Romantic Linguistics – A Tribute to Ian Maw

Ian Maw was my uncle. He passed away on July 3, 2017. This is my tribute to his life, which was read at his funeral on July 13, 2017. Pictured above (from left to right): Myself as a young lad, my mother, Uncle Ian, and my brother.

Everyone knows that Ian was a marketing wizard, but how many of you knew that he was also a pioneer in romantic linguistics? And I’m not talking about poetry. “Romantic linguistics” is the field of study whereby persons experiment with dating or marrying other people solely on the basis of the syllabic content of their first names – the idea being that if two people share common syllables, they are also likely to share other things necessary for a successful relationship: such as personal beliefs, saliva, and credit card debt. I’m convinced that Ian was fascinated by this concept. However, given that Ian’s first name was only three letters long, he didn’t have a lot of material to work with.

After careful consideration, Ian decided to experiment using the second syllable of his name instead of the first syllable – mostly because it sounded a little self-centered to go around dating girls only if they had the letter “I” in their name. Only a guy like Steve Jobs would be so bold. Although, the fact that Ian later purchased an iMac makes me wonder if his linguistic morals were loosening in his old age.

In any case, Ian set about searching for a girl with the syllable “An” in her name. I don’t know whether it was just pure luck, or perhaps a lack of creativity, but it wasn’t long before Ian found himself dating someone named “Ann”. He found the relationship linguistically stimulating at first. For instance, if you say “Ian & Ann” really, really fast, it almost sounds like you are just saying “Ian.” This produced the kind of phonetic fun that Ian longed for, but unfortunately it would not stand the test of time. They later decided to part ways due to irreconcilable pronunciations.

Ian was no quitter though. The promise of linguistic bliss was too appealing to pass up. What he needed was just a little more variation. Perhaps throw in a few more consonants. A second experiment was hatched, and it wasn’t long until he found just the right combination in yet another woman possessing that endearing syllable “An”. This time, it was “N-an-cy”. He couldn’t believe his luck. She worked in the same industry as himself, and had a spitfire personality that was sure to keep him smiling. But what really threw him for a loop was her last name – “Barker”. What canine cacophony did this name entail? It’s the kind of name that sends cats running under couches. But Ian knew the real value behind it – anyone with a name like “Barker” was sure to be good at advertising. It was the perfect match for a marketer like himself.

It’s the kind of name that sends cats running under couches.

Naturally, once they got married, Nancy got to keep that name instead of taking on “Maw” (although, I find it ironic that the definition for “Maw” in the English dictionary is “Gaping Hole” – between a Barker and a Gaping Hole, you’re sure to find interesting conversation). I had the pleasure of attending their wedding as a young lad, and was witness to what could have been a most uncomfortable situation. One of my uncles, when announcing the couple, made the fatal mistake of pronouncing Nancy’s name minus a few letters (in particular, “N”, “c” and “y”). However, after realizing his mistake mid-syllable, he made a brilliant recovery by drawing out “Annnnn” and then attaching “cy” to the end. One could hardly notice. It appears that Ian’s years of romantic linguistic experimentation had made their impact on us all.

And with that, I’d like to keep this tribute short and sweet, just like Ian’s name. He was an incredible uncle, with a grin and laugh that made you feel right at home, and a pair of untamed eyebrows that made barbers tremble. I’m proud to have inherited the same, although my wife does her best to keep up with the trimming. Uncle Ian, I’m glad your phonetic experiment was finally a success. Of all your accomplishments in life, the greatest one you achieved was loving others – and that, you did well.


  1. That was a lovely tribute Michael. I had a similar experience with my wife, her first name starts with the same letter as my last name. I liked the sound of it over 25 years ago and I still do today.

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