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Names can be mind-numbing

What's in a name? Hmm, good question.

What's in the spelling of a name? That's easy: Sports writer's angst.

When a spunky point guard who can make no-look passes transfers into your program, it's a blessing. When you're the reporter covering that program and the girl's name is Tianna Vieria or Tianna Viera, or maybe Tiana Vieria or Tiana Viera, or possibly Tyana Vieria or Tyana Viera, it's a curse.

For sports writers, spelling names correctly and consistently is of obvious importance. It may not always be apparent to the reader, but factual accuracy _ including the proper spelling of names _ is part of a journalist's mission.

Fortunately, it's real easy to do. Professional and college sports teams have enormous staffs devoted to disseminating accurate information to the media. When a player joins a team, the sports information staff puts his/her correct name in the media guide and also indicates what the person prefers to be called (nicknames, etc.).

High school sports, however, is another universe because, of course, there are no paid staffs devoted to little things like force-feeding the correct spelling of names to the media. Which brings us back to Tianna/Tiana/Tyana Viera/Vieria.

Viera/Vieria played point guard for Central for three years, then transferred to Hernando before this school year for her senior year. Prior to playing for Hernando, Times writers were spelling her name _ usually _ Tianna Vieria. Where do we get this information? It usually comes from one of three sources: (a) the coach, (b) a roster supplied by the coach/school, or (c) from the stat book that each team keeps during the game.

But early this season, her name was listed in the Hernando scorebook as Tyana Viera. So that's the way it was listed in a story and beneath a photo we ran from that game. Then, a few weeks later, two photos of Viera/Vieria ran on the same day in different sections of the Times. This time, the scorebook had her name as Tyana Vieria, so that's how she was identified in the one photo. For the other photo, the editor looked up Viera/Vieria in the Times computer files, found the old references to Tianna Vieria, and that's how she was identified in that photo.

Ugh. So much for accuracy and consistency.

The name game is ongoing in high school sports. Just when you get the confusing cases straightened out, the kid up and graduates. Jenna Iannella is an All-North Suncoast runner for Central High. Memo to readers: She's the same person as Jenna Ianella, which is what she has been called too many times.

Gulf senior Valerie Maile also is an outstanding runner whose name has been butchered. Earlier this year, Maile took matters into her own hands. The results board at a cross country meet had her last name mutated into "Valerie Mare" or something like that _ it wasn't even close. As reporters congregated around the results and copied them down, Maile grabbed a marker and corrected the mistake. Thank you, Valerie.

Which is a key point: If we're doing a hatchet job on your name, please call us so we can get it correct from now on (hopefully). Earlier this year the father of a Citrus football player politely called the Times to say his son's name _ which we were spelling as it was written in the Citrus game program _ was being misspelled. Thank you, Mr. McLain.

The there's the matter of nicknames. Everyone affiliated with Hernando football player Johnnie Thompson refers to him as Stumpy. There's no set rule for writers when dealing with nicknames, but the rule of thumb is, if it seems most everybody calls this person by the nickname, put the nickname in quote marks between the full name.

And if everybody refers to them by the nickname for many years, eventually the real first name will vanish in place of the nickname, like Mookie Blaylock or Tubby Smith, for instance. Because high school kids usually are new to the written-up-in-the-paper thing, this usually doesn't happen until college.

Then there's the strange case of David/J.R. Jenkins, a star athlete at Lake Butler Union County from 1994-98. Jenkins went strictly by J.R. during football season, but during track season he was exclusively called David. Or vice versa _ it often got confusing. Now Jenkins plays football for Georgia. I don't know how the Georgia sports information staff lists his first name, but if he's running track for them also, beware.

By the way, just before Christmas we placed a home phone call to a certain Hernando girls basketball player. It turns out the correct spelling of her name is Tayana Vieira.

We'll get it right this year.