Did I name my daughter wrong?

Hello all,

I posted here when I was expecting my twin girls and got lots of good feedback, so I've come to you for reassurance about one of my choices. I am concerned that we are using a nonstandard, or at least unusual, pronounciation for Emmeline (Emma-LINE, not -LEEN). Nobody ever, ever gets it right-- most say Emma-LEEN, a few Emma-LYN. I knew there would be some confusion but am surprised that there seems to be so much consensus on the French pronounciation, especially since names like Adeline and Madeline are widely popular. I even saw a posting from a British woman who said Emma-LINE would be considered a mispronounciation in the UK, which was heartbreaking for this Anglophile to read! So, did I get it wrong? I can't see changing the pronounciation because Emmeline is already two and I don't really care for Emma-LEEN, but I need to know!



October 20, 2018 12:01 PM

Even though I speak French, in an English context I'd read that name as EMMA-line. In fact, I need to remind myself that Emmeline Pankhurst was -LEEN because it's so unintuitive to me. 

I suspect that you happen to find yourself in a -LEEN pocket. Pronunciations tend to be regional and people base their expectations on how people they've known with similar names have pronounced them. That doesn't mean that you are wrong in your choice, only that you have the misfortune of going against local trends. 

It must be very frustrating and I fully sympathize with your plight! My best advice is to try to adopt a relaxed attitude about it. People who matter will get it right -- either on their own or after a few gentle reminders. People who casually enter and exit your daughter's life don't matter. I know how difficult it can be too let it go  when people are saying her name in the WRONG WAY, but if you can convince yourself that they are not important, it will go a long way towards granting you peace of mind. You can give a gentle, "We actually say her name as Emma-Line," before letting it go. If you model a casual attitude, there's a good chance that your daughter will learn that behaviour, too. If a family member or close friend gets it wrong, they can get the stink eye ;) Teachers may take a little while to remember, but hopefully they'll care enough to get it right. 

And who knows? Maybe later in life she'll move somewhere where -Line is the default pronunciation. (Nowhere too far. You can still see her every weekend. She'll just be surrounded by people who say her name the way she does.)

October 20, 2018 1:01 PM

There are four English pronunciations of Emmeline on Forvo, all by US speakers, and they are evenly split—2 LINE and 2 LEEN. Emmaline, with a middle A, has only one pronunciation, which is LINE. So I agree you are just in a LEEN pocket for some reason. (And both the German and French pronunciations sounds more like Emma-leen-uh than Emma-LEEN, so if people are trying to be more "authentic" somehow with the LEEN pronunciation then they're  not quite hitting it, either. Emeline, one M, seems to be the spelling for the French LEEN pronunciation.)

If you really can't stand the mispronunciations, one thing you could try out would be changing the spelling to Emmaline (at coffee shops and such). That version looks less French to my eye, so perhaps it would be less likely to trigger French vowels? At two, your daughter surely knows her name, but if she's anything like my two-year-old she hasn't got the full spelling yet, so that might be a doable change if it turns out to make a big difference. But of course if you don't resonate to that spelling and don't want to change it there's nothing at all *wrong* about Emmeline pronounced Emma LINE.

October 20, 2018 1:20 PM

No.  You absolutely, 100% didn't name your daughter wrong.  

"LEEN" doesn't even make sense.  I might give them -lynn simply because Madeline could go either way, but when I see any name ending in -line I always assume it's a long I.  

However, I'm a Caucasian English speaker in city with a high Latino population and I agree that this may well be a regional thing.  I still don't think LEEN makes sense because in Spanish -line would actually be pronounced lee-nay, but you just never know.  

My youngest is Isaias.  I realize that it IS extremely similar to Isaiah but I wasn't prepared for how many times people just assume I spelled Isaiah wrong and still call him that.  And it DID irk me at first but now I just shrug it off.  He knows his name.  I know his name.  All of the important people know his name.  In the long run it doesn't matter how many total strangers get it wrong.  And he's almost 4 now and he's totally spunky and feisty anyway and I think he gets great enjoyment out of telling people, no, that's wrong, and anyway call me Ike.  

