It's not like taxi apparently
January 9, 2019 9:35 PM   Subscribe

I know someone whose first name is Tara and who habitually pronounces it with a short A, like "tap" or "taxi". Almost everyone she meets politely asks if it's "Ta-ra" or "Tar-a" (with a long A like "tar") so when she tries to explain it's "Ta-ra like taxi" they 100% of the time get a baffled look on their face, like well now I have less information than I did before. Is there a better or different hint or clue she can give?

She says that it seems to be a difficult vowel sound for people not from the US North-east where she is from? Could that be? For Mid-western folks she adjusts it to more of a "Taera" sound that they can repeat. For people from other parts of the country would that also work?
posted by bleep to Human Relations (111 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I’m from the Northeast and I’m not sure what she is describing. Is it a sound like tear-a, where tear is pronounced like tearing paper?
posted by sevensnowflakes at 9:40 PM on January 9

I'm a little bit confused. I can't think of a U.S. accent where "tar" has a long A, so I'm having trouble working back to which sounds you're distinguishing amongst. Do you really pronounce "tar" with the same vowel sound as "mare" or "glare" or "care?"
posted by praemunire at 9:41 PM on January 9 [2 favorites]

No it's "ta" like "tack" or if someone were screaming "aahhhhhh"
posted by bleep at 9:41 PM on January 9

Sorry if I mixed up the terms for long and short. It's the difference between "tar" and "tack" where "tack" is the preferred one.
posted by bleep at 9:42 PM on January 9

One of the problems with names like this is that this vowel pair is one that has a regular correspondence between English dialects. So people used to an accent where short-a corresponds to their long-a will habitually "translate" what they are hearing. E.g. if I know that when you say "baeth" I say "bath" then when you say "Taera" I will translate that as "tahra". That might even be what I hear.

That said, "Tara like taxi" should work great, since taxi is one of the words that DOESNT change like this. It's weird that that didn't help.
posted by lollusc at 9:43 PM on January 9 [3 favorites]

The northeast notoriously has three sounds for something approximating /ae/ before r which I think is muddying the waters. (The illustrative example is that Mary, marry, and merry have three distinct pronunciations. I was sort of able to replicate it after eight or nine years there!) Also in most dialects I think it isn't really the same vowel as in "taxi" just because the place of articulation for r is very different from x and I think it affects the vowel.
posted by Smearcase at 9:45 PM on January 9 [16 favorites]

"Tara like tarragon. Just imagine it has two Rs."
posted by flabdablet at 9:46 PM on January 9 [48 favorites]

"Like tack" would probably help, actually. This is not what is usually referred to by either long or short vowel sounds, which may be part of your issue - there aren't that many languages that actually have this sound!

But since that's a not-uncommon name with two far-more-common pronunciations, this is never going to really change for most of the people she interacts with, so really she might as well get used to it.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:47 PM on January 9 [6 favorites]

"Trap" is another one you can try and it might work slightly better because of the r in there making it more similar. You could even do "Tara rhymes with trapper" except that might confuse people about the final r since I'm guessing you have a rhotic dialect
posted by lollusc at 9:47 PM on January 9 [2 favorites]

I would try to give something that has a similar a mouth shape as well as the vowel sounds. So, I have this right, I might say Ta-ra like tap-rock.
posted by metahawk at 9:49 PM on January 9

Ooh, maybe "Tara, like "tarry"" could work? I think that's the right vowel in just about any dialect and the most similar word you are likely to get.
posted by lollusc at 9:50 PM on January 9 [10 favorites]

For me "Tara like taxi" is a bit jarring not because of the phonetics but because in most "X like Y" patterns X and Y rhyme. (For instance, if someone asked me about the pronunciation of JK Rowling's surname I would say "Rowling as in bowling", not "Rowling as in rowboat" - not that the latter doesn't make sense, it just takes an extra second to process). Can you think of something that rhymes or almost-rhymes with Tara that doesn't have the same ambiguity?
posted by btfreek at 9:51 PM on January 9 [12 favorites]

Oh damn, I mean the tarry that means to go slow, not the one that means covered in tar. English spelling sucks.
posted by lollusc at 9:52 PM on January 9 [4 favorites]

“Tara” like “Sarah”

Not “Tara” like “Laura”
posted by rw at 9:53 PM on January 9 [114 favorites]

The "a" in "taxi" or "tack" is a front low "a" sound, usually transcribed æ.

The "a" in "tar" is a back low "a" sound, usually transcribed ɑ.

The "a" in "glare" or "mare" or "tarry" (as in wait) (long A) is a front-middle sound, transcribed e.

The positional descriptions refer to where the high point of your tongue is; it feels like the place you're "making the sound." It's harder to do an æ in front of an r than, say, an x, because the transition of your tongue to the next sound isn't as smooth and it's a much less common combination in English. I'm sure there are languages where this is a more common combination and speakers make the more difficult sound naturally, but I think your friend may find this a struggle for English-speakers.

[note: not a professional linguist, probably there's some imprecision in the terms I just used]
posted by praemunire at 9:53 PM on January 9 [14 favorites]

Also in most dialects I think it isn't really the same vowel as in "taxi"
Yup. I don't say that word the way northeasterners do.

Just imagine it has two Rs.
That would make me think I needed to roll the R.

Tara, like "tarry"
No one says that word aside from Anglophone academics, so it's unlikely to help.

