Why the Media and Political Conventions Misspell Latino Names

"The use of accents would require that every time AP writes about someone in the United States with a Spanish-sounding surname, reporters and editors would have to determine if the individual prefers the accent or not. (Some Americans definitely would; some definitely wouldn't). The same would apply to people whose names suggested their origins are in France, Germany, Scandinavia, Italy, etc. — do they want accents, the umlaut, etc? Not to say that's impossible, but it would be difficult to limit such a policy only to politicians," he wrote in an email.

Additional barriers to accent mark-usage exist. Some systems require complex coding sequences to insert an accent on English-language program. Moreover, when searching online, English-speaking news consumers tend to enter names without accent marks. In a market where traffic numbers matter, many media companies prefer dropping the symbols for search engine optimization purposes. Even here at Univision News, we've had inconsistencies on our English language site because our stories perform better in Google searches if we leave the accents off, according to our social media editor Conz Preti. Despite these challenges, a handful of companies that generally fall in line with the AP style guide, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, have bucked the rules in order to consistently spell Hispanic names the way the subject prefers that the name be spelled. Some American Latinos decide to leave off the accent marks in Spanish names, because they say the battle to clarify the spelling is not really worth it or it's just not that important to them. However, Sara Inés Calderón, a Latina blogger and journalist, chose to keep the accent marks in her name, despite the pain it sometimes causes. While she understands the technological restrictions to using accent marks in specific online platforms (she wrote a TechCrunch column about them), she's doesn't buy it that most blogs and websites can't use them.

"I mean, even my horrible old Blackberry can manage accent marks. If print newspapers can handle them, I don't understand why websites can't," she said.

Julián Castro's spokesperson Jaime Castillo told Univision that the San Antonio mayor doesn't really mind when his name appears without an accent. "The lack of an accent mark in print does not bother him," Castillo noted. "He uses it mostly to help folks with the proper pronunciation. An effort so folks say "who-li-AHN" rather than "jeew-li-un," Castillo wrote in an email.

However, Calderón says that she finds it odd when news outlets drop the accent, because it anglicizes the pronunciation.

"To me it's a little bit disrespectful, I would never meet someone called John, and just start calling them Juan," Calderón said.

Accents are important not just because of cultural sensitivity, she says. Sometimes leaving off accent marks changes the meaning of a word. According to Calderón, the San Antonio Express-News started using accent marks when Calderón's friend, deceased columnist Carlos Guerra, explained to the paper's editors that their headline that meant to wish readers a "feliz año nuevo" [translation: happy new year] instead wished them a "feliz ano nuevo" [translation: happy new anus].

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