I wouldn't even entertain changing Emmeline's name.  You've given her a beautiful, strong, yet still feminine name that is maybe less familiar than Caroline or Madeline, but it's still a wonderful name.  You have NOT done her a terrible disservice.  In fact, I'd take a gamble that as she gets older she'll like having a slightly different name and won't mind correcting the people who don't get it right at first.  I completely don't understand your frustration; I honestly do.  But please, try not to stress!  

October 20, 2018 4:26 PM

I'll have to admit that Emmeline is one name that I'm never sure how to pronounce. I've never actually met an Emmeline in real life so I'm sure that is one reason why. Where I am, Adeline and Madeline are probably 80% of the time said with a -lyn ending, and even Caroline sometimes gets a -lyn ending too, but my default for all of them would be -line. The only -line name I can think of that I would say with -leen at the end is Evangeline (or Angeline).


I think as others have said you just need to keep reminding people (those who matter) and try not to worry about those who don't matter. I'm trying to keep this attitude myself because one of my now 6 month old twins is Johanna-with-the-h-pronounced, and hardly anyone gets its right the first time. Even my own older daughter is starting to call her Joanna, and sometimes I find myself using Joanna if someone I'm talking to keeps saying it that way. it's a much more subtle difference than Emme-Line vs Emma-Leen, which is why it's hard to get on top of, but it's not something I had anticipated. I'm kind of interested to see what Johanna herself does with her name once she starts talking.

October 20, 2018 8:10 PM

This is really just one of those names that has two acceptable pronunciations. Your daughter (and you) will likely have to correct people. It's not wrong, it just is. 

October 20, 2018 9:09 PM

My name can be pronounced in several ways.  May-gan, Mee-gan and Meg-ann.  I mostly don't correct people unless they will be in my life for a long time.  I've learned that people who care about me will get it right over time.  People who think little of me (or my "station in life") won't ever get it correct.  Que sera sera.

I struggle with Caroline and Carolyn.  I would learn to pronouce your daughter's name.  Keep it!  Who knows what nicknames your daughter will develop.

October 21, 2018 4:10 PM

I have a friend who calls me Emmeline (not my name) as a term of endearment. He is British. He pronounces it Emma-LINE. I would also pronounce it Emma-LINE unless I were making a conscious effort not to.

I do feel your pain; I've been suprised that 80% of people spell my daughter's name wrong and the other 20% are paralyzed by indecision and usually ask me. I expected some confusion but not quite on this scale. I think we just have to remember that we didn't do anything "wrong," we just chose valid alternatives, and since the names are unusual, our daughter's will likely become the dominant association for many people in their lives.

October 21, 2018 9:17 PM

And if anything were going to encourage the -leen ending, it would be the fact that your name already contains the -lee part!

(That style of nickname reminds me of how I call my friend Lauren "Lorelei" because Lauren --> Laur --> Laurelei.)

By mk
October 21, 2018 5:11 PM

The correct one is the one you prefer. Emmaline is not a common name, so people are probably just reverting to a -line name they know. The Madelines I know use the -lyn pronunciation. Plus, Josephine, while doesn’t have the l, is a fairly popular name. 

Just keep introducing her as Emma -line and people will learn it.

October 21, 2018 9:29 PM

My son’s name is Callum. We get soooo many “CAY-lum”s...which does not even make phonetic sense. I just keep saying it the correct way. People will catch on.

FWIW, I’d read it ”Emma-LINE”. Agree with the above that it’s probably largely regional. 

October 22, 2018 12:23 PM

Not wrong! Lovely! There's even a Ben Folds song to back you up: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nPy8I23jwuY

October 22, 2018 2:54 PM

My friends have a 3 year-old daughter named Emmeline, and they have this same issue. We are in the Southern part of the USA. I personally do NOT understand how people get this wrong, either... You are definitely not wrong!

October 23, 2018 1:32 AM

My son had a homework project about names recently, where I learned that his classmate Emmeline is named after the suffragette. I have always said the name Emmeline the say you do, and in fact, I am pretty sure that her parents (one American, one from another UK colony) also say Emmeline to rhyme with shine and line, not with mean and lean. So no, you didn't do it wrong. I think this is one of those names that has different pronunciations around the world.

