It was during the potato famine of the mid-1800s, when an Irish immigrant and his cousin showed up in the United States speaking mostly Gaelic. When the immigration officers tried to issue their official documents, they asked the ruddy Irishmen for their last name. The Irishmen replied, “Ó’Dochartaigh.”*
The poor officials stared at the men and asked them to repeat it. “Ó’Dochartaigh.” And one more time? Perhaps out of laziness, or misunderstanding, the “Ó” was dropped entirely. One official wrote down “Dockerty,” hardening the middle “ch” sound a bit too much for the sake of clarity. Meanwhile, the other one wrote down “Daugherty,” attempting to recognize the sound, the voiced pause in a name, without following any laws of the English language.
It only took a single generation, maybe two, before Mr. Daugherty’s children and grandchildren had lost touch with their Gaelic side entirely. Speaking only English, they had no ability to form the gutteral middle stop that belonged between “Dah” and “her,” before ending with “tee.” It was only a matter of years before they stopped bothering to pronounce all three syllables at all. By the time the original Ó’Dochartaigh passed away, his misbegotten grandchildren were simply known by “Darty.”
However, dropping sounds is a simple, natural matter. Language evolves over time quite by itself. Changing official documents is another matter entirely. No one was willing to lose touch with their Daugherty heritage, or bother with the lines at DPS to change their driver’s license (I suppose I’ve jumped a few decades here). So they continue to live with the cumbersome middle letters “ughe.”
This isn’t even my own story, of course. I married into the problem of those four extra letters, leaving behind a life of ease and fluency as a Dobbins—plain, English, straightforward Dobbins. And despite his own struggle to live with the name, my husband is a traditional American male whose very identity is bound to his last name. So we continue, forever missing emails that were addressed to a Daughtery. Because, after all, most English speakers are used to writing the word “daughter,” misplacing the T in Daugherty, and tacking a Y on at the end for good measure. Daughtery, Daughtery, Daughtery.
I’ve learned to live with it. When I check-in anywhere or give anyone my name, I spell it slowly and deliberately, particularly around those middle letters. “DAU- G – H – E – R -TY.” And every time, I can’t help but think how lovely, how simple it would be if they had anglicized it to its true destiny: “Darty.”
If you don’t think it’s really that bad, just tell that to Social Security. It took them three tries to print my new card after I got married. And you should see the looks I get in public spaces. At a doctor’s office, for example; when the nurse comes to the door, clipboard in hand, and calls out, “Anna…” [cue look of panic] “Dau– Daughtry?” There’s a reason we carefully chose first names for our children that were easy to say and spell.
Luckily my mother-in-law passed on a handy rhyme that helps: “‘Darty,’ like party.” I use it often. And that’s how most people remember it. The few who do, at least. Though if they ever need to send me an email or look me up, God help them.
Oh, to be a Daugherty without the ughe!
*Obviously a largely fictionalized bit of fun.