Weiner Takes All: A Panel Discussion of People Named Weiner and Wiener


I. On The Battle

Brett Weiner (WHY-ner), director/writer/producer: WEE-ner is a much more make-funable name than WHY-ner. WHY-ner is also not great. Because any time you complain, you get it used against you. But WEE-ner’s like… it’s a dick. So, your last name means “a dick.”

Scott Wiener (WEE-ner), politician: When people pronounce it WHY-ner, that drives me nuts. Whatever challenges there are around WEE-ner, WHY-ner is worse.

David Weiner (WEE-ner), creative and editorial director: I did a piece a bunch of years ago that was picked up by some right-wing blog. And that Fox News show Red Eye, with the host Greg I-forget-his-last-name, he did this whole monologue attacking me for my last name, saying, “if WEE-ner wasn’t such a WHY-ner.” And I was watching that and thinking, you know, WEE-ner does sound better than WHY-ner. I still think that. WHY-ner is not a good last name.

Kris Wiener (WEE-ner), aspiring comedian: I can understand WEE-ners saying, “we pronounce it WHY-ner” after growing up WEE-ner their whole life. But I don’t understand WHY-ners who go by WEE-ner. Other than having to tell people all the time, “No, no, it’s not WEE-ner, it’s WHY-ner.”

Brett Weiner (WHY-ner), director/writer/producer: So many people were calling my uncle WEE-ner, that he just gave up and started going by that.

David Weiner (WEE-ner), creative and editorial director: You can make your case for both. But I do think WHY-ner is a cop-out. It’s a wuss way to go.

Juli Weiner (WEE-ner), journalist: It’s cowardice.

Brett Weiner (WHY-ner), director/writer/producer: If you had the choice, would you pick WEE-ner over WHY-ner?

Russell Wiener (WEE-ner), musician: Generally anyone with i-e is WEE-ner, or they’re lying. People with e-i usually pronounce it WHY-ner.

John Weiner (WEE-ner), screenwriter: It would piss me off they thought I was pronouncing it wrong. Because it’s been a battle having that name. So, for somebody to say that I’ve been mispronouncing it my whole life… I really think you’re a fucking asshole. You’re an ignorant asshole, I think to myself.

Rachel Weiner (WHY-ner), journalist: I think WHY-ner is technically accurate, according to how you would pronounce it in German. VHY-ner. And then the i-e would technically be VEE-ner. That’s what I’ve been told, but I have no idea.

Juli Weiner (WEE-ner), journalist: I studied German in school, and there’s a rule for German vowels. “The first one does the walking, the second one does the talking.” Everything that’s e-i should really be pronounced AYE. So, it should be WHY-ner.

David Weiner (WEE-ner), creative and editorial director: I’ve heard this a lot. “It should be WHY-ner because of the e-i, and then i-e should be WEE-ner because,” etc., etc. But what I always use as an example, if you look at a name like Weinstein, it has the e-i in two different places, the “AYE” and “EE.”

Josh Weiner (WHY-ner), comedy writer: One time I asked how do we pronounce it, and they said “It’s WHY-ner, not WEE-ner.” I never knew why. It’s like, what makes it tomae-to or tomah-to? Maybe it could be my grandfather’s father just making a decision to be “WHY-ner” to alleviate any more unnecessary jokes.

John Weiner (WEE-ner), screenwriter: My dad, he pronounces it WEE-ner. His dad pronounced it WEE-ner, and he was in the mob. He worked with Lucky Lucciano. “Crazy Eyed” Louie Weiner was his name.

Juli Weiner (WEE-ner), journalist: I wouldn’t correct people, so inevitably some weird situation would arise at parent/teacher night. It would be like, “I’m Dr. WEE-ner,” and the teacher would be like, “Oh, I’ve been saying WHY-ner.” And it would be pretty awkward. There was a weird tension there.