In your shoes I would encourage your daughter to think of the different pronunciations are "all correct in different parts of the world" and thus try to drive yourself less crazy about the variation you encounter. I think my oldest kid had his mind blown when he learned that while there are definitely wrong pronunciations (it's not Joe-lion) there are different variants of JOE vs JOH for the first syllable, all within the UK. I think it's hard to make generalizations about even just within England because there are a lot of dialects and regional differences. 

October 23, 2018 8:04 AM

I can attest to that being an excellent strategy. My 4 year old daughter is someone who has excellent attention to detail (she noticed that a classmate said the letter L slightly differently than is typical around here due to her mother's Israeli accent) and would typically consider a pronunciation of her name other than the one we use at home to be wrong. However, she's also in a multilingual school and her non-English teachers say her name as core-DEH-lee-uh instead of cor-DEE-lee-uh. Instead of being annoyed, she feels special.

And even more personal experience: I'm perfectly happy when people with other native languages pronounce my name like Karine, which happens frequently as there are many French speakers where I live. (Now, if only I could view the Mary-merry-marry merger in the same way instead of as a failure of the speaker's ability to differentiate vowels, I'd be much happier... If I'd been brainwashed as a child into thinking of it a legitimate regional variation, it wouldn't make my skin crawl when people call me CARE-in.)

October 23, 2018 4:14 PM

So hang on, are you CAR-in? I would definitely drive you nuts a few times if I encountered you in the wild! Definitely not my default for Karyn.

October 23, 2018 5:58 PM

Haha No, not car, either. If you're merged then you most likely can't say my name the way I do and possibly can't even hear it properly. 

Imagine my name were Katyn (cat+in) or Kabyn (cab+in} but with an R instead. Try saying ka then run with a gap between the a and r. That's your best shot at getting it right :)

October 29, 2018 12:36 PM

I think I could probably say your name in isolation, by channeling my college friend from Long Island. I was so fascinated by her pronunciation of our friend Gary's name that I practiced it a bunch back then, and I think it's the same vowel you're describing. But it does feel like I'm putting on an accent, and I don't know whether I could reliably produce it in conversation (it also feels like it takes me longer to say than when I don't try to un-merge the vowel; in fact, that's how I first perceived the difference when hearing her say Gary, like she was drawing the vowel out).

So of Mary/marry/merry, I'm guessing your name has the Mary vowel? If that's correct, would the vowel that merged folks want to use be the marry vowel? And how would you describe the merry vowel? Is it like "meh" plus an R at the end?

October 29, 2018 8:40 PM

Yes, I'd say that Long Island is a good approximation of that vowel. I often pick out actors from New York by their non-mergedness. 

I understand what you mean about it taking longer to say, though I don't think that it's truly any longer to say æ. I don't remember the specifics of the phonetics, but the æ sound is more open. 

Your guess made me chuckle because it highlights how, once merged, separating them is difficult and foreign. Merry is, indeed, meh+ry. That one tends to be relatively the same across accents, I think. Some people say Mary and merry the same way (both as merry).

People who are fully unmerged say "merry" as meh, "Mary" with "air" in the middle, and "marry" like mat, mash, math, with the æ. My name is said with the æ of marry. Marry is also the one that merged people can't get (everything sounds like Mary.) That R after the A messes with something that I'll never understand.

(This description doesn't fully hold for accents where the vowels get separated into two sounds. I'm not an expert with the terminology here, but I've noticed that some accents take a name like Andrea and make the first sound into a diphthong... kind of like eh+ah.) 

October 29, 2018 11:27 PM

I don't know if this will help, but I just thought of an explanation. The way unmerged people distinguish Mary from marry follows the pattern of a double consonant changing the vowel before it from long ("A" saying its name) to short. 

It's like mate vs. matte; caped vs. capped; rated vs. ratted; tiny vs. tinny; puny vs. punny

October 30, 2018 10:15 AM

That's where some of my confusion comes from, though, because based on that I would have expected Gary and Karen to have the Mary vowel. Or does the Y in your name change things, and Gary was just an aberration or a dialect thing?

October 30, 2018 10:24 AM

Merged people put the Mary vowel in Karen and Gary and Harry and Barry. Unmerged people do not. You're merged, so you expect Mary because that's what you say. 

