Why do people mispronounce names?
March 11, 2019 8:33 AM   Subscribe

I was in a recent discussion with coworkers and found we all had names that people mispronounced. For example, "Posh-a" instead of "Pash-a", "Dan-yell" instead of "Da-nill." Sometimes there is a language element - "Is-a-bell" instead of "Ees-ah-bell." To what extent is pronouncing a name "wrong," vs speaking the name with your regional accent? Or translating it into your own languages' version of that name? Other new words seem easy to pronounce right the first time, why are names different?
posted by rebent to Writing & Language (72 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I feel like a lot of this has to do with the fact that names are so variable in their pronunciations. It’s pronounced wrong once a person has been told the correct pronunciation for you. I know multiple Evas, and they pronounce Eh-va and Ee-va, I could not have guessed until they both told me.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 8:38 AM on March 11, 2019 [19 favorites]

Maybe it has to do with having heard it one way elsewhere, and making that assumption moving forward? For example: my name is Danielle, pronounced "Dan-yell". While I've known many other Danielles (and work with several in my current office), it had never occurred to me until I read this that someone would pronounce it "Da-nill", simply because I've never heard it that way. Or, perhaps in this case, the name you're referring to isn't "Danielle", but looks enough like it that people misprounounce it thinking it's the name that it looks like? (For example, I've had people call me "Daniel" all my life because Daniel is a more common name than Danielle.)
posted by okayokayigive at 8:39 AM on March 11, 2019 [8 favorites]

Other new words seem easy to pronounce right the first time, why are names different?

I question your first premise. Pronunciation is hard, but people care more about having their name pronounced correctly.
posted by zamboni at 8:40 AM on March 11, 2019 [32 favorites]

I have always wondered this! I have a name that is often mispronounced. I think it's a combination of factors

- people who just hear me say it and don't know how it's spelled try to wedge it into some version of a name they know. So my name is JESS-uh-min and a lot of people say JEZZ-uh-min because, I think, they assume it's a variant of Jasmine (with the Z-sound).
- people who see it written down just really have no idea how it's pronounced. The Y as an I sound isn't what people expect so I get some variant of JEZZ-uh-meen.
- As far as accents go, I am super forgiving to anyone who speaks with an accent but reasonably speaking if they use the sound in their language, I'd like them to use it in my name. So like Romanian speakers will pronounce my name JESS-ah-me-en because of how vowels work in Romanian and I usually will leave that alone. But if your language has an SS sound and a ZZ sound, I'd ask you to use the former when saying my name.

Sort of related, as I've become more mindful about casual and institutionalized racism in the US I've tried to get better about both remembering and being able to pronounce names that are unfamiliar to me. I live in a very white area and I feel that people's semi-refusal to learn to pronounce people's names is just another side-effect of unexamined privilege.
posted by jessamyn at 8:41 AM on March 11, 2019 [34 favorites]

I have a difficult to pronounce name. It's not non-English (it is in fact so extremely English that Americans especially have a hard time with it). When people see it written, they mispronounce it because quite honestly most people don't read more than the first couple letters before slotting it into the slot for a name they already know. The first letter of my name is C and the last is A and there's a couple of S's in the middle. I get every permutation of Cassandra, Christa, and Carissa imaginable. People see the C and the S's and the A and go with what they already know that fills that schema.
posted by soren_lorensen at 8:41 AM on March 11, 2019 [4 favorites]

there's also something that is kind of like racism but also kind of like fear of embarrassment or pretentiousness, I think -- like when the proper pronunciation of Mexico doesn't actually have an "x" in it in Spanish, and Paris in French has no "s" at the end. Many Americans would not attempt to pronounce those names "properly" for fear of being thought pretentious or fake -- we say Paris with an s and Mexico with an x.

Anyway, for some people I suspect that pronouncing someone's name in a way that is unfamiliar to speakers of regular English -- rolling an r, dropping an s, changing the emphasis -- all of that is (a) uncomfortable because unfamiliar (b) feels like they're putting something on (c) makes them even more worried about getting it wrong.

It's more embarrassing to mispronounce someone's name unintentionally than intentionally, I suspect. The first is incompetence: the second is a personal choice.
posted by suelac at 8:48 AM on March 11, 2019 [17 favorites]

For me, it's forgetting combined with balking in the moment. For instance, I know a bunch of Annas. Some are Ann-a, some are Ah-na. I tend to panic in the moment and use the wrong one.

Also, childhood associations - I associated the Ah-nas with Europeans and, uh, fancy people, because of the first Ah-nas I met. So if I think "is this person Ann-a or Ah-na, oh she seems fancy, she must be an Ah-na" I can easily get it wrong.