It's like Ralph Fiennes in a way - I'm sorry, but your name is often going to be pronounced differently from the way you want it to be pronounced and there's really fuck-all that can be done about it.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:54 PM on January 9 [4 favorites]

Yeah she is relatively easy going about it but other people seem to really want to get it right, which she appreciates so she wants to help them!
posted by bleep at 9:56 PM on January 9

“Tara” like “Sarah”

Another name that has a number of pronunciations, but the common one, which sounds more like the vowel in "dare," doesn't actually begin with the same vowel sound as taxi, which is more like the æ praemunire mentions.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:57 PM on January 9 [14 favorites]

These are all great & helpful answers I'm just marking the ones that are ringing a bell
posted by bleep at 9:57 PM on January 9

Is it Tara like Sarah? Isn't this the dominant way of saying this name versus tar-uh?
posted by k8t at 9:58 PM on January 9 [11 favorites]

I'm from the US northeast and I don't think I've ever considered that the Ta- in"Tara" might not be pronounced like the ta- in "taxi," except maybe in a fantasy movie. I was going to suggest "Tara, rhymes with mascara," but then I did some research and it turns out the UK pronounces mascara differently from the US. God dammit.

It seems like maybe she could say "Tara like 'carrot'?" Up until the last Scottish male voice they all sound pretty similar.
posted by ejs at 10:03 PM on January 9 [6 favorites]

Yeah if rw's answer is correct we're dealing with some pretty specific regionalisms - the most common North American pronunciations of both Tara and Sarah are quite similar and would rhyme with "bear a." Neither shares a vowel sound with the common North American pronunciation of "taxi," the "a" of which is closer to the "a" in "atrophy" or "atmosphere."
posted by aspersioncast at 10:05 PM on January 9 [14 favorites]

@k8t - the Tara-like-Sarah is for a certain American accent. I know two Taras who prefer it different ways as described in the original question. If you don’t have a nasal accent, Tara, Laura, and Sarah would all pretty much rhyme. I’m the one with the confused need to ask.

I live in Silicon Valley - accent melting pot of the world.
posted by rw at 10:07 PM on January 9 [1 favorite]

Might add that this is a known thing that people from the rest of the country sorta make fun of when they do Boston accents, I guess sorta like northeasterners make fun of Texans.
posted by aspersioncast at 10:08 PM on January 9 [1 favorite]

ejs, Tara like mascara works fine for me in Australian English but I know we pronounce Tara differently (more like Tahra). So both pairs work in that sense.
posted by kitten magic at 10:10 PM on January 9 [4 favorites]

Yup, I'm from northeast US and went to school in the Midwest, and "Tara " has a different pronunciation in each. In the NE, "Tara" and "sarah" are pronounced differently too. It's TAH-rah, but SARE-ah.
posted by bearette at 10:14 PM on January 9 [2 favorites]

I don't kbow .. But i can tell you that I'm from the southeast, and Mary, marry, and merry all sound the same to me and I've spent many many years in the northeast. An aquaintance has a similar seeming pronunciation issue with her name, Lara not Laura. A mutual friend, from new england, regularly tries to school me in the proper pronuciation of this aquaintance's name .. It gets very comical when I try to say it as she wishes, apparently she wants something that's not lara (like the a in car) or laura (whih i've also always pronounced like the a in car) but also not ler-a (like Sarah but with an L) and definitely not Lor-a (like the first part of the Lorax) .. and by this point I'm thinking "but that's it, I'm all out of vowel sounds!" Then the conclusion my friend comes to is something like, well, it's because you're from the South. Hmm. I'm not sure, but I do find these sorts of questions to do with regional differences very intriguing ..

The only "sounds like" thought i came up with straight away was "hanna barbera" (too dated for millenials, possibly wrong anyway?)
posted by elgee at 10:14 PM on January 9 [4 favorites]

Vowels are hard because everybody has their own map of where they belong and how they relate, and there are very few reliable "X like Y" where it you can cover all the bases. I think "Tara like terror but ah" gets you some of the way but not all of the way, and "Tara like Buffy" only works if you're a certain age.
posted by holgate at 10:14 PM on January 9

I don't think I've ever considered that the Ta- in"Tara" might not be pronounced like the ta- in "taxi,"

And I don't think I've ever heard those words pronounced in such a way that the initial "a" sounds the same. English is so weird.
posted by aspersioncast at 10:15 PM on January 9 [6 favorites]

Is it Tara like Lara Croft but with a t?
posted by lunastellasol at 10:22 PM on January 9 [2 favorites]

Have Tara keep this clip from True Blood bookmarked on her phone? Even though everyone in it has a Louisiana accent, their pronunciation of "Tara" sounds right to my New Yorker ears.
posted by ejs at 10:23 PM on January 9 [3 favorites]

And I know what the US northeastern short-a "Tara" sounds like -- it's a bit nasal and palatal, it starts at the roof of the mouth and goes up the nose. But as aspersioncast notes, nobody's going to get there without sounding like a northeastern impersonator. So it's best to define the range of acceptability, which is what happens when people with different accents have long relationships but never say each other's names the way they themselves say them. "Tara" with a short a off the tongue or heading from the back of the tongue towards the back of the mouth (with closed lips) is probably in that range.
posted by holgate at 10:24 PM on January 9 [1 favorite]

If I know what you're saying, the a is not only very short (mouth open, spread wide, corners of your mouth almost pointing down, sides of tongue against your top premolars), but also a little bit nasal.

I can't think of how to cue this.
posted by batter_my_heart at 10:25 PM on January 9 [1 favorite]

Tarry is going to be too complex -- is like merry/marry.

Say: "Tara that rhymes with O'Hara, as in Scarlet O'Hara." No one, I don't think, says "O' Hah-ra.")
( Bonus: explanation may be bolstered by unconscious memory of the plantation in GWTW which was also pronounced to rhyme with the last name.)
posted by nantucket at 10:30 PM on January 9 [5 favorites]

I have been sitting here trying for 10 minutes and i can literally not make the same a sound that I make in Taxi when I say Tara. I can start it the right way but it doesn't diphthong right at the end because of where in my mouth the 'ks' happens versus the 'r'. So yeah for me "ta as in taxi" is significantly less information.

Honestly the clearest is for her to just say it a couple times, preferably sitting on the A for a sec. Any "as in" thing is going to depend on how the person pronounces that thing.

Incidentally the ta in tarry and the ta in taxi are completely different for me so if you marked that as best I have absolutely no idea how this is supposed to be pronounced. She should just say it clearly.
posted by brainmouse at 10:32 PM on January 9 [24 favorites]

"Tara like pterodactyl" is probably going to get in the vicinity, even if it's just a nickname.
posted by holgate at 10:34 PM on January 9 [6 favorites]

No one, I don't think, says "O' Hah-ra."

/me waves from Australia

We do.
posted by flabdablet at 10:36 PM on January 9 [16 favorites]

Honestly the clearest is for her to just say it a couple times, preferably sitting on the A for a sec.

Yeah, vowels are a negotiation. The other person offers an approximation within their bag o'vowels, and the person with the name makes the deal.
posted by holgate at 10:37 PM on January 9 [9 favorites]

No one, I don't think, says "O' Hah-ra." /me waves from Australia
We do.

Oops! Of course you're right. I meant in the United States where the question is located, sorry!
posted by nantucket at 10:38 PM on January 9 [1 favorite]

"However you normally pronounce O'Hara" is probably a fine rule!
posted by bleep at 10:40 PM on January 9 [1 favorite]

Do kids still sing on the bus going to field trips? Do they still sing Ta Ra Ra BOOM Dee Ay....? That sounds closest to me, but might be a regional/generational thing.
posted by kate4914 at 10:43 PM on January 9 [2 favorites]

I used to know someone with this name who grew up in the NYC area and she had the same very specific idea of how it ought to be pronounced, perhaps a little unreasonably so.

I'm originally from the Midwest US and had a tendency to rhyme Tar- with the word "bare". A mutual friend originally from the UK wanted to rhyme Tar- with the word "car".

We both found the easiest way to achieve an acceptable pronunciation was to associate the word "tap" with the first syllable of Tara, and to say them in quick succession over and over to really make it stick in our brains... tap-a, Tara, tap-a, Tara, tap-a, Tara

Another thing that might help is to try not to hit the letter "r" so hard, as many midwesterners would be inclined to do.
posted by theory at 10:44 PM on January 9

I have two friends whose names are both spelled Mara. One pronounces is Ma-ra (like Sarah or Tara) and the other like Mar-a or Car- a.

I, the idiot that I am, always call the Ma-ra by Mar-a because the Mar-a I dated for 8 years.

I am not sure my point except that people pronounce their names in different ways.

I am from NY. Most people here pronounce August as "Hey buddy" so I might not be the best judge, but I would go with Tara like Sarah. Or is it Sara?
posted by AugustWest at 10:45 PM on January 9

there are very few reliable "X like Y"

Isn't that the truth! This whole thread is both entertaining and maddening to try to follow. So many people giving examples of words that sound the same or different to them, but that sound different or the same, respectively, to me.

And accents affect how we hear phonemes, as much as how we produce them! In that True Blood clip that ejs posted I hear a bunch of people saying Tara in a way that sounds like "tear a corner off this piece of paper." Absolutely nothing in there sounded like any vowel from the word "taxi". But then I don't have a Louisiana accent so I'm already subconsciously mapping from the sounds they're making to the vowels I believe they're intending.

In the end I think elgee has the best answer as far as being most comprehensive: run through every reasonable vowel your accent has for the word "Tara", let her pick the one that sounds best to her. For extra fun she could keep a list of all the words people think the result rhymes with; I bet it'll vary quite a bit.
posted by traveler_ at 10:49 PM on January 9 [3 favorites]

I can think of of ONLY TWO ways to pronounce Tara, like "air" or like "are":

1) rhymes with Sarah (the vowel rhymes with bear, air, hair)
2) rhymes with tar-uh (like, "At the BAR, they put down TAR...uh...that black goop on the driveway)

I still don't know how the OP's friend says her name, but saying it with a word that doesn't have the R sound in it is going to confuse far more people than it helps.

This is giving me a headache. ;-)

airy/berry/bury/carry/Carrie/dairy/derry/fairy/Gary/hairy/Harry/Kerry -- and so on all have the vowel sound the way I say it and hear it. In college, our friend kept correcting us about his sister's name. He kept saying, "not Carrie, Kerry!" and a dozen in our group kept insisting we couldn't hear a difference. (Thirty years later, we still note that we're really not sure he wasn't putting us on.)