The Y doesn't change anything in English. (But it does render my name "Karine" in French, which I vastly prefer to a French Canadian saying Karen.)

October 30, 2018 10:41 AM

It makes sense to me that doubling the R would change the pronunciation of the vowel, parallel, as you say, to other vowel/consonant combinations. And I think the vowel I use would be the "long" vowel equivalent, which should go along with a single consonant (for me, Mary/marry/merry all have the same A as in "Mater", not the vowel of "matter").

But then, if the doubling of the vowels changes things, I would have expected Gary to have the Mary vowel because it only has one R (like Mary), but I think that the vowel I heard my friend use in Gary was the marry vowel, more like the A in "Gabby" rather than the vowel in "Grady". So now I'm confused about the orthography and how to predict which vowel.

October 30, 2018 10:48 AM

You're 100% right. The parallel works for Mary/marry, Barry, Harry, Carrie, embarrassed, barrel, etc., but is breaks down for single consonant words. I can't explain it! Maybe there's some linguistics history that would, but if there is, I don't know it. Hopefully I didn't confuse the issue more with that description... But Gary did sound like Gabby and Karyn does sound like cabin. (See, cabin isn't spelled cabbin... I guess it's like that!)

October 30, 2018 10:50 AM

I'm totally merged and can never remember which word is supposed to be which unmerged vowel, but it sounds like Karyn is saying that both her name and Gary should be written with two Rs. (I think I've encountered both Garry and Karren at some point, but if this was the reason for the second 'r', it was lost on me at the time.)

Part of the problem is that even without the 'r', American, British, and Down Under dialects use [e] (eta), [ɛ] (epsilon), and [æ] (ash) exactly backwards from each other. I can try specifying the eta sound with words like date, day, and pain, but Aussies would think I meant ash, and Brits would think I meant epsilon.

(There's a fascinating chart about this on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Phonetic_Alphabet_chart_for_English_dialects.)

October 23, 2018 7:42 PM

I’m a so merged I sometimes think I only have one vowel! I would definitely drive you crazy unless we moved to Carinne foreign flair pronunciation.

October 23, 2018 9:37 PM

Listen, I'm married to a merged husband who does his best but mostly just doesn't call me by name. I survived a two the two months of my mother-in-law visiting and staying with us, calling me "Care" the whole time. Yes, I cringed internally every single time, but it was worth it to have her get to spend time with my daughter. It would be worth it to get to meet you, too :) 

By EVie
October 23, 2018 10:00 PM

My husband and I are both unmerged, and the other day I got the clearest evidence yet that my kid has absorbed our unmerged accent: he mispronounced "Mary had a little lamb" as "Marry." No merged speaker would make the mistake in that direction—I was pleased ;)

October 24, 2018 9:56 AM

And I am so pleased for you, too!

My aunt and uncle were born in my unmerged land but moved to merged territory after getting married. My cousins copied how their parents say my name (and our cousin Tara's name) and are able to do so properly, even though they generally speak in a merged fashion. However, my cousins' kids have not carried on this ability. And the way the kids say it feels like the "air" sound is even more drawn out than when adults say it... I will never name a child with an -ar- combination. Never. 

By EVie
October 24, 2018 2:44 PM

Somehow my sister ended up merged and I didn't. My mom is unmerged; I think my dad was merged (he died before I started really observing these things, but he still had a Midwestern accent after 30+ years on the East Coast, so I'm probably remembering right). But we both spent a lot more time talking to our mother, so that doesn't fully explain it to me. We grew up in NYC, technically unmerged territory, but there are SO many transplants among the white collar classes that it's really a bit of a mishmash. (The typical "New York accent," which is most definitely unmerged, these days is more working class/outer boroughs/Long Island, and I think less influenced by transplants). I think the most likely explanation is that my sister picked it up from merged friends at school. 

October 25, 2018 12:34 AM

Whoa, this thread is facisnating. I definitely say Karyn as "CARE-in," and it actually took me considerable effort to try to say it with a syllable like in "cabin." I'm from Massachusetts. Is New England considered merged?

October 28, 2018 4:56 PM

In these discussions I usually think I'm unmerged. Now I just don't know what to think... 

