Archive for the ‘Pronunciation’ Category

henry wriothesley, 3rd earl of southampton, national trust, pronunciation

Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton (1573-1624)
National Trust Collection

There are a lot of surnames that are pronounced quite differently from how we might say them if we saw them written down, that is the pronunciations – or the spellings – are counter-intuitive eg. Beauchamp is pronounced beechum, Cockburn is coburn, Fiennes is fines, and Fotheringay is fungey. The strange-looking surname Wriothesley (the family name of Shakespeare’s patron the 3rd Earl of Southampton) is pronounced in any number of ways: rye-oaths-ley, reeths-ley, rith-ley, rits-ley, and rots-ley. Some might see such pronunciations are archaic, eccentric, or even annoying.

People have changed the spelling of ordinary surnames to make it more prestigious, such as changing the respectable craft name Smith to Smythe. And what could be the reason, other than wanting to sound posh, for pronouncing one’s name  in cavalier disregard of their spelling, such as saying ‘Pole’ for Powell, and ‘Fanshaw’ for Featherstonehaugh. This hardly seems at odds with the social-climbing snob Hyacinth Bucket in the TV series Keeping Up Appearances who insists her name is pronounced Bouquet. But many ordinary English words have contrary pronunciations so are these vexing surnames any different?

ralph fiennes, actor, pronunciation

The name of actor Ralph Fiennes is pronounced Raif Fines. His full name is Ralph Nathaniel Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes.

There are many town names with unexpected pronunciations (see here), but we seem more able to pronounce them correctly than their equivalent in surnames. This may because we often see town names such as Derby (pronounced Darby) or Leicester (pronounced Lester) on signs and maps, and then hear of them on the news, whereas we often don’t see and hear surnames at the same time. We may hear a surname without realising it is spelt quite differently, or we may see a name written down, but not know how it is pronounced.

There are some surnames where there used to be a mismatch between the spelling and the pronunciation, but the names are now usually pronounced as they are spelt. Examples are: Baldwin – bollden, Beals – bales, Costello – cost uh low, Hogg – hoag, McGill – mackle, Osbourne – oarsman, Reagan – reegunn.

There is a list of eighty (80) surnames below together with the pronunciation (using re-spelling pronunciation rather than phonetics). Many of the names are not that rare. Run down the list and see how many you can get right. (more…)


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Godmanchester, Cambridgeshire

The town of Godmanchester near Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire is pronounced Gumster
© Keith Evans / Creative Commons Licence

We learn how to pronounce words before we can spell them. When it comes to place names, if we hear them day and day out, and see the name everywhere, I doubt we realise that the way we pronounce a name can quite often be different from how it is spelt.

If you were born in London, or lived there a long time, Greenwich is always Gren-nitch, Holborn is Hoe-bun, and Leicester Square is Lester Square. Though Marylebone, which is pronounced Marry-leben, still doesn’t sound right to me. If you live in Glasgow, locals may pronounce the name of their city as Glezga, though BBC Scotland announcers soften the s to say Glass-gow. But most Southerners will pronounce it as Glasgo rather than Glas-gow (as in how) without a second’s thought.

But there are many places in the UK, that if you’ve only seen the names written down on a map or in a newspaper, could well cause you embarrassment should you try to pronounce them as they are written. Here a few better known place names in England with ‘counter-intuitive’ pronunciations that often catch people out.

Beaminster in Dorset is ‘bemster’, Bicester in Oxfordshire is ‘bis-ter’, Bosham in West Sussex is ‘bozzham’, Dittisham in Devon is ‘ditsum’, Lewes in East Sussex is ‘lewis’, Loughborough in Leicestershire is ‘luff-buh-ruh’, Teignmouth in Devon is ‘tin-muth’, Towcester in Northamptonshire is ‘toaster’, Warwick in Warwickshire is ‘worrick’, and Wisbech in Cambridgeshire is ‘wiz-beech’.

The pronunciation of some English place names is also very different from the spelling.

Alnwick in Northumberland is ‘annick’, Belvoir in Leicestershire is ‘beever’, Cholmondeley in Cheshire is ‘chum-lee’, Costessey in Norfolk is ‘cossy’, Darwin in Lancashires is ‘darren’, Furneux Pelham in Hertfordshire begins with ‘furn-ucks’, Mousehole in Cornwall is ‘mou-zl’, Prinknash in Gloucestershire is ‘prinnish’, Slaithwaite in West Yorkshire is ‘slawit’, Torpenhow in Cumbria is ‘tre-penna’, Wymondham in Norfolk is ‘wind-um’, and Woolfardisworthy in Devon is pronounced economically as ‘wools-ree’.

In Wales, if you can’t speak Welsh, pronunciation will be difficult anyway. Some of the more difficult place names are Caersws which is ‘car-soose’, Llandudno is ‘hlan-did-no’, Pwllheli is ‘poohh-helly’, and the little known Ponciau in Wrexham is ‘ponky’.

Scotland has Auchinleck in East Ayrshire which is pronounced ‘aff-leck’, Dalziel in North Lanarkshire is ‘dee-el’ or ‘deeyel’, Hawick in the Borders is ‘hoyk’, Kirkcaldy in Fife is pronounced somewhere between ‘kir-caw-dee’ and ‘ker-coddy’, Milngavie in East Dunbartonshire is ‘mull-guy’, and Penicuik in Midlothian is ‘penny-cook’.

There is a story of an American couple passing through Milngavie who became aware that it had a confusing pronunciation, so they thought they’d better ask a local. When having lunch they asked the waitress ‘can you tell us how you pronounce the name of this place and say it slowly so that we can pick it up’. The obliging lass said, slowly and clearly ‘B-u-r-g-e-r K-i-n-g’.

For those seeking further examples, you can do no better than to consult this list in Wikipedia.

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