When someone pisses the internet off, they get their name spelt wrong. That’s just what seems to happen these days.
Sometimes these spelling errors are derived from genuine mistakes, the pop culture version of making a typo in the group chat and your mates rinsing it for weeks on end. You know how it goes: “Hey, how’s it goon,” you type. You press send. You start to type “*going”, but it’s too late. “This mf said goon,” comes the response. It’s instant. They are like hyenas on a carcass, quicker to reply than when you actually need a response from any of these people.
It makes sense, then, that this translates to a wider context when celebrities are involved. What is life if not one, big group chat? And for a celeb, what’s more important than their name?
Perhaps the most memorable example is Wendy Williams calling Dua Lipa “Dula Peep” on her show in 2018. Meanwhile, a young fan called Nicki Minaj “Miki Minach” in a viral video back in 2016. And, last but not least, there was John Travolta introducing Idina Menzel as “the wickedly talented Adele Dazeem” at the Oscars in 2014.
Of course, none of these examples were intended to be malicious towards their unfortunate subjects. Neither Williams nor Travolta (nor that tiny Barb) were even trying to be funny. They were, quite simply, verbal typos. However, the internet latched onto these mispronunciations and the rest is history. Minaj, for example, was on the receiving end of her particular misnomer after she featured on Jesy Nelson’s controversial single Boyz last month. While this was partly fuelled by the backlash to the song (Nelson was criticised for “Blackfishing”), it was also to avoid backlash from Minaj’s fans – the artist’s stans were searching for any tweets mentioning her and spamming the poster’s DMs with hate.
Other times, however, these misspellings are ridiculous for the sake of being ridiculous. Let’s zoom in a bit from Minaj’s megastardom and reduce the scale. No, not quite back to group chats. Zoom out again. We’re talking Love Island – more specifically, 2019’s season five, when viewers (by which I mean Twitter users, of course) took to calling contestant Arabella Chi “Arrabbiata”, “Umbrella”, “Armadillo” and any other word that had a vague resemblance to her actual name. Why? Well, they didn’t like her. But at this point, who knows where the names originated. It doesn’t matter.
The thing is, Arabella is posh and posh people always have bizarre nicknames, so this should be par for the course for Ms Chi. Granted, posh nicknames usually sound like something you’d call your dog and you don’t hear many people yelling out names of tomato-based pasta dishes in the park. But nevertheless, it was ridiculous and therefore it was funny, in a way that is impossible to explain to anyone who isn’t chronically online.
It’s not just people that get this treatment, either. COVID has also fallen foul of the chronic misspelling, too, perhaps to make light of a situation in which so many of us feel powerless. Whether it’s a “panoramic”, a “pandemonium”, or even a “panettone”, it seems people would much rather call it anything other than a “pandemic.”
What is it about intentional misspellings that cut so deep? And what makes it so funny for those out of the firing line? “Our names are a key part of our identity,” says linguist Lucy Pembayun, founder of LeAF Translations. “When people alter them and deliberately use them incorrectly, it hurts. It is like someone taking part of your identity away, saying ‘I know you are called this, but I’m going to call you this and there’s nothing you can do about it.’ It’s a common tactic used by playground bullies and a very effective one for belittling and denigrating others.”
She adds: “On the other hand, there’s a reason word plays are used in marketing and advertising slogans – they stick in the brain. Just think how effective French Connection’s FCUK has been. Unfortunately for celebs like Dua Lipa and Love Island’s Arabella, the misspellings and mispronunciations of their names are far more memorable and amusing than the originals.”
Many people would admit that they’re a little more careless with language on social media than they are offline, especially as it’s sometimes hard to read tone over the internet and things can easily be taken the wrong way. As Pembayun says, “Cheap jibes are the order of the day so it is no surprise that these, in part offensive, word plays spread like wildfire!”
Of course, trolling and abuse on social media is a huge issue, particularly for women, people of colour and members of the LGBTQ+ community, and celebrities and those in the public eye aren’t immune to that. If the original intention wasn’t malicious, does it matter if the ensuing usage on social media becomes malicious? Some celebs have embraced it, too, with Dua Lipa saying that she doesn’t mind people calling her Dula Peep. In fact, the name has now been adopted by fans to become a term of endearment.
When racism, transphobia, homophobia and misogyny are rife online, a simple misspelling seems relatively harmless by comparison. Mocking names that are perceived as “different” can be rooted in racism, but is that the case in any of these examples? Is it really that deep? Do we not have bigger fish to fry? We are in a panoramic, after all.