You Have Two Names

Feb 10th 2012

Every one of us has two given names. I don't mean first name and surname, or first and middle. I mean two entire names, each one of which represents our complete identity. These two are a sound and an image, or a spoken name and a written name.

We think of these names as being one. My name is Laura, whether I type it to you in this blog or speak it to you on the phone. But in fact they are two, linked but distinct.

Let's say your name, spoken, is "IZ-ə-behl." That's a familiar and fashionable classic. It's usually represented by the letter string Isabel or Isabelle, but in the past decade thousands of girls have also been given the written names Isabell, Isobel, Izabel, Izabelle, Izzabelle and more.

Or let's say your name, written, is Helena. That's a timeless choice, straight out of Shakespeare. It's traditionally represented by the sound heh-LAY-nə...or HEHL-in-ə, or heh-LEE-nə.

Are those IZ-ə-behls and Helenas all the same names, or are they all different? Surely the answer must be "both." They are the same names in one modality, and different in another.

Now imagine if both modalities were up in the air. That was the challenge in a question posed to The Name Lady last year. A grandmother was frustrated that her son and daughter-in-law were pronouncing her granddaughter's name wrong. They had named the girl Aida and pronounced it as two syllables, EYE-də. Grandma thought it should be eye-EE-də, like the opera. Some Name Lady readers felt that the real issue was that the name was spelled wrong; it should have been written Ida.

Think about that for a moment. If you can't decide whether a name is spelled wrong or pronounced wrong, what is the child's name, exactly? Again, I believe the answer must be dual. In that case, the name was the sound EYE-də and the letters Aida.

In today's naming climate, this distinction is far from academic. As we move from a world of Robert and James to a world of Jaylon and Kael, fewer and fewer babies receive names with clear single spellings and pronunciations. And for a name-seeking parent, that means making two decisions.

The standard impulse, even for creative namers, is to think of the sound as primary. Parents choose a spoken name, then tweak the spelling if desired. (Picture doing it the other way around, selecting a string of letters then cooking up a sound to match. It doesn’t feel right, does it?) It seems to me, though, that this strong privileging of sound is out of step with today’s naming reality.

Think of how many first impressions today are made in writing. A college or job application; a social network introduction; an online dating hookup. Is Khrystyna or Xristina really "just another spelling" of Christina? Don't those written names make wildly different impressions? And if so, isn’t it time that the written name be given its due in the selection process? Each part, sound and image, will fully represent your child for life.


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February 11, 2012 3:40 AM

In my former role as a teacher, I read many web sites and blogs by/for others teachers.
About 6 years ago a Louisiana kindergarten teacher posted about being called down to the Principal's office following the first day of class.
In her office was an angry mother carrying on and on about how nobody in that school was calling her 5 year old by her correct name.
The mother went on a tear about how she gave her daughter a name simple enough that "any idiot could pronounce it" and how she wasn't going to put up with this kind of disrespectful behavior.
"Her name is LUH-DASH-UH!"
"Luh-DASH-a, Luh-DASH-a, Luh-DASH-a!"
Her boss was confused as to why there was any problem with Ladasha - that is until the teacher spelled it for her.
Parents. One of the many reasons I left teaching.

February 11, 2012 4:18 AM

@CountryLizB - That is odd. Mia is definitely Mee-uh to me. My-uh is either Mya, Maya, or Maia or even Myah.

Re Elliotte, I agree I would be pronouncing it Ell-ee-OTT. I have seen Elliette a few times for girls and it does seem the most logical spelling for feminized version. I do much prefer the name on boys though.

@PJ, I also picture peoples names (once I know how they are spelt) when I talk to them. That is why I like certain spellings of names and dislike others even though they sound the same.

February 11, 2012 7:49 AM

The Le-a story is an urban legend. Laura has posted on this before.

Last night I had a friend over whose daughter's name is Lena. My friend is German and pronounces her daughter's name both Layna and Leena. I have never met anyone who pronounced her own child's name two different ways! Sometimes she even does it in the same sentence. My guess is that she likes both pronunciations and just switches back and forth. Fascinating!

