When Lucé Vela Fortuño, the first lady of Puerto Rico, took the stage at the Republican National Convention to introduce Ann Romney last week, her name — or something like it — appeared above her in three-foot block letters.
"MRS. LUCE FORTUNO, FIRST LADY OF PUERTO RICO," the sign read. For some viewers, there were two glaring errors: Luce (without an accent) would be pronounced "loose" in English, while her name in Spanish is spelled Lucé (with an accent) and pronounced "loo-SAY." And Fortuno (without an ñ), as the RNC announcer pronounced it, would be "for-TOO-no" phonetically, but should have been spelled Fortuño and pronounced "four-TOO-nyo."
When the video was posted on YouTube, the name appeared with both accent marks, and when Lucé's husband Luis Fortuño took the stage, his name appeared correctly. The RNC did not respond to requests for comment regarding their inconsistent spelling and pronunciation choices.
But, it's not just the RNC. With a growing number of Latino politicians in the limelight this election season and both parties clambering for the Hispanic vote, journalists and political strategists have been forced to choose how to spell Spanish words and Latino names, like those of San Antonio mayor Julián Castro and Gov. Luis Fortuño. And the only thing that has been consistent is their inconsistency.
On the DNC website, for example, one can find Julián Castro's name spelled Julian (without the accent mark) in several places, even though he prefers to spell it with the accent. Media outlets including CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, The Huffington Post, CSPAN and PBS flip between spellings that include accent marks and don't — sometimes even in the same article.
In comparison to other issues facing the Latino community in the U.S., a few dropped accent marks here and there aren't a huge deal. But the question represents one of many factors which English-language media outlets and political strategists have had to consider while catering to an ever-expanding Hispanic population during this election season.
There may actually be some institutionalized factors that keep writers from spelling Latino names correctly, with accent marks. The Associated Press Stylebook, a standards guide widely used by many news outlets including our own, tells writers not use accent marks on Hispanic names. English-language AP stories "do not use accents for Hispanic names or other Spanish words," David Minthron, the deputy standards editor and co-editor of the AP style guide, told me in an email. "The main reason for that is technological. Accents don't transmit through all computer systems of members in the AP cooperative or other English-language subscribers," he noted.
When I asked Minthron if he could list the specific web publishing platforms that don't support accent marks, he didn't respond, but he did note that Spanish-language AP stories do use accent marks. Minthron also added in a later email that the use of accents would make extra work for English-language reporters: