The 15 Hardest-to-Spell Names in Sports

Sure, Arvind Mahankali may have won the Scripps National Spelling Bee, but could he spell these athletes’ names?

Sure, Arvind Mahankali may have won the Scripps National Spelling Bee, but could he spell these athletes’ names?

Photo: NBAE / Getty Images | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2013

Last night, two-time finalist Arvind Mahankali correctly spelled “knaidel” (a Yiddish dumpling) to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee. That got us thinking: what are the hardest-to-spell names in sports? They tend to fall into a number of categories: Common names with counterintuitive spellings; these are usually easy to pronounce, but tough to spell correctly. Eastern European, African, Dutch or Polynesian names with excessive consonants, vowels, or all of the above; these are often pronounced absolutely nothing like they look like. Randomly inserted apostrophes, accents or hyphens; these are just annoying. Keep in mind that in a spelling bee, you’re only hearing the moderator say the word – or in this case the name – so the pronunciation can easily throw you off. Now, let’s begin. B-E-G-I-N.

1. Dwyane Wade 

Because the Heat guard is such a superstar, his name is almost certainly misspelled more frequently than the other guys on this list. But seriously, it should be “Dwayne.” Apparently Wade’s grandma just thought that was the way the name should be spelled, and it hasn’t seemed to hurt him on the court…except maybe this postseason.

2. Isiah Thomas

The Pistons hall-of-famer has a lot in common with Wade: they both grew up in Chicago, and led their pro teams to two titles. And like Wade, the spelling of Thomas’ first name just doesn’t seem to make sense. At least his almost-namesake, Isaiah Thomas of the Sacramento Kings, spells his name in the usual fashion.

3. Jhonny Peralta

The Detroit Tigers infielder audaciously claims his is actually the correct spelling, and the rest of the “Johnnies” out there have it wrong. In fact, his parents just misspelled it on his birth certificate.

4. Torii Hunter

It’s not quite as confounding as his Tigers teammate, but the story behind their names is similar. According to Hunter, “I think, when my mom filled out the paperwork after I was born, she accidentally put two ‘I’s.”

5. Chone Figgins, Shawon Dunston, Shonn Greene, Shawne Merriman, Shawn Johnson, Shaun White

Is “Sean” really that tough?

6. Mike Krzyzewski 

Most fans know that the correct pronunciation of the Duke coach’s name is “Shuh-SHEV-ski”, and those who don’t can just call him “Coach K.” Spelling a name with five consecutive consonants? That’s another story.

7. Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje

The retired NBA center form Cameroon takes the prize for the most-fun name to pronounce. Say it loud: Boom-shay Boom-shay!

8. Amar’e Stoudemire

With the Knicks power forward, it’s all about that pesky apostrophe. When Stoudemire was with the Phoenix Suns, his first name was variously spelled “Amare” or “Amaré”, but by 2008 he announced it had been misspelled all along by the media. Remembering where to put that apostrophe is the tough part.

9. Doug Mientkiewicz

The retired first baseman pronounces his last name “mint-KAY-vich”… not that knowing that would help you with the spelling.

10. Jeff Samardzija 

An All-American wide receiver at Notre Dame, and now a starting pitcher for the Chicago Cubs, Samardzija had the nickname “Shark” in college, which is easier to remember than sa-MAR-zhuh.

11. Lodewicus Theodorus “Louis” Oosthuizen

Everything about the name of this golfer from South Africa is tricky. For the record it’s pronounced LOU-dew-ic-ious THE-od-OR-ous “LOO-ee” WEST-hye-zen.

12. Ndamukong Suh

Beware of mispronouncing or misspelling the name of the Detroit Lions terrifying Defensive Tackle. He might come looking for you.

13. Haloti Ngata 

Another damn Defensive Tackle with another damn silent “N” in his name. 

14. Jair Jurrjens 

The letter “J” is a tough one. Is it hard or soft? Pronounced like an “H” (as in “José”) or a “W” (as in “Juan”) or a “Y” (as in “Jan”)? Who knows? However you pronounce it, we’re reasonably confident that the first name of the Orioles pitcher rhymes with “Zaire”.

15. Bronson Kiheimahanaomauiakeo Sardinha

The only explanation is that the parents of this former Yankee had a really fucked up sense of humor.

Check out The National Spelling Bee’s Best Moments Ever and Girls Whose Names We Can’t Pronounce.