By moll
February 11, 2012 11:05 AM

I have a nephew named Nicolas, chosen because his mother's first language is Spanish and his father's is English. When speaking English, we call him NICK-o-las and in Spanish, nee-ko-LAHS. My brother and his wife figured that most of the time Nicolas would use English (in school, for instance) and go by NICK-oh-las. Instead, my brother's mother-in-law scolds my brother for "pronouncing his son's name wrong" when he's using English. Now they wish they had just gone with Nicholas! For their second child, they chose a name that is pronounced and spelled the same in both languages.
But, Elizabeth T., I think your story is so interesting because as far as I've seen, they don't switch back and forth when using the same language. I wonder what Lena will grow up introducing herself as! I do think both pronunciations are pretty.

February 11, 2012 11:43 AM

Jiminy cricket-Your ET story made me giggle but it is sort of like that in pronunciation isn't it.

Miriam-What was the pronunciation Pitts was going for? I am not as well versed in literature as some here and am unfamiliar with the story. If I saw Angelle I would think Ahn-gel or Angel. However, with Onjel that is pretty much only
Ahn-gel. I guess some could potentially get Angle or something too though.

February 11, 2012 2:04 PM

ZR, Pitts was going for Ahn-jell, the normal pronunciation of Angelle. I imagine he was trying to ward off Angel, as in Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, and Uriel.

By Heidi R (not verified)
February 11, 2012 2:44 PM four month old daughter's name is Madeleine (pronounced Mad-el-en). We spent a lot of time choosing a name that we thought people would know but wouldn't be overly common and the spelling is very traditional (in my mind Madeline, the most popular spelling, is pronounced Mad-el-LINE).

In this digital age where most people first "saw" her name on an email or facebook, the first question we often get in person is how to pronounce it. We've gotten a lot of Madeleeen (with the drawn out end syllable). Even her grandfather hesitantly said her name for the first several visits as he'd gotten in his head that it was Madeleeen from the email announcement.

On the other hand, those I meet in person, and just tell them her name, have no problem understanding how to pronounce it.

By mk
February 11, 2012 2:45 PM

The spelling Onjel looks odd, but I can see what he was going for. Onjel gets the pronunciation he wants, or at least a close approximation of it. I think most people will pronounce Angelle as either Angel or with the a sound of apple.

Hasn't the La-a story been established several times as an urban legend?

By Beth the original (not verified)
February 11, 2012 3:57 PM

hyz nli said, "I don't think this is just a matter of individual creativity--to me, this sort of thing often indicates an incomplete grasp of phonics and/or cultural context. And as in art or music, I think it's advisable to know the basic rules of the form before improvising or creating your own."

I couldn't agree more, sorry to say. It's one thing to choose between Ann and Anne, and another to say that Chloe can be spelled Xchloe. I don't love creative spellings, but if they follow the phonetic system of the language they are in, that seems OK to me: Britinee is ugly to my eyes, but pronounceable. Brithneighe, on the other hand... You can't just make phonetics and syllabification do whatever you want them to.

I once knew a preteen girl named Pilar, which was pronounced "Piller." The effect of this was to make it seem that her parents had chosen a name out of a baby book without knowing how to pronounce it. Since her last name was clearly Spanish, I was stumped as to how this might have happened! Were they trying to Anglicize her name?

February 11, 2012 5:30 PM

Thanks Miriam. I did intend for the J sound like as in jello when I typed the Ahn-gel as that word is the same pronunciation. THAT is the inherent problem with all this. English has so many rules coupled with too many exceptions. In the words of many a game company, "It is easy to learn but it takes a lifetime to master".

and Beth-I agree. Pilar is not Pill-er. It is the Spanish pronunciation which to my ears is more like Pee-lahr.

By StLeCe (not verified)
February 11, 2012 7:58 PM

This issue is one that our family deals with quite often and will likely deal with even more in the future. First of all, my husband's last name is DeWall and we'll be using that as our children's last name as well. It's pronounced like you would imagine, "duh-WALL." However, various members of his family spell it slightly differently. He spells it DeWall. His parents and sister spells it De Wall. His brother and sister-in-law spells it Dewall. Even though the letters stay the same, I think that the variations in spacing and capitalization make the names look entirely different, even though they are all pronounced the same way. (If I didn't know better, I would think his brother and sister-in-law's last name, Dewall, is English not Dutch, and possibly pronounced DOO-ull.)

