Many languages make use of characters outside the standard English A-Z set, and these characters often make it into family names, e.g., Özil, Fàbregas, Čech, Szczęsny, and so forth. Surprisingly (to me), kit manufacturers often produce shirts where the player's name has a special character replaced with the closest approximation within the English A-Z set, e.g.,

  • At Arsenal, Szczęsny's shirt says Szczesny, and this version of the name is even used in the club's website. Similarly, Čech goes by Cech.
  • Many Iceland players have names with a þ or a ð in them, and then carry shirts where it is replaced with th. For example, Sigþórsson went around the Euro this summer with a shirt that said Sigthorsson. This is also the version of his name in his Nantes website.

Many such examples can be provided. Effectively, the only special characters that regularly make it into shirts are Germanic umlauts and Spanish/Portuguese accents. This is odd, because the change in spelling often entails a change in pronunciation (e.g., Šmicer's Liverpool shirt used to say Smicer, even though š and s correspond to different sounds; this is like giving Ronaldo a shirt that says Renaldo and then going "eh, close enough, who cares").

So here there are actually two questions. First, why do clothing companies systematically produce shirts with known misspellings (unlikely to be economic reasons, I think; the cost of procuring additional characters is probably trivial relative to the size of the market)? And second, why do the relevant players systematically tolerate the misspellings?

  • It is interesting to note that Szczęsny's and Čech have (or had) names without diacritics on their Arsenal shirts whereas the club permits the umlaut in Özil's name. It might that whether diacritics are excluded or not be due to whether the player himself is happy or not with the exclusion: if he is happy, then the diacritics are dispensed with for practical reasons. (This is just a personal opinion, hence I'm posting as a comment rather than answer.) – George Law Jul 27 '16 at 8:35
  • It seems that even within a single club, the rules about carons aren't always applied consistently. Look at this and this. – Dawood ibn Kareem Aug 19 '16 at 11:43

The FIFA equipment regulations mandate:

7.6 The letters used for the Player’s name must be (...) Latin characters. Phonological diaeresis, such as accents or umlauts, are permitted.

So the answer to both of your questions is: Because the FIFA laws say so.

I can only speculate as to why these laws are there. Most likely, referees and spectators will prefer to have any spelling they can pronounce. For instance, I have no idea how to start pronouncing 郑智, 武磊 or 郜林. Although the spellings Zheng Zhi, Wu Lei, and Gao Lin probably don't match the correct pronunciation, they are sufficiently recognizable and allow any European to approximate the player's name.

Even worse than not being able to pronounce these names, it may also be hard to distinguish them during a fast-paced match. In effect, names written in unknown character sets do not fulfill the primary function of a name; identifying a person by name would be hard.

I'm not aware of any ruling that forbids writing out the full player's names in press materials such as club websites. My guess would be that it's more important for the name to be consistent than right; if every English fan mispronounces the name the same way, they can still talk about the players.

Incorrect renderings may also result in a better pronunciation. Asking a German how Sigþórsson would be pronounced, the result would be likely be Siɡpʰɔʁsɔn, whereas Sigthorsson's German pronunciation of Siɡtʰɔʁsɔn is much closer to the correct one (in addition to creating an excellent pun).

The players have to follow FIFA laws. Just as some players would like to play with a cool cap, or have sponsor names on their shirts, they have to bow to the laws. Also, some players may themselves prefer their names' pronunciation to be consistent but wrong - or sometimes, as in the case of Sigþórsson, rendered incorrectly but pronounced (more) correctly, because a recognizable/spellable name increases prominence, and increased prominence translates to increased income.

  • I accept the answer, but I dislike it, as it makes little sense from a linguistic/orthographic perspective (a German umlaut, for one, is not a diaeresis). If one wants to say that the ñ in Cañizares is a licit extension of the basic Latin character set, there is no obvious reason to deny the š in Šmicer the same status. – Koldito Jul 27 '16 at 7:22
  • 1
    I’d guess these distinctions might also be based on such boring differences as the ability to write the specific character on a keyboard and availability in the fonts used. E.g. I noticed international athletics competitions sometimes keep acute accents in names, but drop “more exotic” carons: a quickly found example of Barbora Spotáková without Š but with Á. – Mormegil Jul 27 '16 at 20:35

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.