Also, different Anglicization. When I learned Mandarin, I learned certain last names the "standard" (Beijing, Northern Chinese) way, but people who have those last names are from all over. Also, people whose families have been here since, eg, 1865 sometimes have switched to an Americanized pronunciation. So again, sometimes in the moment I balk and I'm like "I thought they said X, but now I'm having flashbacks to Bao laoshi saying it's Y, don't want to do it wrong, augh".

Also, some syllables just aren't in some regional dialects. Like, I know someone with a particular Scandinavian name which is pronounced with really short vowels. Almost no one says it right because in American English we just don't have that particular combination of really short, rushed vowels. It took me a while to get it correct myself. Or when I worked in China, people said my name with an "eh" instead of a long a, because they just didn't have a long a sound in regular use.
posted by Frowner at 8:50 AM on March 11, 2019 [4 favorites]

I've often wondered this same thing particularly with regards to this point made by Jessamyn: "As far as accents go, I am super forgiving to anyone who speaks with an accent but reasonably speaking if they use the sound in their language, I'd like them to use it in my name. "

Because I wonder about the way English-speakers say the spanish version of the name Jose and why they don't just say it correctly. So English speakers tend to say Hoe-zay. They're getting three sounds wrong. The O, the Z and the E.

1. Ok, the O is understandable. It's a slightly different O.

2. But why change the S to a Z? I mean I know in English that an S between two vowels typically makes a Z sound, but even in English there are exceptions and you know how to make the S sound so why not just know this is an exception and make the S sound.

3. And why pronounce the e like a long A? The e sound from Jose exists in english. Say Meh. That's the sound. English speakers can make that sound.

So why Hoe-zay? Any Hoe-zay sayers care to clarify?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:53 AM on March 11, 2019 [4 favorites]

I have one friend named An-DRAY-uh and one friend named ANN-dree-uh, both of which are spelled Andrea. Sometimes I use the wrong one, and I think this is because I think of them as “the same name, pronounced differently”.

I also do this for spelling - I have a friend named Quentin and another named Quenten, pronounced the same, and I have used the wrong spelling in email.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 8:53 AM on March 11, 2019

It's more embarrassing to mispronounce someone's name unintentionally than intentionally, I suspect. The first is incompetence: the second is a personal choice.

The first time I went to La Jolla I was confronted with the horrible choice between being wrong and stupid-sounding and wrong and pretentious-sounding and went for option (a). Slightly embarrassing but I didn't want to be like that old Conan skit: "I did not have se-hee with that woman!"
posted by praemunire at 8:55 AM on March 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

On the benefit of the doubt side, yeah, some phonemes don't exist in some languages and even dialects, hence Americans thinking Canadians say "aboot" when really they are saying a vowel sound that Americans just don't say when saying "about". I have learned how to say it over time. It's like "abeout". Some names have sounds other people aren't used to.

On the other hand, there are people who don't care enough to learn.
posted by wellred at 8:56 AM on March 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

To what extent is pronouncing a name "wrong," vs speaking the name with your regional accent?

I think it depends on the person. I'm American. I have a Germanic-ish name that has close equivalents in most European languages, and while I wouldn't like it if someone changed the actual letters in my name to match their language's version (e.g., changing "Mary" to "Marie"), I don't consider it "mispronouncing" my name if they use their language's phonetics (e.g., using a French raspy R or an Italian rolled R in saying "Mary"). However! I consider myself as mispronouncing someone's name if I Americanize the sounds. I think there's something about American's multicultural-and-also-racist-and-also-imperialist culture that makes me feel that as a white American, I need to try harder; I also realize that my own indifference to how my name is pronounced is not universal.

This can get tricky when the sound in someone's name is not part of your own idiolect. It took me several months in college to get one of my roommate's names right, as she was from New York and I was from the Midwest and she made differentiations among vowels that I did not (think "Mary/Merry/Marry") and I had to train my mouth to make noises it did not grow up making. In her mind, I was calling her by a completely wrong name; in mine, I could barely hear the difference between the two.
posted by lazuli at 8:56 AM on March 11, 2019 [5 favorites]

I am terrible at remembering names so even worse at pronouncing names that are not standard 1970s American. I am also hard of hearing. I could never learn to speak a foreign language when I was young. I can read and write French and Spanish. But, I think it is rude to mispronounce someone's name especially if I have heard it correctly before.

I compensate by being willing to ask (again) how to properly pronounce their name. I also do that, "How's it going Big Guy?" or My Friend type nickname.