So, I don't understand the taxi example, because taxi has the same vowel sound as axe, gap, mad, ad (or add) and I don't think it's possible for me to pronounce that vowel and put an r at the end. I'm trying to say "taxi" and quickly switch to the r sound, and I'm (literally) choking on as the back of my throat closes up. (What I'm saying is, if your friend told me it was like "taxi," I'd think she was putting me on the way we all think our college friend is still making up that Carrie and Kerry aren't the same name with different spellings. Tell her to use an example with an R in it and it'll help everyone.)
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 10:52 PM on January 9 [29 favorites]

The thing about the True Blood clip is that it catches that it's a wide-mouthed "pointing up" sound rather than a tall-mouthed "pointing down" sound, which is all she really wants to get across. (Sorry I am trying not to threadsit!)
posted by bleep at 10:52 PM on January 9 [1 favorite]

This thread is brilliant. All the 'Tara, like Sarah' type examples just highlight the complete craziness of the English language. My Australian-English brain says noooooooo! (rhymes with ohhhhh! Not awwwwwwww ;-) )
posted by kitten magic at 10:59 PM on January 9 [3 favorites]

You know with some practice on what people have been saying, I think that "r" part is especially important. I, too, was just finding it physically impossible to say "taxi" and substitute an r sound in there without changing the vowel. But when I gave up on r and made it a tongue flap instead, I could hit the right vowel with no problem. It did immediately make me think I was selling chocolate oranges though. So I dunno, do other people hear that accent's pronunciation of "Terry" having the same vowel as "taxi"?
posted by traveler_ at 11:02 PM on January 9 [1 favorite]

I am even more confused now. That True Blood clip's pronounciation, whether spoken by the racist woman or the bar-owner, is basically just a long "A" [e]. If that's correct, then it's not "tack" or "ahhhh" or "taxi" [all slight variants on [æ]] and, furthermore, no one in the Northeast should have a problem pronouncing it, as that is what I'd call the default way of pronouncing it in the Northeast.
posted by praemunire at 11:03 PM on January 9 [2 favorites]

Well it's more "close enough for being easier to mimic" than "correct".
posted by bleep at 11:12 PM on January 9

You should certainly be able to get people to not say [tɑrə] (with an [ɑ] as in tar).

You probably just cannot expect many Americans to distinguish between [tærə] (with an [æ] as in tan) and [tɛrə] (with an [ɛ] as in ten) because in many dialects of American English, [æ] does not occur at all before intervocalic [r] and so speakers of those dialects will have great difficulty even perceiving the distinction between [tærə] and [tɛrə], let alone reproducing it themselves. It's like asking a monolingual English speaker to distinguish between Chinese x and sh, or between an aspirated and unaspirated [t]; most will hear the difference only with difficulty or not at all, and will be unable to reproduce it accurately without significant training. For speakers of these dialects, [æ] before an intervocalic [r] is functionally a foreign sound.

This specific phenomenon—that some Anglophones do not distinguish between [æ] and [ɛ] before an intervocalic [r]—is known as the "Mary-marry-merry merger". Most Americans pronounce "Mary" and "marry" and "merry" identically, but some Americans (and many non-American Anglophones) distinguish among them. This dialectal difference also explains a decent amount of the confusion within this thread.
posted by Syllepsis at 11:13 PM on January 9 [60 favorites]

Is it pronounced like Tara in this video?

Canadian here. FWIW I understand what you mean by the "a" sound in taxi or tap and saying Tara with that "a" sound. I refer to it as a closed "a" and the "a" in tar is an open "a". Other words that have this "a" sound: cat, hat, bat, mat, that, and...
posted by foxjacket at 11:19 PM on January 9

Syllepsis is sorta-kinda-eponysterically on the mark here. You don't know the starting point and you don't really know the destination, only the vicinity of acceptability. Tara and Cara and Kara and Sara are lovely names but they don't travel well.
posted by holgate at 11:37 PM on January 9

I have a friend from New York whose name is Sara and she has had discussions with us friends about it being Sara like Saeruh (but not quite), and Mary-merry-marry pretty much covers that it is not a consciously distinct phoneme for some of us. So if I repeat her name back to her with an effort to copy exactly, I can get it right (think like imitating someone's accent). If I consciously think "Sarah but like merry" I can get it close. But in casual use my brain cheerily switches out the vowels of merry and marry, enough that I thought I pronounced them the same way until I tested with a friend who was able to consistently guess which word I was saying. So there's something subconscious there but making it conscious is an *effort*.
posted by Lady Li at 11:58 PM on January 9

Yup- I agree with Syllepsis. This is a marry-Mary-merry problem, I think, aka why my New England-born now-husband spent about an hour during a third-date hike insisting I pronounced my own last name incorrectly.

The majority of Americans (me included) do not differentiate between these vowel sounds in speech and also may not even be able to hear that they are different (I do, now, but I can only say them differently when I am concentrating hard and choosing to actively pander to my husband). Because the speech patterns are so ingrained, this is a big ask for anyone not born into the same dialect patterns she was; you can see the weird circles this thread full of very smart people trying hard spun! Differentiating between the two variations you mentioned: no problem. Getting that vowel exactly, New Englandy perfect: God bless and good luck.
posted by charmedimsure at 11:58 PM on January 9 [4 favorites]

This is a great thread. I’m not at all clear how she wants the name pronounced and I'd love someone to put me out of my misery.