Brett Weiner (WHY-ner), director/writer/producer: I went to an event recently where you have to wear name tags, and I wrote “W-H-Y-N-E-R.” I feel like a lot of people were like, “Who the fuck is this guy? Why does he care so much how we pronounce his last name?”

Juli Weiner (WEE-ner), journalist: It’s confusing. Like, we should have some sort of caucus where we vote on how to do it.

II. On Origins


David Weiner (WEE-ner), creative and editorial director: My real last name was Schuster. The family lore goes that when my great-great-grandfather was coming into Ellis Island, his route from Europe included a stop in Vienna. At some point they were asking “What is your name?” and he didn’t speak anything but Yiddish and Polish and he said, “Weiner,” which means Vienna. And that’s what stuck. We have no idea if that’s truth or not, but Schuster to Weiner is a pretty big leap. One that will haunt us forever.

Kris Wiener (WEE-ner), aspiring comedian: The family story was that our family had some long complicated Austrian name, and then at Ellis Island they couldn’t figure out how to spell it, so they just said, “Call them Wieners because they’re from Vienna.”

Juli Weiner (WEE-ner), journalist: It’s a fake name that was adopted in Ellis Island. I think the actual last name was something like Vrjynski, or something as equally horrible.

Russell Wiener (WEE-ner), musician: It is an invented name, at least in our case. It was changed at Ellis Island. My family immigrated in the late 1800s, and we don’t know what it was before. It was something long with a W, and probably ending in a -ski, like Wienowski or whatever.

Rachel Weiner (WHY-ner), journalist: I just learned recently that when my great-great-grandparents came to Ellis Island it was Winninger.

Scott Wiener (WEE-ner), politician: We’re Jewish/Eastern European. When my paternal grandfather came here shortly after the turn of the century, it was spelled “Weiner.” And then in the 1920s, he changed it to “Wiener” mainly because he was enamored with German language and culture. Of course, this was before they killed 6 million of our people.

III. On Hardships


Josh Weiner (WHY-ner), comedy writer: When I was a kid, I dreaded going into new social environments.

Scott Wiener (WEE-ner), politician: I was fortunate in that I’m six-foot-seven, so I was always the tallest kid. I didn’t get picked on too much. People would sing, “I wish I were an Oscar Meyer wiener.”

John Weiner (WEE-ner), screenwriter: “Oscar Meyer wiener,” some form of that joke, because that commercial was huge back then in the 70s. The name brought out the dumb bully jokes. So I’d hear them, and I’d come right back at them with a joke ten times better.

Josh Weiner (WHY-ner), comedy writer: Have you ever seen Roxanne with Steve Martin? So, he’s got this big nose and there’s this scene in the bar where the guy says this joke about his big nose, and Steve Martin’s rifles off 50 better jokes about his big nose. Just embarrasses the guy. So I would think about that if someone ever made fun of my last name. Like, wow, that must have been really hard for you to do.

Rachel Weiner (WHY-ner), journalist: The only insult I remember is from middle school is where a kid came up and said, “If your middle initial was S, you would be ‘Rachel’s Weiner.’” That’s probably the meanest thing anyone’s ever said, and it really wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t anything like Welcome to the Dollhouse.

Russell Wiener (WEE-ner), musician: I remember in junior high, this one kid on the bus going around and giving everyone nicknames, pointing out people’s foibles or coming up with a rhyme. And he got to me and they said, “What about Russell Wiener?” And the kid’s just like, “Oh, he’s just a weiner.” It was like, that’s not really an insult.

Kris Wiener (WEE-ner), aspiring comedian: I didn’t come across any bullying, I think that’s partially because I was raised overseas.

Josh Weiner (WHY-ner), comedy writer: In elementary school, from first through fourth grade, I was teased every year. But in junior high and high school, there was nothing. It totally went away. Then as soon as I got back into college, it was just “WEE-ner, WEE-ner, WEE-ner!” all over again. In some way, the stuff that was funny in first grade becomes funny all over again. Especially when you deal with alcohol.

