They call me Girl, they call me Stacey

Ballet ShoesBallet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild is the story of three adoptive sisters, Pauline, Petrova, and Posy, who all end up at a performing arts school, appearing on stage to earn extra money for the family. Pauline is a natural stage actor. Posy is an astonishingly gifted ballet dancer. Petrova is rubbish at all of it, and would much rather be taking a car to bits or flying a plane. The very last line of the book reads:

‘I wonder’ – Petrova looked up – ‘if other girls had to be one of us, which of us they’d choose to be?’

(which is proof that it’s one of the best books ever, because that’s a question all books ask, even if they don’t say so).

Me, I didn’t read Ballet Shoes for years even though people told me I’d love it, because I thought it sounded really girly and flouncy and there might be tutus – so I’m definitely a Petrova. But: *dramatic pause* does that make me Pe-TRO-va, or PET-rova? Most British people say the former – but the audiobook version I heard years ago had the latter, which, now I know lots of Russians, is probably more authentic. (Really it would be PYET-rova, but that’s getting picky.)

I was asked which sister I was (by G♥B‘s own Keris Stainton) recently, and it made me think about the small ways a book can be intimidating, without meaning to be. I loved Nicholas Fisk’s sci-fi story Monster Maker (about a boy who loves monster films, and gets to work with the models that create the special effects) – but his hero is called Chancey Balogh, and to this day I don’t know how to say that. (Ballow? Balog? Baluff?)

Pigeon PostThen there was Daphne (Dapp-en? Daff-ner?) at Malory Towers. And Sappho (Sappo? Sap-fo?) from Pigeon Post – and also, er, Greek poetry – though to me she will always be a pigeon who spells her name very unhelpfully.

So: I hereby declare a mispronunciation amnesty! Am I the only one who frets about getting it wrong – or would anyone care to confess a name they’ve struggled with?

And if you’ve read Ballet Shoes, which Fossil are you?

51 thoughts on “They call me Girl, they call me Stacey

  1. Hi Susie 🙂

    I don’t know what to say beacuse, i hav’nt read Ballet Shoes yet, i’m going into town today so, i’ll get it and read it.

    I like when you said books are intimadating. its true. I try and make Pete (the villan of my story) so evil that no one will want to cross him at any time. Ever. He carves words into Lillys (his daughters) arm, burns her and hits her. He’s the most evil one i’ve ever made. I’m proud of him. 🙂 (that i had the imagintion to make him)

    • It’s very challenging to write that kind of dark material, Laura – but it sounds fascinating.

      I hope you enjoy Ballet Shoes if you find it (I bet your local library would have a copy); it was written in the 1930s but it still feel so fresh and fun to me. 🙂

  2. Hi Susie,

    I loved Ballet Shoes and would have been PETrova I think, even though I’m rubbish at car mechanics – but I was a bit of a tom boy when I was younger.

    Pigeon Post – wow! That took me straight back to hours of happy reading. I LOVED Swallows and Amazons and read the pages of the series regularly borrowed from my local library. Nancy. That’s who I really wanted to be. Intrepid pirate 😉

    Happy New Year.


  3. I LOVE Ballet Shoes so much.
    It’s my favourite book ever!

    I have always compared myself to Pauline because acting is in my blood. My mum was in a theatre company and in lots of plays and is now head of performing arts at a secondary school – I love to act as well – I played the lead in a play at my school, and once auditioned for a part in a television series – quite a big one, and came a close second. I was thrilled to bits to be put on the gifted and talented register at my new school for drama, and I just got an email from my drama teacher yesterday asking me to audition for a play as my school is going to the Festival of Drama and we are performing, so I may do that, not sure…
    Anyway, I have a passion for acting, and, as a shy person myself, it gives me an opportunity to forget myself and just be whoever I want to be.
    That’s why I’m like Pauline.
    Great Post!

  4. For an embarrassingly long time, I thought that Hermione was pronounced Herr-me-own. Out of all those weird and wonderful names in Harry Potter, that was the one I struggled with!

    • Hee, Elaine! I think you weren’t alone on that one… 🙂

      I have a friend who thought Griphook (the goblin from Gringotts) was pronounced ‘Griffook’, which still makes me giggle. And another friend was trying to say ‘Cedric Diggory’ and somehow came up with ‘Derek Siggory’…

  5. Hi Susie,

    I have read Ballet Shoes, and I absolutely adored it. I think that I would be Posy or Pauline, because I am a showgirl at heart and I love dancing and just generally being in the limelight 🙂

    Fortunately for me, I have very literate parents, so if I have trouble pronouncing a name or understanding a word, I can always ask for help 😉 Then again, I am used to seeing unusual names, because my name isn’t exactly easy to pronounce – Ciara is Irish, and there is no “k” in the Irish alphabet, so it is replaced by a “c”, meaning that my name is pronounced Keira, like Keira Knightley! I have had various mispronunciations during the register at school over the years, the funniest of which have been Sierra and Kyra. The “c” is regularly swapped for other letters when I enter a horse show, which makes the pronunciation over the loud speaker all the funnier!

    Lots of love, Cizzie ❤ x

    • Thank you, Ciara – I was wondering how to pronounce your name and now I know! Must be frustrating having to correct people all the time. I’m Welsh and know lots of Sians and Sions who have to explain they aren’t called ‘Cyan’… 😀

      • That’s the same in Ireland, my friends are confused with Siobhan (Shevaun), Aoibhe (Ifa), Niamh (Neeve), Tadgh (Tygh), etc., but I do find it strange that people outside of Ireland seem to have more Irish names than those actually living here – for example, my cousins are called Georgia and Leon, which are definitely not Irish!