Options are as follows.
  1. Like Mary or care, so something like Tare-a. This is how I default pronounce Sarah with an ‘h’.
  2. Like merry, so the first two syllables in terrapin, which I’d probably show as Terra
  3. Like marry or trap, so the first two syllables in tarragon, which I’d probably show as Tarra (incidentally, this is how taxi is pronounced in my accent, but I wouldn’t find it helpful as an example)
  4. Like bath or bah [humbug], which I’d probably show as Tah-ra. This would be my default pronunciation for Tara and is also how I pronounce O’Hara, mascara and default Sara without the ‘h’.
  5. Like rain, so something like Tai-ra
I’m guessing that it’s pronounced with the US-style ‘a’ as to my ears an American would pronounce it, perhaps slightly nasally? But in my own accent (Standard Southern British English) that sound doesn’t exist, and maps on to one of the first four different versions above, depending on the word.

When this question started I was convinced she would want me to pronounce it like Tarra, but as we get towards the end of the answers I think perhaps she’d prefer Tare-a. (And that to most people on this thread those are pronounced the same anway!?!)

If it rhymes with Sarah to her and that produces an acceptable response go with that. Definitely a word that is spelled with the ‘ara’ sound you are looking for will be the closest.

If it’s from people with different accents to her own, it’s not reasonable to expect them to be able to pronounce it exactly the same. No one with either an American or French accent can pronounce my first name the way that I do because there is a vowel sound in it that does not exist in those accents. There’s a sound in my surname that does not exist in my own accent, which means that I cannot pronounce it properly.
posted by plonkee at 12:59 AM on January 10 [3 favorites]

The original question still has the original question in it.
posted by bleep at 1:03 AM on January 10

Y’all don’t say tar and tack with the same A.
posted by bleep at 1:08 AM on January 10 [1 favorite]

New Yorker living in Australia here. I agree with the "tarragon" suggestion upthread, seems like that should hopefully cover all the bases and has the same R consonant.

Side note: I've always known two possible pronunciations for the name Tara, like the beginning of tarragon or tah-ra. Same goes for the name Cara. I've got an Aussie friend Cara, pronounced cah-ra, and it occurred to me that the American version of it could be either pronunciation but I have no way of knowing (since Aussies always say O' Hah-ra as mentioned above!). Is her name the cah-ra version or is it just the Aussie/British pronunciation of the vowel?? I'll never know! :)

Side note 2: My New Yorker brain is having a difficult time understanding how people DON'T hear the difference between mary, marry, and merry!
posted by sunflower16 at 1:08 AM on January 10 [2 favorites]

No one, I don't think, says "O' Hah-ra."

I didn't even know that other people said it any other way than O'Hah-ra.....

On the other hand, while I have known people saying Sah-ra, I am more familiar with Sae-ra.

Caveat: Not from the US, and not living there (currently).
posted by moiraine at 1:16 AM on January 10

> If you don’t have a nasal accent, Tara, Laura, and Sarah would all pretty much rhyme.

To this British English speaker, those three names do not rhyme and all have different sounds:
Sair-ra (as in 'air')

The most helpful suggestion for me was 'imagine it has two rs': Tara like Tarragon.
posted by humuhumu at 1:36 AM on January 10 [9 favorites]

Welcome to my life! My name is Carrie, which rhymes with "marry" in the "Mary marry merry" series when I pronounce it, which most people I know pronounce "Mary Mary Mary" to my ears. The weird thing is that I live in the northeast, I was born in the northeast, and both of my parents also live in and were born in the northeast, and yet my name is still pronounced differently by my family and by everyone else I know. I think you might have to have a Rhode Island accent or something.

The best vowel sound I have found to actually describe what I'm going for is "A as in cat." Sometimes I also say the "Mary marry merry" series to people so they can hear that I say them all differently and they don't. The thing is, when this isn't somebody's natural accent, it sounds really weird when they actually follow my directions because it's so unnatural for them to put that A pronunciation before an R. It's definitely more of a "hey aren't accents weird, listen to how I actually pronounce my name differently than you do" conversation I have with my friends rather than something I try to explain to everybody I ever introduce myself to. Fortunately for my mental health it has never been something I've minded, just something that I've been aware of. It's kind of fun!

"Tarragon" and "O'Hara" would both work for me but my friends definitely pronounce them "tearagon" and "O'Hare-a" to my ears so I don't think they'd work for all accents. I've heard three distinct pronounciations of Tara--"Tara as in cAr" (somebody who spelled it Tarra pronounced it this way) vs. "Tara as in cAt" (this person) vs. "Tara as in cAre" (the one I've heard the most). I think it's easier for people to hear the difference between the first one and the last one than between either and the middle one.

Basically speaking is weird and I love it.
posted by cheesegrater at 1:38 AM on January 10 [1 favorite]

This is fascinating. I remember being perplexed by the sounding of Tara's name in Buffy - Joss Whedon says it here at 23 secs - as similar to Farrah as in Farrah Fawcett. This is an unusual pronunciation in England as we tend to say it the way Tara Palmer Tomkinson does here at 1:34, or the southern Irish version demonstrated throughout this video about the Hill of Tara.

The other variant I sometimes hear in US media sounds like Terra (as in to terraform a planet). In the UK this version would more likely be associated with accents in Northern Ireland.
posted by freya_lamb at 1:40 AM on January 10 [2 favorites]

The best way is always to use another "a" followed by "r", as several above have suggested. Care, tarragon, Mary, Sarah would all work because any speaker would immediately understand. Someone who hears "a as in taxi" would not immediately understand, and that it is probably true for any dialect of English.
posted by yclipse at 2:00 AM on January 10 [1 favorite]

Care, Mary and Sarah and air have the same initial vowel sound in Australia; Harry, Barry, Dad and tarragon share a different one.
posted by flabdablet at 2:09 AM on January 10

I'd think she was putting me on the way we all think our college friend is still making up that Carrie and Kerry aren't the same name with different spellings.