Juli Weiner (WEE-ner), journalist: In high school, I became best friends with a girl name Julie, which is my first name, so all throughout high school I was called Weiner. She was Julie and I was Weiner, or some form like Ween. Which sort of reclaimed it. I felt cool, like one of the guys, being called by my last name. In college, I had difficulty re-adjusting to once again being called by my first name.

Brett Weiner (WHY-ner), director/writer/producer: The thing that would get me was roll call, when they read the names of all the students. And every single time it would be “Brett WEE-ner,” and I would have to correct the teacher and say “WHY-ner.”

Juli Weiner (WEE-ner), journalist: On the first day of school the teacher would read everyone’s name, and I would sort of hope they’d say WHY-ner. But most of the time they would ask “WEE-ner or WHY-ner?” and I’d say WEE-ner, and there’d be some snickering.

Kris Wiener (WEE-ner), aspiring comedian: I think it forced me to have confidence early on. Like at that first day of school, they almost always err on the side of WHY-ner. Or they get to your name and say, “Um, how do you pronounce that?” And then having to say, “It’s WEE-ner!” with confidence.

David Weiner (WEE-ner), creative and editorial director: In pre-kindergarten, when the teacher got to me, she kind of stumbled a bit and clearly didn’t want to say “WEE-ner” because (a) in front of a bunch of five-year-olds, it’s going to be disruptive; and (b) if you say something wrong to a kid on their first day of school, it’s going to haunt them. So she went with WHY-ner and I corrected her and said, “No, it’s WEE-ner. Like a penis.” You have to own it, and really have to own it. When you have a last name like Weiner or Cumming or any other easily-mockable names, you either sink or swim.

John Weiner (WEE-ner), screenwriter: Of course, the first day of school. They go around and say, “John WHY-ner.” And I’m like, “Here. It’s WEE-ner!” They always defaulted to WHY-ner. Now I always hear, “Thank you, Mr. WEE-EYE-NER.” WEE-EYE-NER. They go right down the middle. I don’t know if it’s a neighborhood thing. I’m in Echo Park, and most of the cashiers are Mexican, so maybe it’s a straight pronounciation thing. Or maybe they start off with WEE and think “it can’t be,” so they bail out as WEE-EYE-NER.

IV. On Alternatives


Scott Wiener (WEE-ner), politician: I thought that as soon as I turned 18, I was going to change my name. I was just sick of it, sick of the jokes. And my mother would get very mad at me, saying that I was insulting my father.

Rachel Weiner (WHY-ner), journalist: As a young kid I was like, I can’t wait to get married and change my name. But now that I’m an adult… maybe if I married someone with an amazing last name.

Kris Wiener (WEE-ner), aspiring comedian: I never want to change my name. I think it’s a huge part of who I am. And also my boyfriend, who I think about when I think about the idea of getting married, has the same first name as me. So changing my name would give us the exact same name.

David Weiner (WEE-ner), creative and editorial director: Would you want your kid to have that last name? It’s a bit of a debate. But I think not naming my kids Weiner is a weird cop-out.

Rachel Weiner (WHY-ner), journalist: I guess I should tell you also that at one point my mom tried to get my entire family to change our last name to something else. She wanted to sit down and try to come up with a new name, but my dad was not in favor of it.

David Weiner (WEE-ner), creative and editorial director: My brother got married two weeks ago, and his now-wife is taking our last name. And my mom, who’s been a Weiner for 43 years now… you think she’d have gotten used to it. But she pulled my brother’s wife aside and said, “Why on Earth are you taking our last name?”

Juli Weiner (WEE-ner), journalist: Whenever I thought about it, I always imagined my future husband’s name would be worse than mine. I imagine falling in love with a man named VaginaFace or something. There’d be no way out, and I’d have to keep Weiner.

V. On Tony


John Weiner (WEE-ner), screenwriter: It was such a proud name before his scandal.

