Bad Tattoos and Baby Names

Nope, this isn’t a post about bad tattoos of baby names. (Though that’s a tempting post to write!) This post is about a bad tattoo that belongs to a specific person, and what that tat can teach us about baby names.

The tattoo in question belongs to starlet Hayden Panettiere. I’m not quite sure who she is, but I spotted a picture of her tattoo while randomly looking through photos of celebrity tattoos yesterday. This was the caption for hers:

Hayden Panettiere’s tattoo reads “Vivere senza rimipianti,” which means “Live without regrets” in Italian. Unfortunately, the word “rimipianti” is incorrect; it’s spelled “rimpianti.”

Hayden’s misspelled tattoo.

Yup, a tattoo typo. She took a phrase, tried to translate it into a language she obviously does not know, and wound up with a mess. A permanent mess.

And she’s not the only one with a tattoo like this. Many people waltz into tattoo parlors, see pretty characters up on the walls, and decide to get those characters written into their skin. They don’t know Chinese, or Japanese, or Khmer, or Tamil, or Hebrew, or Greek, or whatever other language the characters happen to represent. They don’t know if the characters are written properly. They don’t know if the characters mean what the tattoo artist says they mean. They just know that the characters are cool and exotic, so they go for it.

Some parents choose baby names the same way. They gravitate toward names from other cultures because these names are so different from the names they encounter every day.

It’s fine to be attracted to unfamiliar things, but it’s really not smart to take these things at face value and make them a permanent part of your life without learning more about them first.

If Hayden had bothered to double-check her translation in an Italian dictionary or with an Italian speaker, she could have caught that spelling mistake before it was etched into her skin. But she didn’t do any double-checking, her tattoo backfired in a big way, and now she looks foolish because of it.

Likewise, if a parent-to-be who likes a certain exotic baby name bothers to do some research, she might be surprised to find out that she’s been spelling or pronouncing it incorrectly all along. She could catch her mistake before making that name her child’s name and making her child look foolish because of it.

Or, better still, she could conclude that a name so unusual that it requires special research is probably too unusual to give to a baby.

11 thoughts on “Bad Tattoos and Baby Names

  1. That reminds me of the actress Samaire Armstrong. Her parent’s pronounced her name as Sam-air, until someone told them the correct Gaelic pronunciation* when she was 3 months old.

    *It’s pronounced – s?-MEER-?.

  2. Remedios!! We almost used that as a middle name for our eldest until a friend from Cuba let us know there was a euphemism “she doesn’t have any remedy” meaning a young unmarried woman who had gotten pregnant. It’s a beautiful name, one I loved from a Garcia Marquez novel, but we live a lot closer to Cuba than south america and decided it was best to stick with names I knew better.

  3. I remember some speculation that ‘Oprah’ was a mispelling of ‘Orpah’, a biblical name. Always seemed silly to me.

  4. You make such a good point. I have an English aquaintance who named her child Kai, not realising that, as well as being the Hawaiian word for ocean, it is the Maori word for food – which wouldn’t be so bad if she was living somewhere far from New Zealand, but is a bit cringe-worthy now that she has moved there with her husband! Poor little Kai will get VERY teased at school.

    This whole subject reminds me of the Mitsubishi car company who named their new vehicle Pajero without realising it means something rude in Spanish – and then wondered why it wasn’t selling very well in Spanish and Latin America!

  5. Just discovered another misspelled tattoo. And this one involves a baby name, ironically.

    The owner is Jeffrey Sebelia, winner of Project Runway, season 3. The tattoo refers to his son, Harrison Detroit. It reads “Harrison Detroit / l’amor de la mia vita,” but it should read “Harrison Detroit / l’amor della mia vita.”

    Easy fix, actually–just connect the “de” and the “la” with another L.

    Still, it shouldn’t need to be corrected. He should have looked it up before getting it inked across the front of his neck.

  6. @Jaime, Oprah’s name is a misspelling. She confirmed it on one of her shows. A family member picked her name out of the bible, but since he was unable to read he just registered her as how he thought the name was supposed to be spelled. So actually her name was supposed to be Orpah. I’m glad it’s not though.

  7. Found another misspelled tattoo — “Beleive” on the back of someone’s neck. (At least she can cover it up with her hair.) It’s the 7th photo in this slideshow on Worst Tattoos on Women. (And tat #8 includes a grammatical error.)

  8. There’s another example that I know of; Britney Spears and a Japanese tattoo. She wanted “mysterious” and ended up with “strange”.

    To be fair to Hayden, this sounds like a typo more than anything else. I’m sorry to say that I don’t speak any language other than my own, but as I understand it the tattoo would be correct were it not for that rogue “I”. So I don’t think it’s a translation error, just a typo. Maybe even an error made by the tattooist.

    But I do agree that you need to check foreign names and phrases with a translation agency. And not just for accuracy. As other commenters have said, some names have other associations. Star Wars is supposed to be full of characters that had to be renamed in certain countries, because of connotations that the original name had.

  9. Was just reading a Tom & Lorenzo post and saw a couple of comments that reminded me of this thread.

    Comment 1:

    I work with a Chinese native who tells me that he loves seeing tattoos on people that they think say one thing and say the exact opposite. There was one that was supposed to imply that the wearer was a killer…but it actually translated to “Kill Me!!”

    Comment 2:

    My Chinese friend and I once spotted a young man proudly wearing a chinese character tattoo. My friend started laughing and told me “His tattoo says ‘No MSG.'”

    You never know, the “No MSG” guy might’ve been a hipster who really did want a “No MSG” tattoo.

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