In Australia, Carrie and Kerry are different in the same way as can and Ken.
posted by flabdablet at 2:13 AM on January 10 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I really struggle with this. It took me a while even just to figure out what was being asked. Now I can picture someone else, specifically a New Yorker, pronouncing Tara this way, but when I try, it sounds like I’m doing a brief and horrible impression of Fran Drescher. “Hey Ta-ruh!” I can’t even fit it into a sentence. I don’t think this is what your friend would want.

I think Tara will always rhyme with Sara(h) for me, whether I want it to or not.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 2:19 AM on January 10 [1 favorite]

Raised in the East Coast, now live in the Midwest. I agree with the answer that has come up several times in this thread: your friend should say "Tara, rhymes with Sarah," which will keep people from rhyming it with "spaghetti carbonara." But to ask people outside metro NYC to pronounce the name with the "a" of "taxi" is to ask them to put on a fake metro-NYC accent. It would be like me asking a British person to please land harder on the "r" in my name the way you would in North American Engllsh.
posted by escabeche at 2:38 AM on January 10 [3 favorites]

I love this thread. I think what you’re hitting on here is something called the “short-a split,” which is the phenomenon that explains why my Brooklyn-born tongue doesn’t pronounce “sad/glad/mad” and “dad/tad/lad” the same way, even though many people around me can’t hear the difference even when I demonstrate it.
posted by thejoshu at 3:28 AM on January 10 [1 favorite]

Tara, like Farrah Fawcett, is the only way I've ever heard anyone named Tara pronounce their name. I was born in New York and raised mostly in Virginia.
posted by emelenjr at 4:33 AM on January 10 [1 favorite]

“Tara” like “Sarah”

Not “Tara” like “Laura”

This wouldn't work for me (raised in NJ) for the second. If you rhymed with "Laura," you'd be pronouncing it "Torah," which I don't think is what she intends. "Tah-rah" is a different sound.

Also, muddying the waters: I had a friend from Boston named "Tarah" which she explained as "rhymes with Sarah." However, she insisted I was pronouncing both of those names incorrectly. Apparently, she pronounced "Sarah" as "Serrah" and "Tarah" as "Terra." I pronounced either of them as "Sear-ah" and "Tear-ah." So I wouldn't assume the pronunciation of Sarah is universal or universally understood.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:45 AM on January 10 [2 favorites]

The majority of Americans (me included) do not differentiate between these vowel sounds in speech and also may not even be able to hear that they are different

Whereas I can differentiate them, but still don't pronounce taxi with any of those sounds, although the "a" in "marry" is closest.
posted by aspersioncast at 4:57 AM on January 10 [1 favorite]

She's going to have better luck using a rhyming word with the R after the vowel.

I'm a Sarah. I'm from Illinois, stop I say it Sair- ah. Rhymes with bear. And care. Lots of people not from Illinois sat it Sah- rah. Rhymes with tar and car. (Especially if English is a second language) It had literally never even occurred to me to correct it. Same way I would never correct anyone saying po-tah-to to po-tay-to. It's just part of the regional vowel pronunciations? )
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 5:11 AM on January 10 [6 favorites]

Add a vowel to force the direction you want to go.
Taw-ra (like "laura", above)
Tay-ra (like "Sarah", above)
then kinda let the helper vowel evaporate.
posted by notsnot at 6:25 AM on January 10

It's probably a bit late in the thread, but Wikipedia's IPA vowel chart with audio might be helpful in locating vowels. (The problem with describing vowels in terms of "sounds like" or "rhymes with" is that when switching accents, all the vowels get shifted along, preserving soundalikes and rhymes even though the vowel changes.) Syllepsis's explanation seems very plausible to me: the desired pronunciation is something like [tæɹ̠ə] but many North American accents merge [æ] and [ɛ] when they precede [ɹ̠] so what people hear and produce is [tɛɹ̠ə].
posted by cyanistes at 6:28 AM on January 10 [2 favorites]

I don't think there's any way to reliably get East Coasters to differentiate between the Mary/marry vowel, so "rhymes with Sara" is your best bet just to get them to not pronounce it the way that doesn't rhyme with how most Americans pronounce Sara.

Importantly, though, the example syllable has to end with R. That's why tap and taxi weren't working. Rs complicate vowel sounds.
posted by lampoil at 6:43 AM on January 10 [1 favorite]

Can you maybe put a sound file up somewhere with the correct pronunciation?

I don't think the A in Sarah and the A in taxi sound at all alike.

If it were a like Sara, it would rhyme (well, it wouldn't just rhyme, it would be identical) with the first part of terraforming. Is that right. Is it like terraforming?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:31 AM on January 10

Tay-ra (like "Sarah", above)

I don't think I've ever heard anyone pronounce Sarah like that. That (tay) actually does look like it's meant to be a long A.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:32 AM on January 10 [2 favorites]

"Ax" and "ar" are pronounced very differently in English because we have r-controlled vowels. Think about the difference between "car" and "cat." Other people have given good alternate words to use.
posted by chaiminda at 7:35 AM on January 10 [1 favorite]

Yes, I am from NYC and now live in the midwest. I am teased here for saying marry like taxi, merry like egg and Mary like airy (I also say Ah-rinj instead of ornj for the citrus fruit/color...)
Everything will shift over as a set, depending on the regional vowels. So for instance, if you say "Tara like sparrow" I would pronounce it the way I did O'Hara, what you call the taxi a, but my friends here would call the bird a "spare-o" to sound the same as an extra tire. For me, these are two totally distinct vowel sounds: sparrow and spare. Not heard as different here in the midwest though. Same issue as marry. I don't think anyone in the United States would call it a spar-o to rhyme with star, though. Of course in other colonies that the queen's sun never set upon, they would.
posted by nantucket at 7:42 AM on January 10 [3 favorites]

Y’all don’t say tar and tack with the same A.