My point is that sometimes it is because of a reason such as a hearing loss. If someone asks you to spell it phonetically, it is because they WANT to get it right.
posted by AugustWest at 8:59 AM on March 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

"Dan-yell" instead of "Da-nill."
Seconding that all the Danielle's I know use the first pronunciation and that mimics they way I hear French people say the name. My own name is Sarah and the first A is pronounced like "air" and not like "are". Most Europeans say my name with "are" and I don't think they are doing it wrong, just the way they are more used to hearing.
posted by soelo at 9:01 AM on March 11, 2019 [3 favorites]

So why Hoe-zay? Any Hoe-zay sayers care to clarify?

I taught English to Mandarin speakers for a few years. In general, my students worked really hard and wanted very much to learn. I also studied Mandarin in the US and in China, and while I was not as diligent as my students, I did try and I did want to learn.

It can be hard to hear an unfamiliar phoneme. One of the things we did in both the classes I took and the classes I taught was working just to be able to hear the difference between "eh" and "aaaa" or between rising tone and falling tone. This is particularly difficult if you are not immersed in the language in question.

I mean, I'm sure that for plenty of Americans, they're just too lazy/racist to bother to pronounce names correctly, but I suspect that a lot of people basically hear Hoe-zay, especially if they hear "Jose", once a quarter at the all-finance meeting or something rather than regularly.
posted by Frowner at 9:02 AM on March 11, 2019 [15 favorites]

So why Hoe-zay? Any Hoe-zay sayers care to clarify?
I think we are copying Hosea from the bible and dropping the A. I would love to see a video where someone says both ways (or even just the correct way) so I can understand the difference.
posted by soelo at 9:05 AM on March 11, 2019

My grandmother said my name wrong my entire life (I was about thirty when she died). Think Anna instead of Ann. She was absolutely a kind person, and I have no idea why she did this - she wrote the incorrect version too. I think there are lots of different reasons for this to occur, but I would be very careful about reaching conclusions about any individual who does this.
posted by FencingGal at 9:06 AM on March 11, 2019 [8 favorites]

This reminds me, I had a friend of many years from India. Her name had a T in it. I'll say her name was Agata*. So after knowing her for several years, we're walking down the street chatting and I say "So anyway, Agata..." and she interrupts me and yells "STOP CALLING ME AGATA!"

I sort of internally panic because "OMG I've known her for years is that not her name? Have I had her name wrong all these years?" And then I think "No, I've seen her name written in emails and other things, it's definitely Agata."

And I look confused and she says "It's not Agata, it's Agata!". I look more confused. "And she repeats Agata, not Agata." and I say tentatively "Agata?" and she says "No! The T is different. You're using the wrong T." And I say something about only knowing one T and how I'm really sorry, but I don't hear it. And at this point the source of her anger comes out. She lets other people mispronounce her name, but she's heard me speaking Spanish and she says I make the other T sound when I speak Spanish. So obviously I can do it and so I should say her name correctly.

I don't hear it. She said "Say tamales." I say "Tamales." She says "See???" Me: ????

So I tried calling her Agatamales...sort of saying tamales after the first syllable of her name. And she said that was right, so for a while I tried to mentally start saying tamales and stop before saying the "males" part when I said her name, but that's crazy hard. I don't know if started saying it right or if she gave up on me.

*Her name was an Indian-sounding name that I don't want to list. But it had a T toward the end like that. I don't want to try to come up with an indian pseudonymn with a T because I'm going to talk about the pronunciation and what I say may not be true of an indian psedonym I choose and I feel funny about misrepresenting some random indian name.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:11 AM on March 11, 2019 [47 favorites]

I think it's probably what okayokayigive said. My name is Suzanne and a surprising amount of people assume it's Susan when seeing it written down, I guess because the latter is more well-known.
posted by MysteriousSympathy at 9:21 AM on March 11, 2019

My name is not super common and has a couple of different pronunciations that have floated in and out of pop culture over the years. My understanding is that most people refer to me by the variation of the first person they've known with my name. It really doesn't bother me and I don't go out of my way to correct people, but sometimes new coworkers or friends ask for clarification and/or mention that they're embarrassed they've been using the wrong variation. I've met a lot of people who are more sensitive to this, so I often repeat back names to new acquaintances to make sure I have it right.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 9:22 AM on March 11, 2019

Names have multiple pronunciations, it would be very rare for someone to pronounce every single one correctly on the first go.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 9:27 AM on March 11, 2019 [5 favorites]

I think it's for a variety of different reasons:

1, as names become more diverse and less predictable, the standards of name X is pronounced like Y crumble. There are like 3 ways to pronounce Andrea. Arianna is a minefield. Then you've got names that aren't of Anglo origin which can do all kinds of things, not to mention your Brynleighs and Jaxcyns, which maybe have intuitive pronunciations, and maybe don't. We're not living in the world of Robert and Lucy and Jason anymore, in the Anglosphere. So sometimes even those well-known names aren't as predictable as they might have been at one time.