Secondly, we're planning on naming our daughter Anneliese (the German spelling, which we think is prettiest). In Germany, this name is pronounced "ahn-uh-LEE-zuh." However, we prefer the pronunciation of the French Anne-Lise, which is poronounced AHN-leez or ahn-LEEZ. We don't care for the hypen and I really like the second e in the German version.

Our family is both Dutch, Czech, German and French-Canadian, so we have no problem with the idea of spelling her name the German way to honor that side of the family and pronouncing it the French way to honor the other side. (To make things crazier, I like the emphasis on the first syllable, AHN-leez, and my husband prefers it on the second, ahn-LEEZ. We're both cool with the other parent emphasizing which ever syllable they like, as long as it's basically the same sounds.)

The fact is that, in the United States, a girl named Anne-Lise, Anneliese, Annelies, or Annalise will have to clarify how she pronounces her name regardless of how you spell it. (Is it anna-leese? anna-leez? ahna-leez?) So, we feel a certain amount of freedom to give her a traditional name that is meaningful to both our cultures and spell it and pronounce it anyway we like, as long as both the spelling and pronunciation of the name are traditionally correct to at least some of our relatives. It will be spelled Anneliese and pronounced AHN-leez (by me)and ahn-LEEZ (by my husband). We won't mind cluing people into how to pronounce it, because we'd have to do that any way we spelled it.

If anyone assumes that this makes us phonetically-challenged or uncultured, then we just assume that person is snobbish judgmental and we move on. (Especially considering that I am a language analyst and speak English, French, Italian, and Czech fluently, so I think I have a pretty good grasp of phonics in several languages. Mixing and matching them in this global world we live in seems completely appropriate.)

Elizabeth T- Your story of your friend who sometimes pronounces her daughter's name "Lay-nuh" and sometimes pronounces it "Lee-nuh" reminds me of one of my colleagues, who has a daughter named Lucia. Sometimes they pronounce it the English "LOO-sha" and sometimes the Italian "Loo-CHEE-uh." (They are not Italian.) When I baby-sat their children and asked what they'd prefer me to call her, they said they call her by both pronunciations and that either one was fine.

Beth the Original- Similar to your story of the Hispanic teen-ager you knew named Pilar (who pronounced it Piller), one of my best friends is named Marisol. To me the Spanish pronunciation mahr-ee-SOHL is beautiful, but she has always gone with the Americanized "mare-uh-SAWL" (rhymes with aerosol). Considering that her family is Hispanic, it wouldn't be the least bit pretentious to pronounce it the original Spanish way, but she just doesn't prefer it.

Live and let live, I guess.

By Liz + Louka (not verified)
February 12, 2012 2:14 AM

This post had me wondering how name pronunciation plays out in China. As I understand it, all Chinese languages have the same written representation, but different spoken sounds, and names are usually nouns. So a Chinese written name would be the same across languages, but the spoken name could be quite different. Or would the name remain in the pronunciation of its owner's language?

February 12, 2012 10:04 AM

I do agree that certain spellings are interchangeable and some are not. airmaxfranceI wouldn't think twice about Isabelle vs.

By kb1212 (not verified)
February 12, 2012 2:34 PM

I had a room mate in college named Brianna and I could never pronounce it right. To me that name has only two variations, bri-ANNA and bri-AH-na, but she was from Chicago and used the Chicago accent's A, putting her name somewhere between those two pronunciations. I ended up just calling her Bri.

By Juli (not verified)
February 12, 2012 4:33 PM

Elizabeth T, we're guilty of that ourselves. Our daughter is Julianna, and we use the Hungarian pronunciation (YOU-lee-on-nah) interchangeably with the English (Julie-Anna). There's often a slight pause when introducing her while I decide which language to use.

She's only a year and a half old, so she doesn't express a preference yet. It's all complicated by the fact that we have about half a dozen nicknames for her that we also use regularly. (Some of them have nothing to do with her name: I invented Babóca as a play on szamóca "strawberry"...)

I think Laura's statement about how many names we all have needs to have the phrase "at least" added: we all have _at least_ two given names.

February 12, 2012 5:37 PM

Juli-I'll second that. We can't forget that some of us are also known as Mommy, Daddy, Uncle, Auntie, Grandma, Grandpa, etc. These are often the only way to identify us for a few years time.