Brett Weiner (WHY-ner), director/writer/producer: The Anthony Weiner scandal, aside from being so weird and ridiculous on so many levels, has not done great things for the WHY-ner pronunciation of the name.

Rachel Weiner (WHY-ner), journalist: I feel like it’s worse for me because it popularizes that pronounciation of my name.

John Weiner (WEE-ner), screenwriter: It’s a shame because when he first started up, I liked him. I know he’s just speeches, he didn’t actually do anything in Congress, but he articulated a lot of passion that was needed at the time when George Bush was there. So I was like, that’s fantastic. But then the worst possible thing happened. It’s like a raging pun of perversion.

Josh Weiner (WHY-ner), comedy writer: It’s such an obvious, easy joke to go to, nobody really does. We get it. Maybe I’m looking at this from the perspective of a comedy writer, but no self-respecting comedian would go onstage and make a joke, “Hey, this guy’s Weiner and his WEE-ner.” I mean, it’s the most fucking hackiest joke ever. You’re a hack. It’s too easy of a joke. The joke is definitely on the person who’s making it.

Kris Wiener (WEE-ner), aspiring comedian: I’ve been asked a couple of times if I’m related to him. But he spells his name wrong.

Juli Weiner (WEE-ner), journalist: I went on MSNBC to talk about the mayoral race, and the publicist emailed, “Just making totally sure, there’s no relation, right?” I tweeted right after that, “I’m going on MSNBC in an hour to talk about my crazy dad, Anthony Weiner.” And I had to clarify to her that it was just a joke. And then when I went on, they identified me as Juli Weiner, “no relation, ha-ha.”

Rachel Weiner (WHY-ner), journalist: When I was writing about it, people would email me and ask if we were related. It might have been good for Search Engine Optimization, I’m not sure.

Juli Weiner (WEE-ner), journalist: I really wanted a “Weiner for Mayor” sign. But just one that says “Weiner, 2013” with an exclamation point. I should really get my hands on those, because they’re only going to be more expensive.

John Weiner (WEE-ner), screenwriter: I wouldn’t say it’s a compliment, but I’ve heard since high school, “You don’t look like a Weiner.” I don’t have the stereotypical look of what a Weiner would look like. Anthony Weiner, actually, he looks like he could be named Weiner.

David Weiner (WEE-ner), creative and editorial director: Now, it’s not the last name that’s being mocked anymore, it’s the fact that someone with your last name did something else. There’s actually a slight remove from the stigma of the last name Weiner. Now, there’s a man.

VI. On Lasting Effects


Scott Wiener (WEE-ner), politician: It’s made me more easy-going. When you have a name like Wiener, you get used to people making jokes about your name. It makes you much more relaxed about teasing and ribbing about things. And when you’re in politics, you need super-thick skin anyway.

Russell Wiener (WEE-ner), musician: It builds character, I guess.

Rachel Weiner (WHY-ner), journalist: I like to think it’s made me a little more sensative and considerate to people who have something about them that makes them get picked on or draws unwanted attention. Because, you get some of that.

David Weiner (WEE-ner), creative and editorial director: I think having the last name Weiner meant I had to be funnier than the next guy, had to make the joke first to deflect.

Scott Wiener (WEE-ner), politician: In 2010, I was in this highly competitive race, and I had these bright orange and midnight-blue windows signs and, of course, the biggest part was my last name. But what I hadn’t anticipated was that kids had absolutely loved it. Someone had plastered their area with “Wiener.” So, I’d get random emails from parents saying that when they would drive kids to soccer practice, they’d play a game where they’d count the number of “Wiener signs” they’d pass. When kids are going on and on about their signs, that certainly has an effect on parents.

Rick Paulas’s first AOL screenname was rcpweiner.

Man In A Weiner photo by Becky Stern. Photo of German war volunteer by Joe Robinson. “Stop Weiners” photo by Mike Krzeszak. Weiner dog race by Zach Taylor. Anthony Weiner photo by David Boyle. Big shelf o’ weiners by Robert S. Donovan.