2, Americans (can't speak for other Anglophone countries) suck at vowels and simultaneously are expected to be getting more and more cosmopolitan about pronunciation. I would like to believe that I definitely pronounce Pasha as Pash-a, but I am almost certain I would at least start with Posh-a. And if that "a" vowel is pronounced as in "father" rather than "grape", I'm like 75% going to accidentally say Posh-a a lot, because that's what happens in American English. It's not a slight on the individual person. We live in a country where karate is pronounced "karoddy". You can only expect so much from us. Same goes for Isabel. Assuming you're talking to native English speakers, they will probably anglicize it to Izz-a-bell. Especially because Isabel is already a name in English, and a lot of Isabels are, indeed, Izz-a-bell. I love the French name David (pronounced Da-VEED), but I knew that, living in California, it would be DAY-vid, so we couldn't name our kid that. That's just life living around people who generally agree on what language they all speak together. (Also, I have a name with different pronunciations in different languages, and speakers of those other languages tend to pronounce my name as they normally would in their language. I have no beef with that. Life's too short.)

3, people are dumb and don't pay attention. Danil is going to be Daniel at Starbucks, because the reality is that folks are on auto-pilot and not paying attention to those little differences. My kid has an unusual name that isn't really analogous to any other Anglophone name, but he gets soundalike variations all the time. Ethan. Aiden. Eva, if he's wearing a pink shirt today. I have one of the top 5 names for girls in the decade I was born, and I still get Sandra and Sherrie sometimes because people don't listen and suck.

Note that most of these don't excuse people who actually know you and should take the time to pronounce your name correctly. (With some regional variation/within the limits of what it's reasonable to expect of people.) If your coworkers don't get that it's Danil and not Daniel, they're assholes.
posted by the milkman, the paper boy at 9:32 AM on March 11, 2019 [3 favorites]

So English doesn't have all that many vowels, and lots of dialects have different sets of them, and also because we don't have many there's a lot of freedom in where you pronounce them, and if there's an r around or sometimes even an l this changes even more. So this explains, like, 90% of why people mispronounce names.

I know Sara(h)s with both pronuciations. I was in my 20s when I learned my pronunciation of Megan was a tiny bit weird for most people, but not the single Megan I had known before that.

And of course, people care deeply about their name being pronounced correctly (the way THEY pronounce it) in a way they don't care about other dialectal variations. (My name is mispronounced constantly by everyone whose first language isn't English.)

3. And why pronounce the e like a long A? The e sound from Jose exists in english. Say Meh. That's the sound. English speakers can make that sound.

But we don't, not in syllables at the end of the word. I'm sure it's automatic, because that sound is not available in that place in English. (I assume the z sound is because of Jesus, but who knows.)

"No! The T is different. You're using the wrong T." And I say something about only knowing one T and how I'm really sorry, but I don't hear it.

So this is fun. I'm ASSUMING her name is in a language that distinguishes aspirated t from not (you can tell the difference, say "top" vs "stop" with your hand in front of your mouth and you will feel a little puff of air in top but not stop). English does not distinguish them, we have rules for when you use one or the other. Some languages (French) only uses unaspirated and though they don't realise it, that's one of their clues for English first language speaking French. I have spent for fucking ever trying to train myself to unaspirate when English would, and it is SO HARD to do, and I can barely hear the difference in words. It's pretty common in Indo-Aryan languages.
posted by jeather at 9:32 AM on March 11, 2019 [14 favorites]

Other new words seem easy to pronounce right the first time, why are names different?

I don't think they are, necessarily, depending on the word. Thing is that I think people generally don't encounter / use new words as much as new names. Think about all the times you've heard someone pronounce a word that they've only read and not heard, though. Sometimes they get it very wrong.

My last name should be dead easy for people, and yet soooo many people mangle the last syllable if they're trying to pronounce it by reading it. Probably 50/50 if someone is, say, calling my name off a list they mangle it. (And 85% chance they spell it wrong from hearing me say it, though that's more understandable since it could be with a Y instead of an I, and in fact may have been spelled with a Y when my family originally came over from Germany in the 1800s...)