By ReneeinChi (not verified)
February 12, 2012 9:44 PM

Great post, Laura! I've always thought of names this way too-- ever since I fell in love with the Anne of Green Gables books at a young age-- "Anne with an E" was such a different name from the simple "Ann." When I was 8 and my sister was born, my parents wanted to name her Katie, but I already had a cousin named Katie, so they changed the t to a c and named her Kacie. I was baffled when we received cards congratulating our family on the birth of "Casey." Casey? My sister Kacie was SO not a Casey. She was all Kacie, still is. You are so right-- sound AND image define your child.

By Jan (not verified)
February 13, 2012 12:51 AM

I have a friend named Christen (pronounced like Kristen). It wasn't until the iPhone 4S, Siri, pronounced her name like "we christen the baby" did she ever think of her name in that way.

February 13, 2012 8:33 AM

Not having an iphone/Siri I don't know the answer to this, but can Siri be taught? Can you type in a name and ask her how to pronounce it and then tell her the correction if she is wrong? For example, Xtina and she says "Ex-tina" then you say "that name is pronounced Christina".

By Yet Another Guest (not verified)
February 14, 2012 1:54 AM

The Lena/Lena situation is why I couldn't make a strong choice for a name I loved for a long time: Eben. I *love* the way it looks, its meaning, its history. That said...I would constantly go back and forth on pronunciation and was not able to find a definitive one.

I have a difficult German last name and a first name that will often get butchered, though I think it is rather straight forward, so I have always spelled out my names when I need to give them. My husband has what would seem to be very easy names. His first has been in the top 50 since the 1950s (though dropped to top 60s in 2010). His last name is one syllable, and is a brand name for some household items. But even he is often asked to spell his name, and at times has had his name misspelled. People are going to get names wrong regardless how popular/well-known they are.

By EVie
February 14, 2012 2:52 AM

Re: Maya - I would have thought this was a really familiar spelling & pronunciation, too. I don't think I met one until high school, but it's one of those names I've always known about. I prefer the spelling Maia, myself—it seems a bit fresher and I like its more direct connection with the Greek mythology (it's almost always transliterated that way). I quite like the Scandinavian spelling Maja as well.

Valerie - you're right, Maya would be the same in Italian. If they wanted MAY-uh, then Mea is close (like the Latin "mea culpa"), though it doesn't get the ee part of the y diphthong. Adding an i would probably get you there, so Meia. (Although I don't think that either are real Italian names). Italian pronunciation rules are very consistent, so a Maya called MAY-uh living in Italy must get a ton of mistakes.

Re: Angelle/Onjel - Onjel is... not what I would have picked. However, Angelle looks mis-spelled to me, too, unless it's some form of the name with which I'm unfamiliar. I would have gone with Angèle, the traditional French version. I think the accent in this case makes it perfectly clear which syllable is stressed.

February 14, 2012 10:35 AM

EVie-I don't think in my friends case it was so much of an inability to get the correct pronunciation of Maya, but rather they didn't like the look of it and wanted something simple and easy. Keep in mind it was 12 yrs ago and in New England states I don't think this was very popular.

NameVoyager shows that in 2003 (the best year I can get a number for) Maya was #85 and Mya was #118.

By hyz nli (not verified)
February 14, 2012 10:50 AM

EVie, I like the Maia spelling best by far, too, or Maja in the right circumstances. Re: May-uh, I agree it would be a bit challenging to get that pronunciation, I think, since Maya would be the most obvious way if it weren't already in use for the other pronunciation. I guess I'd try Maea, although that's far from foolproof. Mea is a good idea, too--I think people would get it once they were told. Meya could also work. Zoerhenne, I had no idea the Mya version was so popular. It looks like it made its first appearance on the charts in 1997, and then zoomed up fast after that. Is there some pop culture Mya I don't know about?

By mk
February 14, 2012 12:02 PM

hyz nli: Mya is an American singer. According to wikipedia her debut album was in 1998, which fits with the rise of the name. She was one of the singers of "Lady Marmalade" on the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. She's also been on "Dancing with the Stars."

By Birdonthestreet (not verified)
February 14, 2012 1:47 PM

This was once a real problem at a school I worked at because the spelling and the pronunciation were in no way related--I'm guess a case of mom not being good at phonics or something. No one could remember how to spell the child's name because even if they knew how to say it, they had to remember the spelling which didn't match. Poor kid was known to exclaim, "I wish my mom could spell!"

