Having the Name Leith Has Been a Mixed Blessing

(This originally appeared on the blog portion of my MobileMe site, in a post dated August 12, 2011.)

Leaf, Leif, Kleith, Lieth and Leitch–these are just a few of the numerous misspellings I get for my first name Leith.  And don’t get me started on the mispronunciations!  As you can probably imagine, I spend a fair bit of my time explaining to people where my name comes from and what it means.  As a result, I have amassed quite a bit of information, some of which I will share in this post.

Leith has several meanings as a Gaelic noun, including “share,” as in “leith mar leith,” or “share and share alike.”  Leith is also the name of the port of Edinburgh, Scotland.  As a proper noun, Leith has been transformed in Gaelic to mean the “moist place” or “river.”  This latter definition is appropriate, as the mouth of the Leith River empties into the Firth of Forth at the Leith port in Scotland.

But I am named after a place on the other side of the Atlantic–a village called Leith–which is about six kilometres east of Owen Sound, Ontario.  When I was growing up, I spent many summers at the Peterson cottage at Leith.

Although I have many happy memories of my time at Leith, Ontario, having the name Leith has definitely been a mixed blessing.  From the Valentine’s cards in public school addressed to “Leaf,” to the too-oft ribbing about my Viking connection (Leif Ericson), there appears to no end to the ways people can distort my name.  As no one seems to have any trouble getting Keith right, I’ve tried explaining my name is like Keith only with an L.  Then I get Kleith.

Leith is usually found in the boys’ and not the girls’ section of the what-to-name-the baby books.  I constantly get Mr. Leith. . .and I’m a Ms.  (But in recent years, a number of people have told me about other females named Leith, so maybe more baby books will start adding it to the girls’ section).

I know the “i before e except after c” jingle has been thoroughly engrained into most people’s minds because I have great difficulty convincing some people that my name is an exception to the rule.  In fact, a few insist on spelling my name Lieth despite my protestations.

But there is nothing that will get me more peeved than those who persist in spelling my name Leitch.  Now tell me, how many parents would give their daughter the name Leitch?  I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve spelled out my name very slowly, and what do people put down?  You guessed it.

Problems with my name usually happen in waves.  Things will go along swimmingly for a few months, and then there will be a rash of “Leithal” errors.  About nine years ago, I got so fed up that I decided to publicly air my grievances.  The result was my two published articles in the London Free Press (2003) and the Owen Sound Sun Times (2004).  Each article dealt with a different facet of the situation.

This public venting seemed to help reduce the number of blunders.  In fact, I thought the worst of it was behind me, but, alas, I was wrong.  Yet another wave soon beset me.  One night, after a horrendous week of them, I dreamed that I was face to face with God and Satan in the afterlife.  God insisted on spelling my name Lieth, and Satan contended my name was actually Lethe.  (Lethe (pronounced Lee’thee) is the mythological name for one of the rivers that flows through Hades; drinking of its waters makes people forget their time on earth.)

I was so angry with God and Satan for distorting my name that I informed them I was going to create a whole new society in the afterlife.  At that point, the alarm went off and I woke up.  I raced to my desk and wrote down the details.  The result was “Leithal Knocks,” a 10 minute staged reading performed at the Grand Theatre’s Playwrights Cabaret in 2005.

I hope this exposure to my Leith lore will inspire an increase in the correct spelling of my name.  And to others who have unusual names and suffer like I do, let’s encourage those around us to ask, when they don’t how to say or spell our names.  Even though this approach does not always work for me, it does eliminate a few bloopers.