Years ago, I had a job at a top 40 / popular hits station that used to be a beautiful music station. They retained a number of funeral homes as clients and part of the shift was twice daily funeral announcements. So I had to read funeral announcements that had been faxed over from various funeral homes and... well, faxes + shaky handwriting + a lot of unfamiliar names meant I occasionally got a name wrong. Man, people are really angry if you mispronounce Auntie Grizzelda's name when announcing her funeral services. Mind you, I always tried very hard to get it right.

Another anecdote for you - a friend/cow-orker of mine has a common name, with an uncommon pronunciation - well, uncommon for that spelling, the other name is also common. She spends her life correcting people, and gets angry about it, even though (IMO) the error is her parents', not anybody else's. (Imagine being named "Bart" but insisting it should be pronounced "Bert.")

In short - why do people mispronounce names? The reasons are so varied there's no one answer. There are times when people are very clearly lazy or malicious in pronouncing "different" names. There are times when names are legit harder to pronounce or at least unfamiliar. As long as people are open to correction, I don't let it bother me much.
posted by jzb at 9:35 AM on March 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

> fear of being thought pretentious or fake

I've heard this as the explanation why many British people call my president BERrak oBAMA instead of barRACK oBAMA; the second way, which is how he says it, sounds pretentious to them. Not that they think he's being pretentious, but somehow saying it that way would make them sound pretentious. Like saying "Paris" the French way when speaking English.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:47 AM on March 11, 2019 [5 favorites]

I think names - especially from other languages - just put together sounds and emphasize syllables in ways that speakers of Language X are not used to.

My name (Erin) is pretty generic and easy for native English speakers, but the short E and the short I (and the fact that I'm female) make it sound very weird for French and Indonesian speakers. In Gikuyu (spoken in Central Kenya) there's no differentiation between "r" and "l", and often people will insert an H at the beginning so I become Herin or Helen. I've become used to changing my name's pronunciation and spelling when I work in other countries so that the approximation is something closer (and usually prettier) than a best guess (In Kenya, I'm Irene. In Cote d'Ivoire and Indonesia, I'm Erine).
posted by ChuraChura at 9:49 AM on March 11, 2019 [6 favorites]

First, regarding Jose, I had literally never heard that the Hoe-zay pronunciation is wrong until today. When I was a kid and a big reader I pronounced it “joze” and my parents corrected me — to hoe-zay. Nobody has said otherwise. So mispronunciations of common names can happen because the mistake gets passed on!

Next, most of us don’t write in the International Phonetic Alphabet, so it can be difficult to explain the problem especially if the mispronouncer doesn’t speak a language that recognizes the phonemic difference. In this vein, I am actually still not clear on the final vowel in Jose— is it supposed to be a schwa?

And last, yes people are lazy. I have a somewhat common-in-the-anglosphere last name (enough so that having a firstletterlastname Gmail address has resulted in all sorts of random emails). It is spelled phonetically in English so sounding it out should work. But around a third of people simply misread or mishear it, since there is a much *more* common name that is only one letter off. This isn’t racism (I am white, both names are common white American last names, majority of error-makers appear to be native speakers of English), it isn’t unusual pronunciation or spelling, it is just laziness (be it active or passive).
posted by nat at 9:56 AM on March 11, 2019 [11 favorites]

I think names - especially from other languages - just put together sounds and emphasize syllables in ways that speakers of Language X are not used to.

Yep, sometimes Language X is your own language.

For instance, en.wikipedia's List of names in English with counterintuitive pronunciations.
posted by zamboni at 9:57 AM on March 11, 2019 [3 favorites]

People are stupid.

Hold on, I'm serious here - in many cases they just can't conceive of having it wrong. Or they're just lazy and can't be arsed to get it right, even if they have a cow when you spell theirs wrong

My given name is Christian. You say it like you say the word that describes a follower of Isa bin Iosef of Nazareth. I'm a dude, but people say , like the girl's name. I've also heard . Mostly they can get the shortened version right.

Spelling the short version is fifty-fity; I've seen "kris" "kriss" "khris". The long version has been spelled "chrisitan", "christain", and combinations of those with the screw-ups from the short version.

So a name that is a word that most USAian people see on a daily basis, they still get wrong. Regularly.

I have also seen too many emails to count where, in response to me putting "-Chris" as a salutation, they write back, "Christ-"! I've already got a big enough ego; knock it off!

posted by notsnot at 10:06 AM on March 11, 2019 [5 favorites]

People from outside one's own geographic region don't pronounce words the same way, especially newer words. A technical phone call with random English speakers from around the world is not likely to involve pronouncing many people's names properly on the first go, just from reading them - and also different people will use wildly different pronunciations of words.

