘doonay’ (the sophisticated continental interpretation) or, for old time sake, ‘dunney.’ I even get ‘june,’ as though it were spelt ‘Djunne’ with an inexplicably silent D.

So who or what is to blame? (Someone has to be!)

The under-funded education system? The information super-highway that makes us dumber by the day? Generation Y anarchists? Last week I had a colleague give me the ‘dune’ treatment and another ask on April 24th if “there was some kind of parade in the city tomorrow?”

Is it because Australia’s Anglo-Celtic fortress has been compromised by a Fifth Column of ‘foreigners’ in the Asian millennium?

Or is it because call centres have been outsourced abroad? Though I can’t blame Ananthalekshmi for getting it wrong given what I’d do to her name.

But even florists named Kylie from Cronulla and Irish backpackers taking my infomercial order for ab-firming equipment get it wrong.

I have no answers but I can at least take solace in the likelihood that if no one knows how to say ‘Dunne’ correctly, they probably don’t know what a Dunney-can is either.

Words: Jason Dunne (pronounced “d-uh-n”)


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