By Leigh (not verified)
February 14, 2012 2:02 PM

This is a great post, and a topic dear to my heart! As a Leigh, the spelling and pronunciation of my name are something I struggle with daily. I get "Lee" written and "Leah" pronounced allllll the time. When someone guesses the correct spelling based on only hearing it, I REJOICE. And...this is not an uncommon name, people. (I also get addressed as "mister" on the internet a lot, even though the Leigh spelling is far more common for women, vs. Lee for men.)

However, the spelling and the name are inextricably linked. I actually chose the name Leigh--it was my middle name, and I decided as a child that it felt much more like "me" than my actual given name, and forced the switch. But I never would have done that if it was spelled "Lee". To me, one is ugly and harsh, and the other beautiful. But they sound exactly the same. So interesting! I wonder if people who are more visual thinkers tend to put more weight on spellings?

I also thought a lot about this when naming my daughter. I wanted something uncommon, but that was unmistakable in both spelling and pronunciation (see: avoiding the problems above). We hit it, I think, although whenever I tell people her name, they almost inevitably say "That's a great name! ...How do you spell it?" and I tell them and they say "Oh, of course. That's what I thought." So, she may not be entirely free of annoying questions, but at least nobody is likely to guess wrong.

By Pamela S (not verified)
February 14, 2012 2:45 PM

My brother and his wife went through a struggle in their desire to name their daughter Maya/Maia/ because they really did not want to be correcting people if they called her MAH-yuh, MEE-uh or MAY-uh. They settled on Maiya because it seemed the least likely to be pronounced in a way they did not intend. And with a terribly common surname, Maiya is finding herself relieved to have a less common spelling on her first name.

Contrast that with names that make no sense no matter how you try to work it out, like Jackie spelled Jaci or shuh-REE-kuh spelled Charkia.

By hyz nli (not verified)
February 14, 2012 3:38 PM

mk, thanks. :) I googled and discovered that right after my last post, and wrote a follow up on the singer Mýa (and her decorative accent), but it seems to have been eaten by the filter. Once I saw her picture, I knew I had seen and heard of her before, but I didn't realize how she spelled her name--I just assumed she used a traditional spelling.

February 14, 2012 5:37 PM

hyz-I would pronounce Mea as Mee-uh and Maea as May-uh just upon seeing them.

Pamela S-the spelling Maiya is pretty.

By Allison Margaret (not verified)
February 14, 2012 6:17 PM

Interesting post! I certainly am aware of my experience of names both as written and oral entities. Alternate spellings can seem very different to me, even when the name is pronounced the same way. Since I sort of visualize a name in my mind when I use it, it can be confusing for other people in conversations - like when I had high school friends named Caitlin and Katelyn. (Or in second grade when there was an Alison in my class and I didn't see why I should use my last initial on homework assignments because clearly Alison and I were different people and there should be no confusion.) Similarly, there are names I like on paper but don't like when I say them (for instance, Violet).

February 14, 2012 6:38 PM

I wonder if the "seeing" names idea is similar to synesthesia (associating colors with letters and things).

By hyz nli (not verified)
February 14, 2012 6:44 PM

zoerhenne, maybe Maea is the way to go for those that want the may pronunciation, then. I just imagine it garnering guesses like mah-EE-ah or mah-AY-ah or something, with all of those vowels in a row. That's the peril of English, with all its idiosyncrasies--with a brand new word or spelling, especially one with tricky vowels, there's often no surefire way to communicate a desired pronunciation with 100% certainty. Since we have to learn so many English words on an individual basis (e.g. sew, few, new), I guess I prefer names/spellings that people are likely to have learned before they met my kid.

February 14, 2012 7:45 PM

Re Maea/Mea etc I would pronounce both of them as May-uh although I like Mea better. Maiya, definitely gets me to My-uh but I like the simpler version better.

Interestingly one of my favourite names for ages was Zea - zay-uh but I thought it would have major spelling/pronunciation issues and I could never figure out the best way to spell it to get the intended pronunciation. I pretty much went through all the options tried above for Maya.