The text formatting tool LaTeX is a good example - sometimes it's pronounced like the material "latex," other times it has the same "ah" as "father," most commonly I hear "LAY-tech" (rhyming with the first syllable of technology).

"DNS" is great too, because while I read it "DEE-ehn-ess," I've heard many variations, including "dennis" and "name-system."
posted by bagel at 10:08 AM on March 11, 2019

I am Cari (never mind the umpteen versions I'm called for the moment)
I pronounce it Cah-ree but am frequently called CAR-ee or Ker-ee
NYC is home to so many different cultures & languages that I frequently ask folks how they say their name (and not just a cover for "oh shit I forgot it" but depending on their background a name like Daniel could be pronounced several different ways. I know three Tamaras - two are taMAHrah and one is Tam-ruh
posted by TravellingCari at 10:09 AM on March 11, 2019

Spelling the short version is fifty-fity; I've seen "kris" "kriss" "khris". The long version has been spelled "chrisitan", "christain", and combinations of those with the screw-ups from the short version.

Something else that just occurred to me - a lot of people aren't fluent readers. (Just like a lot of people aren't good at basic math - if you're Very Online, or Very Mathy, I think it's easy to assume that most people read or calculate swiftly and easily, but many, many people can do little more than what they need to get by.)

So at least some of the name issue probably happens when people have enough trouble reading at a careful and fine-grained level that they just don't read the name itself correctly.
posted by Frowner at 10:09 AM on March 11, 2019 [11 favorites]

Or possibly muscle memory kicks in with spelling names. I have so often typed my sister's name as Emaily even though I KNOW her name perfectly well.
posted by jeather at 10:10 AM on March 11, 2019 [4 favorites]

Like saying "Paris" the French way when speaking English.

Some related articles:

Exonym and endonym
posted by zamboni at 10:14 AM on March 11, 2019 [3 favorites]

Chiming in as a linguist:

There are (sort of) four types of "new" sounds you can come into contact with in other languages (or dialects):

-Completely new sounds that don't overlap at all with sounds in your native language, which are totally brand new. These can often be the easiest to learn, since you have a new category to slot things in. Think of the sound indicated by "ch" in "Bach", which we don't really have in (American) English and just sounds really different from sounds in (non-Scots) English.

-Sounds that you have, but not in that particular position. English generally doesn't like to have the "eh" sound in "red" at the very ends of words. ("Meh" is an exception, and it's sort of a borderline "word", anyway). These are hard to learn, but aren't too bad.

-New-ish sounds that are slightly different from those in your native language, but are close enough that your brain lumps them in with those in your native language. Mandarin and Polish, for example, have a bunch of fricatives (hissy sounds) that sound a lot like the "sh" sound in English. (Think of, say "Xi", which many English speakers just say like "She"). These are really difficult for your brain to sort out and do correctly.

-Sounds that exist in your native language, but that your brain thinks of as "the same" sound as another sound in your native language. This is what was going on with the "Agata" example above. Sounds like t, k, and p, when syllable initial in English, have a little puff of air after them. (Put your hand in front of your mouth and say "top"; you should feel the puff). This is called "aspiration". These consonants don't have the little puff of air after them when they're not at the beginning of a word: so the "t" in "stop" doesn't have that puff.

In Hindi, on the other hand, the t with the puff (aspirated) and the t without the puff (unaspirated) are completely different sounds.

A native English speaker's brain, then, when confronted with aspirated vs. unaspirated "t" has even more problems with these sorts of sounds than the other three.

(The twist in the Agata story is that Spanish doesn't do the whole "aspirate syllable initial thing", so the "t" in tamale, when said as it is in Spanish, is more like the "t" in stop than the "t" in tap. So that's why that worked!)

BUT: one giant caveat to this whole thing is that, while it seems like there are intrinsic differences in how hard/easy it can be to pick up different types of "new" sounds, all of this can be affected by other factors, including things ranging from xenophobia, racism and political leanings( See, e.g., how American politicians pronounce Iran) to natural language learning ability.
posted by damayanti at 10:15 AM on March 11, 2019 [48 favorites]

Names are special kind of subject-based word that is distinctly different from object-based words, so I wonder if when one subject refers to another subject there exists a kind of "co-ownership" of language, like, a fraternal collective thing where yes that is YOUR name, but also, names exist for US, so therefore your name isn't property, it's a collective kind of thing, so that grants the subject using your name some kind of permission to bring your name into their cultural context as a way of welcoming you across the void into their world. Objects though, are owned, and their names are part of the property of that object, and since property and objects are treated differently than subjects, that collective co ownership doesn't exist. I think we see that same kind of collective co-ownership thing happening with street names as well.
posted by nikaspark at 10:16 AM on March 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

I have a friend called Jorja which is pronounced exactly the same as Georgia and one day someone asked me where she was and I heard it as Georgia, not Jorja, and got very confused because I didn't know anyone called Georgia. I still have no idea what happened in my brain that day.