So, after sitting her for five minutes practising, I THINK I can say your name. But it also feels like I'm talking with an accent.

October 28, 2018 6:08 PM

Could you reasonably call a Kar(y/e/i)n "Care Bear'?

Do Carrie and Kerri sound the same?

Is Harry Butts a funny name (other than, you know, the last name Butts)?

Does "the bear gets embarrassed" include the word bear twice?

Does "Barry eats a berry" repeat?

If you answered "yes", you are merged. If you said no, you're not. 

October 29, 2018 10:29 AM



I can see where it's coming from but no



I think this is why this conversation confuses me so much. :-P

October 29, 2018 11:47 AM

Well this just got interesting...

October 29, 2018 3:42 PM

This whole concept is really fascinating. (I, like probably all Australians, answer no to all your pronunciation questions).

My kids have a book where the character is called Larry, and he's dressed up differently on each page. There's Merry Larry, Scary Larry, Hairy Larry, Very Larry etc. Obviously whoever wrote this book is merged and says all those words with the same vowel sound, but for me it's the most awkward book to read because those words do not rhyme. I have to put on a terrible accent to get them to rhyme (and of course the kids think it's hilarious).

October 29, 2018 6:39 PM

Reading books with obvious rhymes that do not rhyme in your own accent pattern is HILARIOUS. My kids love it.

I want the author of the Larry book; it sounds like great fun (even though it would work fine for my accent).

October 29, 2018 8:20 PM

Whereas I absolutely couldn't handle reading the Larry book!

The best example I can think of is how Cinderella rhymes with cellar in Each Peach Pear Plum. That confused me quite a bit until I realized that it was a British book! Now it's fun to read it in an accent, so I do understand -- I just can't bring myself to be amused by a merged accent <sheepish face>

October 30, 2018 8:20 AM

Each Peach Pear Plum is my all time favorite children's book, and it never occured to me that it's British!  I always just accepted it as a close-enough sort of rhyme!

October 31, 2018 5:00 PM

I was trying to suss out the "correct" pronunciation of Ottilie the other day, and found a place where someone described it as "like 'utterly' but with an O at the beginning." I was totally confused until I realized the commentator was in the UK, and probably didn't pronunce utterly AT ALL like me. With my NW New England rhotic/t-dropping ways, I must admit utterly 100% sounds like "udderly" when I say it.)

November 1, 2018 11:06 AM

Everything about this comparison blows my mind. How wrong it feels and then how I can manipulate my accent to make it right. 

October 31, 2018 7:14 PM

See I can't imagine how you could say Cellar that it wouldn't rhyme with Cinderella. Cell-arr (like a pirate arrr!)? It sounds so wrong in my head, I can't even imagine an American accent saying it. 

I agree it's very fascinating to read all these responses; before I joined this forum I never really considered how much difference there is in regional American accents.

November 1, 2018 11:04 AM

No, it's really not piratey. 

Have you ever noticed that Australian and some British people add an R onto the end of words ending in vowels if the next word begins with a vowel? So, if saying "Cinderella and the Prince", Cinderella would be rendered "Cindereller" with a rhotic R? That's what it's like. Not a big, open aaaarrrrrrr and the second vowel isn't an ash but a schwa. 

Oh! Here, hear people saying it. https://forvo.com/word/cellar/#en


And for the record, I'm Canadian. I know that American is often used as a generic catch-all, but we have lots of distinct regional accents here, too. In fact, some Newfoundland or Nova Scotia accents contain quite a bit of "pirate" in them, (but even they wouldn't say "cellar"like a pirate because it's an unstressed syllable). 

November 1, 2018 12:48 PM

What I find most interesting is that they often drop the -R ending on words and then add it back before a vowel. So, apparently, Eleanor in a British accent is pronunced roughly the same as Elena (ell-en-uh) and in the audiobook I've been listening to with a character named Pepper, the narrator pronounces it "pep-uh" (unless it's followed by a word starting with a vowel, of course).

The British pronunciation of utterly on Forvo is "uht-uh-lee" seeming to drop the R from the middle of the word, which seems like it doesn't follow the rule, but I'm definitely not up on linguistic subtleties (or phonetic spelling, to be honest).

