Thursday, May 26, 2022

What's In a Name?

I finally got a chance to start watching Bosch: Legacy.* 

I highly recommend it, don't get me wrong, but I couldn't help cringing when the very first scene of the first episode involved multiple instances of Vignes Street being pronounced "VIG-nezz". 

There has been considerable debate over how Vignes Street should be pronounced.

Vignes means "vines" in French (fitting for a vintner from Bordeaux), and in French, "vignes" (referring to vines) is pronounced more like "veen" (I'm simplifying, but I'm sure you get the idea). 

However, French rules of pronunciation don't necessarily apply to proper names. Case in point: Taix is pronounced "Tex". 

The few references to pronunciation I can find state that Jean-Louis Vignes' surname is pronounced "vines". Frances Dinkelspiel, who is an award-winning journalist, the author of Tangled Vines: Greed, Murder, Obsession, and an Arsonist in the Vineyards of California, and a descendant of another prominent Los Angeles winemaker (Isaias Hellman), says it's pronounced "vines"

Patt Morrison of the Los Angeles Times helpfully suggested via Twitter that an older newspaper account might spell the name phonetically. In 9 years of digging as deeply into the family as I can, I have yet to see that.

(I checked again, since more old newspapers are digitized each year. No luck again, and to my consternation multiple newspapers - mostly small ones based in NorCal - mistakenly claimed that El Aliso winery was on the site of Union Station - no wonder that tired myth has hung around for so long - and a 1972 article in the Desert Sun referred to to Vignes as "young". He was, in fact, 52 when he arrived in Los Angeles. I also found a very long and detailed article about Vignes' children suing their cousins for a cut of El Aliso. Boy, did it get ugly!)

When Jean-Louis Vignes was alive, French speakers outnumbered English speakers by a wide margin (incidentally, Vignes himself was the reason for this). The Vignes-Sainsevain family was prominent enough in a town of about 6,000 people (about one-tenth of whom were French) that the pronunciation of their names was probably well known, and Vignes (who died long before English became LA's dominant language) was "Don Luis del Aliso" to most people anyway.

None of this is still the case in 2022, 160 years after Vignes' death. Most Angelenos don't even know who Vignes was.

So I'll just put this out there: Are there any Vignes/Sainsevain descendants out there who would be so kind as to clarify how "Vignes" is pronounced?

I suspect it's "vines" (for starters, I trust Dinkelspiel's expertise). Maybe it was "veen", and I've also heard "vin-yay".

But there's no way in hell it's "VIG-nezz"; what native French speaker would brutally butcher their own name like that in a city where most people spoke Spanish or French? Hearing "VIG-nezz" makes my ears bleed (and I'm a metalhead with noticeable traces of Valspeak in my speech, so THAT is saying something). So I'm hoping we can get some clarification on that and hopefully send "VIG-nezz" to go live on a nice vineyard upstate with its friends "Pick-o" and "Sepple-veeda".

*I'll let you find out for yourselves which classic detective novel was referenced in the first episode. I was also amused when one character stated that his family made their money first with gold, then steel, then aerospace - shades of the Ducommun family.

No comments:

Post a Comment