Muscle memory is a fun one. My name is Jayne and I found it almost impossible to write 'jaune' in French lessons at school without tailing the u into a y.
posted by corvine at 10:16 AM on March 11, 2019 [3 favorites]

I tend to believe that people try their best within their ability to get names right for other people.

It is amazing what tossing on an extra (functionally silent) vowel does to a reasonably common name.

Like ChuraChura, my name is phonetically Erin, but spelled Aerin. If my name is being read, is it pronounced wrong at least 9 out of 10 times. Occasionally the added A causes people to default to pronouncing it like Aaron, which is enough different that I often don't respond. If they hear it first, fewer than 25% of people who then try to read it back after I've spelled it get a bit garbled, though I suspect that is improving due to the increase in non-intuitive name spellings.

And in a French class taught by a non-native English speaking teacher, I was Irene. It felt wonderfully exotic to be Irene and not Erin, or Arien/Erianne/Erienne/Arienne/Airienne or Ah-um-ok A-E-R-I-N?

Actually, it often feels weird when people call me by my name or try to catch my attention because I don't respond to it. And given the rather messy nature of pronunciation and noise levels in restuarants and coffee places, I use my mother's more common and much higher in consonants name.
posted by monopas at 10:24 AM on March 11, 2019

My daughter name is Ember, NOT Amber. Both are actual words in the English language, but Amber is a more common name and people hear it wrong all the time. The differences is English are slight but it is there.

If they see it spelled no one has had any problems with it. But spoken there is tons of confusion.
posted by AlexiaSky at 10:26 AM on March 11, 2019

I have also seen too many emails to count where, in response to me putting "-Chris" as a salutation, they write back, "Christ-"!

I do this specific typo all the time (I always catch it, because I know myself now - but it's not a word I ever have reason to type otherwise), and it's one of the things that forced me to come to an uneasy peace with the fact that even though my name is RIGHT THERE at least twice on every email, people are (mostly) not misspelling my name AT me.

People are made up of complex neurology, visual and audio processing quirks, high school sports and painting without a mask, the accents/dialects/languages they first learned and later learned or maybe don't even technically know but are exposed enough that it made a slight wiring change in the old language processing center. I have also seen my snarky typo/pronunciation-correcting self get older and start making more typos and stumble on more words and have tiny bouts of aphasia and just not read as clearly as I used to or retain as sharply as I once did.

And while deliberate mispronunciation/spelling as aggression is a thing (and sometimes institutionalized, as in the Jose example above), and it can be easy to attribute all mistakes to malice, we need to figure out a way to give people not only a chance to get it right but some leeway to do their best even when it's not fantastic to our own ears.

the person whose name is pronounced in all nearby languages as some variation on "leen", language is so weird.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:32 AM on March 11, 2019 [5 favorites]

I think it's mostly to do with how used people are to those particular sounds in those particular places in the word. And of course, certain sounds are just impossible to pronounce if you didn't grow up saying those sounds.

My name is a weird one in that it's long, but also actually fairly easy for native English speakers to pronounce, despite being a non-English name (it's a Sanskrit name really). People sometimes put the wrong emphasis on syllables if they haven't heard me say it, but usually people pick up the pronunciation after hearing it once or twice. I do have a t sound in the middle of my name, but it's unaspirated, so that works. However, there's actually a half t sound before the t, so in reality the middle should be pronounced somewhere in between the "tt" in attack and the "th" in theology, but even Indians screw that up so I don't really expect it from people reading the transliterated name.

Strangely I used to get my name mispronounced a lot more often when I was living in India, because it's extremely similar to a much more common Indian name (only one syllable different). A bit like the Amber/Ember example above. So people would just hear that more common name somehow, and I would have to actively correct them.
posted by peacheater at 10:37 AM on March 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

Other new words seem easy to pronounce right the first time, why are names different?

To whatever limited extent this is true, lots of words that are new to English won't have competing anglicizations. Different families named DuBois, or Leonarczyk, or Mazurkiewicz ended up pronouncing those names in American English in very different ways, for whatever reasons seemed good enough to them at the time. Is it doo-bwah or duh-bwah or duh-boyz? You just have to know, or have that family's version modeled for you.