@Allison Margaret, I also have the same problem with Violet. I love the look of it but the Vi-lut pronunciation bothers me, and that is what it always sounds like here.

By tiktok (not verified)
February 14, 2012 8:34 PM

I was born a Sarah and changed to Sera.

The regional accent in my area tends towards extremely nasal "A" sounds; thus the pronunciation of "Sarah" tends to be nasally and annoying. "Sera" indicates my preferred pronunciation - SEHR-uh, not SAIR-uh, or the dreaded SAH-rah - and people who read my name before they meet me are now significantly more likely to pronounce it correctly.

I get playful mispronunciations, mostly from people who have known me for long enough to remember when I was Sarah (SEE-rah is the preferred, though I sometimes also get Sierra), but it doesn't bother me, because it is a hyper-pronunciation of the preferred spelling. My second motive for the change was that people were constantly misspelling Sarah, so the acknowledgement of the E means that they actually know how to spell my name.

My third motivation in changing my name (I did change my last name as well) was that Sarah Elizabeth Smith is essentially a generic name - so generic that I have no qualms about giving it here. It's not an identity, it's a nonentity - Sarah Smith is literally 35 times more likely to actually be somebody's name than "John Doe", if you go by's calculations. It's bland, inoffensive, and unoriginal.

Sera isn't worlds away from Sarah, in sound or visual form, but the impression it gives when written is wildly different, which is why I ultimately chose it. Sarah is plainly normal. Sera is unusual, but without a feeling unfamiliar. After years of being Boring McCommon, that touch of the unique was all I was looking for.

By mk
February 14, 2012 9:17 PM

I never really thought of the spelling vs pronunciations of Maia/Maya/Mia! I would pronounce both Maea and Maiya as May-uh (though Maya and Maia are My-uh to me) Mea would be Mee-a to me, same as Mia.

I love the name Violet but I sometimes say "Violent" when I see it, unfortunately.

I really like Sera!

February 14, 2012 9:32 PM

tiktok-That's a neat story. Thanks for that perspective. Was there a specific reason you ditched the "h" or was it just a less intuitive/convenient spelling for you?

Chimu-That's funny I would definitely go for Zaya in order to get to that sound. Zoe is another name that has issues similar to this. My mom always thinks that my sn shouldn't be Zo-ee but rather just Zo (to rhyme with Joe) and Zooey Deschanel's name always looks like Zoo-ee to me. Weird!

By Yet Another Guest (not verified)
February 14, 2012 11:17 PM

I always pronounce her name Zoo-ee, too! I thought that's how it's supposed to be? If Zoë doesn't have the umlaut, I do pronounce it Zoe (like Joe) and then have to correct myself, though strangely do not have this problem with Chloe.

By EVie
February 15, 2012 12:20 AM

zoerhenne - No knock on your friends intended—I'm just surprised that so many people they asked thought Maya would be mispronounced. Looking at NameMapper for the year 2000, it was ranked in Massachusetts (#87), Connecticut (#88), New Hampshire (#95) and New York (#87), as well as several states out west and a couple in the south... so it was definitely a known name. If they chose it just because they preferred the look, that's another story.

tiktok - I've met a Serra before, but I like Sera better. It makes me think of the Italian word for "evening"—a nice association.

February 15, 2012 1:16 AM

Re Zooey, yeah I also pronounce it zoo-ey. I really don't like that spelling at all!

@zoerhenne, I just don't like zaya for some reason. Zaya and Zaea are almost OK but not as good as Zea visually for me. I like other names more now anyway so I'm unlikely to ever use it.

@tiktok, interesting story! Do you pronounce Sera with a short first syllable or a longer first syllable? In Australia Sarah is always pronounced with the 'eh' sound of Sera but is more drawn out. Like SERRR-uh.

February 15, 2012 11:29 AM

EVie-It was probably more of the latter but I think in the circles we travel it is still not very common unlike knowing about 5-6 Michael's and 3-4 Ryan's of varying ages.

Chimu-You've reminded me that my dd has a girl in her class named Z@ia. It's pronounced with a long I sound.

February 15, 2012 1:22 PM

I'm another one of those pronunciation switchers. For names that have a clear equivalent in English and German, like say, my brother Jacob, I say DZHAY-cob or YAH-kop depending on which language I'm using in the surrounding sentence. It does not seem to bother anyone, including him.