/me, Scottish, waves from Canada.

tar, tack, ham, palm, lamb: all the same.

(with an [ɑ] as in tar)

In parts of Canada, tar might be pronounced somewhere between tare and chair.

I've had to resort to an encouraging "Close enough!" when my name (Stewart) gets mangled by North Americans. I even pronounce it their way now, mainly to avoid having my name written down as George.
posted by scruss at 7:45 AM on January 10

Clearly when Tara travels internationally she'll have to make some accommodations. But for everyday USian life, "Tara like mascara" seems pretty clear to me.

Even if someone personally says "mascahhhrrra", Tara will have given them the guidance they require by saying both "Tara" and "mascara" in parallel and in the way she wishes them to be remembered.
posted by nkknkk at 7:55 AM on January 10 [2 favorites]

To answer your question re: the northeast, to my northeast mouth, there are two ways to pronounce that name, so I think she'd be heard-pressed to get the third way out of them. I can IMAGINE a third way, but it's not something I could produce myself without a ton of training.

A name is a better guide-- if everyone in the region says "Sara" or "Mara" or whatever with the approximately correct vowel sound, use that. ("Taxi" trips the brain up.)

If it's a sound the speakers simply don't distinguish, I agree it's best to let close enough be good enough. You'll never get a consensus here because "sounds like" sounds different to everyone.
posted by kapers at 7:59 AM on January 10

Yes, as a Sarah from the West who lives in the Northeast, people who pronounce her name "right" to her habitually pronounce mine "wrong" to me. It's their accent; I've gotten over it.
posted by dame at 8:19 AM on January 10

I didn't get the diff 'til I read "ten" v "tan." There absolutely is a difference! "teh-ra" vs "ta-ra" vs "taw-ra."

What about "Tara" as in "tariff?" Nobody's going to pronounce that "teh-riff." And it's timely, too!
posted by Don Pepino at 8:19 AM on January 10 [2 favorites]

What about "Tara" as in "tariff?" Nobody's going to pronounce that "teh-riff."

Actually I pronounce "tariff" to rhyme with "sheriff," and I'm still hung up on "taxi."
posted by aspersioncast at 8:27 AM on January 10 [6 favorites]

Me, too: tariff, sheriff. They're spelled differently, but they rhyme. I don't to my immediate ability to recall pronounce any vowel like "eh" if the syllable ends in "r." "Mary," "berry," "sherry," "wary," they all rhyme exactly, the wide-mouth a, not the eh as in meh.
posted by Don Pepino at 8:33 AM on January 10 [2 favorites]

Not “Tara” like “Laura”

Nope nope nope. That'd be "Tora."
posted by dlugoczaj at 8:40 AM on January 10 [4 favorites]

At least we can all agree that this issue is varry interesting.
posted by nantucket at 8:40 AM on January 10 [9 favorites]

I almost hate to wade in here, but the two ways "Tara" is pronounced in Toronto correspond to the difference between the way things like "pasta" and "Mazda" are pronounced in the US vs. here. Pasta like pass-ta, and pasta like lost-a. Guessing we are after the "pass-ta" type of Tara.
posted by wellred at 9:00 AM on January 10 [2 favorites]

The aspirated final 'T' is another New England regionalism I always have a little trouble with, but as a gringo from Norteño country I also grew up saying "roof" to rhyme with "hoof" and apparently say the word "frontier" really weird, so am clearly not to be trusted.

At least I can roll my dang Rs.

To speak to the original question, is the True Blood clip close enough?
posted by aspersioncast at 9:05 AM on January 10

I'm wondering if the a sound in "taffy" would be a good example? Or even "at"?
posted by vignettist at 9:49 AM on January 10

Didn’t Scarlett O’Hara (like hair-a) Butler move to Tara (like tar-a)? If I remember the film correctly, I believe she did.

Spoken English is so funny.
posted by rw at 10:10 AM on January 10

As a new Zealander living in NYC, the best way to describe (how I think you are suggesting the pronunciation should be) is as short a, like "at".
posted by gaspode at 10:41 AM on January 10

Everything will shift over as a set, depending on the regional vowels. So for instance, if you say "Tara like sparrow" I would pronounce it the way I did O'Hara, what you call the taxi a, but my friends here would call the bird a "spare-o" to sound the same as an extra tire.

This. So: yes, your friend can get people to do Tara like tarragon, and the vowels for those two words will be consistent within each person’s speech....but they also are not going to say tarragon with the same vowel that she does and, maddeningly (at least to my personal New Englander) they may not even be able to hear that they are doing anything different.
posted by charmedimsure at 10:47 AM on January 10 [2 favorites]

Wait, so roof does not rhyme with hoof? Sorry, this is a game-changer for me.