        Lots of love, Ciara ❤ x

      • Tamsyn,

        You could always put a line in saying how the character is forever telling people that her name is NEEVE, not NEEAM! or something along those lines 😉

        Lots of love, Ciara ❤ x

    • I’d give it a try, Shakira – there is lots about dancing, theatre etc but it’s much more about the challenges those sort of situations create for the individual sisters (worries about messing up or disappointing people, getting big-headed, money issues), which are universal. And Petrova is a brilliant antidote to anything too girly, as she is completely bored by all that stuff. I’m not a ‘girly’ girl at all and I still love it! 🙂

  6. I am a big Nora Ephron fan. I only know of this title because of the the movie she wrote and directed, You’ve Got Mail, with the adorable Meg Ryan. I’d probably be her part-time employee in the movie.

  7. I’m so glad I finally read Ballet Shoes – I loved it. I think actually you asked me which Fossil *I* was, Susie, and then I guessed you were Petrova 😉

  8. I haven’t read Ballet Shoes but it sounds quite good.

    I’ve sometimes got mixed up in how to say “Thalia” (is it Talia? Thalia?) and Nico (nicko? neeko?) and Clarisse (clareese? clarise?) and other names.

    I’d probably be Petrova, because I’m not really girly like SOME people I could mention (my cousin).

    • Ooh, good one Hikma – I’ve no idea how to say Thalia either! I’d probably assume Neeko and Clareese for the other two, but I suppose it depends on how they themselves choose to say it. Not much use when the person is fictional though…

  9. I’ve got pronunciation confusion in my own books… in my ‘Ally’s World’ series the middle sister is Rowan, named after a rowan tree, which to me is pronounced with the ‘Row’ as in having an argument. Then I heard the audio book – narrated by actress Daniela Denby-Ashe from TV’s ‘My Family’ – and she pronounces it like row a boat. I listened to the first book when it was serialised on the radio and got a nervous twitch every time Rowan was mentioned!

  10. I would be Posy!

    I wish I could remember what the books were, but I read a whole series when I was maybe 7 or 8 with a character called Olivia. Never having heard of the name, I thought it was Oliver, and called her that for ages – I was quite upset when my friend Jessica pointed out how it should be pronounced.

    I got my own back later, when I found out that she had been calling Malory Towers’s Alicia “Aleck-a”…

    • Ha! I only knew how to say Alicia because there was one at our school.

      You have also reminded me I spent years convinced that Horatio was pronounced ‘Horry-ar-toe’, and my sister was quite gleeful about me getting it wrong.

  11. Probably a Pauline (eldest daughter syndrome), but I’d love to think of myself as a Posy. I love her absolute focus and the way she remembers things with her feet. My character Crow was partly inspired by her. But she remembers things with her fingers, not her feet. Weren’t the necklaces lovely, by the way? Each girl with her own little treasure. I loved that bit.

    • Oh, I can completely see the Crow/Posy connection! They both have that utter clarity of focus, and incomprehension of people who don’t. And she finds her own Madame Fidolia.:)

      I loved the necklaces too. We all got them for being bridesmaids when I was ten and I decided it was just the same.

      (Also: Penny-lope makes much more sense.)

  12. Oh, and as for names, I thought Penelope was Penny-lope for years. I couldn’t quite believe the truth when I found out. How many people must believe Harry Potter’s best friend is Hermy-own, I wonder?

  13. I love Ballet Shoes, in the film they pronounced it PeTROva, I think I’m most like her too, but with splashes of Pauline thrown in.

    Daphne from Mallory towers if pronounced ‘Daff – knee’ quite common name in the UK.

    Great post, I do agree with you on there being ridiculously difficult names in some books. If I get a name I’m not sure about I will come up with what I think works and then just go with that, whether I’m right or not.
    I went to a talk with a famous manga artist once where she said ‘if I ever meet someone and can’t pronounce their name, I will say the closest thing to it I can, and then call them that with as much confidence and conviction as possible, and very often they won’t try to correct you again.’
    I’ve tried this method and as well as being funny, it does tend to work., even if you get it spectacularly wrong!!!!!
    Anyone else ever done this???

  14. I remember being quite baffled by a Diarmuid in a book I read as a kid (about peat-digging Scottish crofters, oddly enough). It was quite a shock (almost a disappointment) to discover it was actually the quite familiar-sounding name ‘Der-mot’.

    I’m embarrassed to say that not only was I Petrova (definitely of the treasure-TROVE, surely… she was brought up by no-nonsense English people, after all), but it never occurred to me that anyone would identify with either of the others. Posy I thought sweet but annoying, Pauline along the lines of that glamorous friend you hang out with, but suspect is rather out of your league.

    • You will be not very surprised even at all to learn that I was exactly the same, ie completely confused to learn the world is full of Paulines and Posys. Such meanness.

  15. Great post, Suzi. Like Sophia I liked to think I was a Posy. I was mad about ballet (and still am) and loved all kinds of ballet books, esp Ballet Shoes.
    Recently I had an Aoife in a book and I had to change it to Effa as my US editors were having problems with it. Irish names can be tricky – but I do love them!

    • I adore signing books to Irish girls, Sarah. Such heavenly names. I can never spell them, of course, but being told this amazing concatenation of letters is half the fun. They look as beautiful as they sound. Loving Aoife.

  16. I was another ‘Hermione’ confused girl. I loved that JK Rowling had her sound it out to Viktor Krum.
    I can’t think of any names off hand, but because I read so much and often never hear the words aloud, I have been the cause of many laughs when I DO attempt them. I remember a bus load of girls after an exam bursting out laughing at my exclaimation that I don’t even know what an epi-tome IS. And I recently said affil-ation for ‘affiliation’ 🙂

    • No, that’s so cruel! I had a friend at university who mocked me brutally for not knowing how to pronounce ‘synecdoche’. Some words are just hard, people!

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