We did try to avoid such a disparity in naming our own children, though. My eldest has a name that doesn't exist in German, so the English pronunciation just gets ported into German sentences. I do find myself doing the German or English Rs for my youngest son's name, though. Same for our surname.

February 15, 2012 1:49 PM

Last night I was looking through my son's Valentines and realized that he has three children in his class that fall into the category of names that are pronounced differently than they are spelled. His classmates are Dillian (pronounced Dylan), Pershy (pronounced Percy) and Yen (pronounced Ian--this one is a girl from Vietnam).

By Lilllie (not verified)
February 15, 2012 3:37 PM

Was your friend Erin from New York or New Jersey? In this part of the country, we pronounce Aaron and Erin differently every time. And neither one is AIR-in (although if we heard someone say AIR-in, we'd probably think that sounded more like the boy's name). The first syllable of the boy's name sounds like the "a" in "at," and the first syllable in the girl's name sounds like the "e" in "Ed." These vowel sounds simply don't occur before the "r" sound in the rest of the country. "Ar" and "er" are both pronounced "air-." A good test to see if someone is from the New York area is to ask them to say "marry, Mary, merry." If they're from around here, they'll pronounce each one differently.

By Lilllie (not verified)
February 15, 2012 3:41 PM

@EVie I've met a handful of Americans in my life who DO insist that people pronounce their names with a British accent, despite not being British themselves. Examples that come to mind: Nathalie (the "t" had to be an aspirated "t" instead of a tap) and Qwynten (aspirated "t" instead of glottal stop). Needless to say, it seemed to be a hard road for them :) probably good that you're not going that route!

By Louise (not verified)
February 15, 2012 4:00 PM

Ah the Mia vs. Maya thing! We named our daughter Mia (MEE-uh) because it seemed like a nice, short, easy to spell and pronounce name, no matter where in the world you are from. And since we have an ambiguously- pronounced Asian surname, we wanted her to have a simple, unambiguous given name. And yet wherever we go, people call her "MYE-uh". Granted, Maya and its other forms (Maia and Mya) are more common around here, but it would honestly never occur to me to pronounce Mia that way.

By Mollie-Grace (not verified)
February 15, 2012 4:16 PM

I think that often times, the spelling of a name remains consistent regardless of where you live. The same does not go for pronunciation. In a southern accent, many vowels end up sounding similar. For example, I have a friend named Ellie and a friend named Allie. To distinguish among them is very difficult. Allie sounds like AY-a-LEE and Ellie is pronounced EHylLEE. In Ellie, the last syllable is stressed versus the first in Allie. Also, Allie has a more pronounced y sound. However, a friend of mine from new england says her name, also Allie, a(as in apple) lee (as in lean). Hers is a distinct two syllables with no slur and no distinct stress.
Therefore, there is virtually no difference between one sound names like Layla and Leela. People tell me how offended people are when their name, Leah, is pronounced wrong (Lee-uh for Lay-uh or vice-versa) I have never run into this problem, as where i'm from they both sound like LAY-eE-uh

February 15, 2012 7:46 PM

I have a bit of a name problem, which just so happens to fit right in with this topic: I love the name Adele, but I have always pictured it said Ad- uh- lay. However, with Adele, the singer being so well known, i feel as though everyone would assume it was said uh-dehl/dell. My problem is, while I love the sound Adalay, I am not a fan of how the phonetic spelling Adalay (or Addalay, Adaley, of Adilay) looks on paper. Any advice/suggestions?? Do you automatically think uh-dell when you see the name Adele?

February 15, 2012 9:15 PM

I do think of the singer when I see Adele. You could go for Adelaide, like in the Guys and Dolls song. It has the same origin as Adele.

There are two kindergarteners in my daughter's school named Cassandra. Both pronounce the name Cass-AHN-dra, which is atypical to me. (I pronounce the middle syllable like the name Anne.) My daughter has corrected me multiple times and has noted that all of the adults say it "wrong"! Those Cassandras are in for a lifetime of correcting.

I followed the same rules as Frank when I chose my daughters' names. I succeeded with "Indigo." No wrong pronunciations or spellings. The name "Phoenix," however is spelled incorrectly all the time. Oh well. I'd rather have a wrong spelling than a wrong pronunciation.