PapaBear will no doubt correct me, but I’ll give a [partial] try:
Perhaps you recall incorrectly, or more precisely, *incompletely[i/]. As different user groups using English, whether as a “mother” language or as a mercantile lingua franca, attempted to write, there were of course differences, based on the representation of accent or on the use of particular borrow words from another language (Brits under Norman influence likelier to use French borrow words than, say the Welsh; Protestants vs. Catholics…)
Standardization of English only began with mass media (Bill S.) and with the dictionary.
As for “non-native” English speakers and their names, three likely sources for what you see as discrepancies:
. their mother tongue allows for wide variations between written and spoken language, particularly if their alphabet is ideographic, syllabic, or uses sounds not represented by our alphabet (think Chinese o Arabic);
. they choose to style the spelling of their name to reinforce their heritage (relatively recent; think “Sade”, pronounced “Sharday”);
. la Migra and Ellis Island; an old INS joke has an immigrant from China standing behind a Swede. When asked his name by the immigration officer, the Swede answers “Olaf Johanssen”; the officer stamps his papers, and calls the next person. The man from Sichuan (Szechuan, whatever) says “Tam Ting” and the officer promptly writes down “Olaf Johanssen” and stamps his papers. “Next !”
“Proverbs for Paranoids, 1: You may never get to touch the Master, but you can tickle his creatures.”
- T.Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow.