Confetti was falling at the Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum on Sunday. The University of Miami had just made history by winning the school’s first Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. Jeannine Edwards, an ESPN reporter, was standing by with second-year UM coach Jim Larranaga.
And then came the name graphic.
In what the TV world refers to as a “lower third,” ESPN had identified Miami’s coach with a confusing cultural flair: a tilde.
“JIM LARRAÑAGA,” the ESPN graphic read.
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Georgia-based writer Scott Michaux of the Augusta Chronicle took note, tweeting: “Did moving to Miami automatically come with a tilde?”
Actually, yes. It sort of did.
Larranaga came to Miami from Fairfax, Va., where he spent more than a decade as the coach for the George Mason University Patriots.
“We never used the tilde,” George Mason’s director of new media for men’s basketball, Dan Reisig, wrote in an email. “In fact, no one at George Mason was aware of his Cuban lineage prior to his arrival at Miami.”
That’s because the lineage has been whitewashed over time.
Jim Larranaga, 63, is Bronx-born with an accent to prove it. Throughout his life people have assumed his last name was Italian.
“Because it ended with a vowel,” he said, laughing.
In reality, it’s Basque by way of Cuba.
According to Larranaga, his grandfather was born in Cuba and was part of the Por Larrañaga cigar company.
Jim’s father moved to New York and wanted his kids to “Americanize.”
That meant not learning Spanish and pronouncing the last name with an extra-nasally American “a” — (LARE-uh-NAY-guh).
But Jim liked the Basque pronunciation, the way his grandmother said it.
And then he went to a Catholic kindergarten with a strong-willed nun. On the first day, during roll call the teacher called his name the wrong way.
“I tried to correct her,” Larranaga said, “And she wouldn’t be corrected. And that was it. It stuck.”
He tried harder to hold on to the traditional spelling — Larrañaga — but technology got in the way. Larranaga still doesn’t know how to make an ñ on a computer.
“When I applied for the Miami job,” Larranaga said, “I copied and pasted my Wikipedia bio. So whatever that had it, that’s the way it went.”
Wikipedia, like the vast majority of media outlets, went the way of no ñ.
The one place the tilde has remained constant (and an autographed George Mason University business card for sale on eBay appears to confirm this) is in Larranaga’s signature. He doesn’t think anyone noticed.
“You know how when you sign your name,” he said, “most people you can’t even read their signature. So to see a line over the ‘n,’ they just thought that was part of the way I signed my name. They didn’t know that was actually the correct spelling.”
Until now. Until Miami.
Larranaga was as shocked as anyone when he got his Hurricanes business cards: “Jim Larrañaga.”
“I showed my wife. I said, ‘Hey, look at this. They were able to do it.’ ”
The spelling in the 2012-2013 UM media guide is without the tilde, but the ñ is technically part of the correct spelling.
A spokesperson for ESPN said the sports network has been using it all season, though even Larrañaga only recently noticed it there.
Larrañaga said he never asked that the tilde come back, but he prefers that it be used. And he never corrected anyone because he didn’t think you could include it, although the UM athletics department is using it on its website. He gives all the credit to the culture of Miami.
His best guess is that someone, somewhere in the process finally noticed that squiggly line in his signature.
Because they certainly didn’t get it from Jim Larrañaga’s Wikipedia-pasted job application.