Tara like tariff, that’s my vote. Many thanks for the Q OP!
posted by Bella Donna at 10:48 AM on January 10

My surname contains the same ar sound, and I am from the Northeast, and I have a similar problem. I pronounce my ar like the sound in "marry," as opposed to "Mary" or "merry." People usually pronounce my name with a "Mary" ar or a "starry" ar. I have come to accept either of these two, though I try to guide them towards "Mary" a bit. Otherwise, there's no use explaining, because most people don't pronounce "marry" in a New York-regional dialect. Still, "marry" is most correct HOWEVER they pronounce it.
posted by the_blizz at 11:02 AM on January 10

I also grew up saying "roof" to rhyme with "hoof"

As hoof can be pronounced multiple ways, this doesn’t tell me how you pronounce roof.

I vote Tarragon, if that’s actually correct. That would help me, at least.
posted by greermahoney at 11:30 AM on January 10

Wait, so roof does not rhyme with hoof?

It depends! The more common North American pronunciations of both have an 'oo' sound like 'shoot,' but growing up I said them with an 'oo' sound like 'book' (the only other people I've heard do this are Canadian). That's not super-uncommon for 'hoof,' although there's a definite split with those who say the vowels in 'hoove' and 'hoof' the same. Pronouncing 'roof' that way will get you stared at in CA to the point that I stopped doing it.
posted by aspersioncast at 11:32 AM on January 10 [1 favorite]

I’d just like to toss this in—the first a in “Tara” is what’s called an “r-controlled vowel”, meaning that the r following the vowel modifies the sound. This is one reason why saying “Tara like tack” doesn’t work; “tack” is a regular short a and can’t rhyme with an r-controlled a. No matter what your accent is, the first syllable of “Tara” is only going to rhyme with another r-controlled syllable.
posted by epj at 11:45 AM on January 10 [12 favorites]

When I moved to New York a friend of mine there was amused by how I pronounced my boyfriend Aaron's name (rhyming with "Erin"--to me, they're identical). I agree that if she's talking to people in other parts of the country, the vowel sound she's after will be hard or impossible to explain. "Parent" is another word with the same "a" sound, if I'm understanding correctly. People from other parts of the country just say it differently. Tarragon is not a good example to my ear, because I say "terragon." I would just say "Tara with a short a," pronounce it, and then accept that many people won't quite say it right...
posted by pinochiette at 12:41 PM on January 10

Since the problem is that the folks always give two options and the confusion arises when she tries to confirm which one it is, she says she’ll just say “the first one” or “the second one” depending on what order they present them in. Thanks to all who read the question.
posted by bleep at 12:44 PM on January 10

Once source of the confusion is that there are way more than two ways to say Tara, but to most people, there are only two that pop into their heads, and TAXI isn't either of them. If I had to write down my first two choices, it would be like AIR or like ARgument. There are lots of other A sounds, like tAb or AUra, which to my ear are different from the first two.

The way that I speak, tAxi is enough different from Air that if I was calling her t-AIR-a (which I'm reading that she would say is correct enough) and I heard her tell someone "like TAXI", I would think I'd been saying it wrong, and it's a harder vowel for me to find with confidence, so I'd get confused.
posted by aimedwander at 1:00 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]

"Tara like how Janice from Friends would say it"?
posted by acidic at 1:54 PM on January 10

Late to the party, but just want to say that some English dialects do not make distinctions between Mary, marry and merry. Pronouncing those all the same is just as valid as not.
posted by purple_bird at 2:31 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]

Seconding Tara like Sarah if it works. My mom's name is Noga, and it's Noga like Yoga, and works 100% of the time.
posted by namesarehard at 3:19 PM on January 10

I'm fascinated by this thread, and wanted to add my two cents.

The problem to my native midwestern ear is that I cannot make the same A sound from Taxi with an 'ar' word. Or if I tried, her name might sound like Terry or Teri or ferry.

To me, Mary, Merry, and Marry are all synonyms. I had no idea there was a distinct sound to northeasterners. (I also rarely rhyme Roof and Hoof. To me, Roof has the same sound as Boot or Moot.)

At any rate, I still am not 100% sure how she pronounces her name, but I think that it DOES NOT rhyme with Farrah (Fawcett) or O'Hare Airport.

So, the other pronunciation for this name, to my ear, uses the A sound from Far or Car. I would say "It's Tara like far away." or "It's Tara like the word car."
posted by hydra77 at 3:44 PM on January 10 [3 favorites]

Seconding Tara like Sarah if it works. My mom's name is Noga, and it's Noga like Yoga, and works 100% of the time.
posted by namesarehard at 3:19 PM on January 10 [+] [!]

Story checks out.
posted by aspersioncast at 6:50 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]

What about “It’s pronounced like Tamara, but without the m in the middle.”
posted by mammoth at 8:35 PM on January 10

I know I’m late to this thread, but in college I had two friends names Lara. One was Lara-as-in-carrot and the other was Lara-as-in-carpet. If I inderstood the OP correctly, your friend is a Carrot Tara.
posted by pompelmo at 10:00 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]
The problem is that in American English this is an R-controlled vowel -- a "bossy r" that changes the sound of the vowel.
The solution is to pronounce the name as two separate words. Start with the first syllable:
Tah as in singing la-la-la.
Ta as in cat, bat, sat.
Teh as in bed, red.
Then add in the second syllable, deliberately keeping them apart:
ra, as in flora, mascara.
re, as a barely pronounced r sound

Tiara may be pronounced similarly: tee AH ra
posted by TrishaU at 2:11 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]

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