I am 100% merged on almost everything (I actually can't keep track of which is supposed to be which in the marry-Mary-merry merger), and I listen to a podcast with a bunch of New Yorkers, one of whom is named Harry, and the way they all say "Haaaarry" sounds so protracted to me, almost a caricature).

On a totally other note about accents, I've been puzzling for years over the Vermont accent used by my maternal family--it's definitely rhotic, but they also add Rs in a way that isn't quite what you're describing (middle of words, doesn't seem to vary based on surrounding words).

Even in specific examinations of the Vermont dialect that I've read, it never gets mentioned, but my whole family very definitely says:

idea = i-deeR (I've never noticed it changing based on whether the next word begins with a vowel, though it may).

garage = ga-RAR-ge

wash = waRsh

aunt = aRnt (the same as we pronounce "aren't")

Aubuchon (local hardware store) = aw-bur-shon

Benjamin = ben-geR-man

What a bunch of weirdos!

November 1, 2018 1:39 PM

My mother-in-law and her sister from the Canadian Maritimes (from Vermont, cross Maine then take a ferry across the Bay of Fundy) also say ga-RAR-ge! It's the strangest thing! Warsh and idear are also highly familiar, though I can't think of a specific individual who says them like that. Rs mess people up, Man.

November 1, 2018 3:39 PM

This same tendency is definitely present in the Maine side of my in-laws... my daughter is Thomaseener, which I did not quite expect! The random surprise r entrance something I also encountered cropping up periodically in occasional words growing up in Connecticut, too, although northern New England seems more dramatic.

Is the podcast perchance fivethirtyeight, because if so, I've noticed the same... it especially provides a delightful contrast to my royal podcast and the British Harry that I get regularly there.

(I was definitely surprised when watching Sense and Sensibility in high school and discovered that the Elena character was actually Elinor!)

By EVie
November 1, 2018 4:23 PM

I had a boss from Western New York who said "unfirmiliar," and it just made my skin crawl it sounded so wrong.

It has a name, though! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linking_and_intrusive_R#IntrusiveR

And this whole article is really fascinating: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhoticity_in_English

English is the only language I know of that has an R pronounced the way we do (there may be others, but I am not, uh, firmiliar with them). It's such a weird letter, that it evolved to make such different sounds in different languages. My kindergartener still has trouble with English Rs, despite being a monolingual native speaker, but he has very little trouble with the flipped Rs in Spanish words. I've never been able to master the flipped or rolled Rs, though I'm fine with the back-of-the-throat French R. 

November 1, 2018 5:56 PM

Same! My almost-5-year-old hasn't mastered the English R, but is a great mimic and in copying her teachers has a better accent in French and Hebrew than I do!

Rs really are fascinating. I wonder how many theses have been written about them. 

November 2, 2018 10:53 AM

I love wikipedia articles on linguistics! And, that article does clarify that British dropping of the R in "utterly" makes sense, since the R is at the end of the root, even though it's not the end of the word.

All of the descriptions of linking and intrusive R that I can find (including the ones that you linked to) say that they aren't found in rhotic dialects. Vermont is squarely in the NW New England dialect (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_England_English#Western_New_England_English, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_New_England_English#Northwestern_New_England), and we're supposed to be rhotic. But, I'm guessing that my older relatives (who were primarily from eastern Vermont) were still at least partially non-rhotic, and my mom and her generation picked up added Rs in some words even though they were rhotic.

Anyone interested in hearing what I consider the "real Vermont accent" (you know, because it's the one MY family had), should watch Man with a Plan. The main character, Fred Tuttle, is from a town near my extended family, and watching it with them when it came out was a kick, "oh, that's so and so's cousin there, standing in front of Glenn's harness shop." Also, it's pretty hilarious, as in this snippet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6MwICs8gIh4.

November 2, 2018 10:22 AM

It is fivethirtyeight! All of the regulars aren't even New Yorkers, but they all seem unmerged and accented to me.

October 30, 2018 10:23 AM

The librarian in me is pleased to inform you that Each Peach Pear Plum is by Janet and Allan Ahlberg, and that multiple libraries in your area have copies. (Does that last bit sound kind of stalkerish? It's thanks to WorldCat, not me staking out your local libraries, I promise!)