This is less true for burrito, tsunami, or eigenvector.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 10:47 AM on March 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

My name is Colleen and I pronounce it "cah-leen" where the first syllable is most like the word "call" as in telephone call. I lived in the UK for several years and most British people pronounce my name slightly differently. The O sound is subtly different and depending on accent, they tend to run it together so it's kind of like, "c'lean". I am totally fine with this because it is really a subtle thing, I think maybe only my ear notices. But, I will push back on anyone on either side of the Atlantic who says "coe-leen" because, that's a totally different sound. I know some Colleens or Coleens pronounce that way, but I don't.

I think a lot of this is just a memory trick. I have definitely known names where, if I'm not saying it every day, I have to second guess it EVERY time. Like a coworker named Kirsten and I'm sure it's Kirsten and yet when I'm about to say her name my brain goes "wait! is it Kirsten or KRISTEN??" Every. Single. Time.
posted by cpatterson at 10:57 AM on March 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

When we read text we skim. The word chack in a passage about banking gets mistaken for check; in a passage about poultry it gets read as chick and we don't even notice. We're not supposed to.This is why it takes so long to proofread things, because you have to ignore meaning to check spelling, and also concentrate on grammar and clarity at the same time. Trying to do all three things at once is labourious.

If you are having a conversation in a subway when the train comes in, some fraction of the words we hear will be obliterated by other noises, but our brain will compensate and you'll generally get the gist of what was said. It is unlikely that our friend says "I am going to the shore after work to pick up groceries" so we automatically assume the s...ore word was store because that fits the context better. Like with everything else we perceive we are only getting a percentage of it and filling in the difference.

During early childhood you train in precise hearing of words, and in precise pronunciation. If yo are only exposed to a limited variety of words with a limited variation in sound you miss the window of opportunity for learning the rarer and more similar sounds. If you happen to be slightly deaf - ear infections as a toddler - you may develop long term handicaps, such as not actually being able to distinguish between a b and a d. And the people around you may not even realise that the two sounds at the beginning of the word bed when you say it are actually the same sound. After all they are compensating for the noise in the classroom and the fact that they are not looking directly at the speaker, so they get the word from context. A speech impediment is the extreme of vocal idiosyncrasies. We can tell voices apart because of these tiny clues, as well as timbre and pitch.

Voices are mutable over time. Listen to a movie made in the 1930's or the 1940's and you will hear a distinct American accent that has New York tones which you never hear any more. It's not because of the sound recording being poor; it's because the accent has changed since then.

This means that the way someone pronounces Tamara when they are a child will probably be subtly different by the time they are in their seventies because of this steady cultural shift in pronunciation. It's familial, regional and national.

What's more interesting to me is that people get upset when you pronounce things wrong. If they understand you, it should be no problem. Why is the difference between store and shore when barely heard in the subway something we don't notice we are compensating for, but pronouncing Paris with a silent S grounds for contempt? We don't flip out when someone wears a slightly faded red hockey jersey even if we support the team. We are more likely to admire that person for being a long time fellow fan. We don't get upset about fine degrees of colour perception. We don't get upset about these microscopic differences except when they are shibboleths.

Not pronouncing things the way I want you to makes me angry because you are being different and not conforming to my cultural expectation. We call it respect - and people are taught that we should respect other people by conforming our accent to their expectations. Now sometimes not pronouncing something the way we prefer is a microaggression, like always pausing an extra second before saying Sir, to a customer you are trying to irritate. "Your order is ready. Sir." is a way of informing the customer that your respectful address is actually not what you feel and you do not actually respect them. There are certainly plenty of people who butcher names because they feel that if you have to have a stupid name that is pronounced like that then I am going to ridicule you for it. But the vast majority of times when someone pronounces your name wrong they are not spoiling for a fight. And that still leads to the question of why we expect such conformity.

Accent is one of the first markers of being different in the animal world. It turns out that having a slightly different accent makes animals of all types irritated at the individual who has pronounced it wrong. This is one of the ways that groups differentiate. It makes us less positive to strangers. Crows peck the crow with the wrong accent. Teachers mark down the kid with the wrong accent.

It seems to me that objecting to another individuals pronunciation is racism. Racism is the instinctive desire to divide up into an Us vs Them. It's also taught, but there are biological roots to trying to divide up into small groups that we are more invested into. So when someone snerks because "that's not the right way to talk" it seems to me that they are demanding compliance and adherence to their groups speech idiosyncrasies rather than being tolerant.

If I scorn someone from up north for pronouncing Belisle "B'lile" and if you scorn me for pronouncing Calais "Cal-ay" we are both acting on that rejection of other. In some circles you would write someone off for talking ghetto, and in others you would write someone off for not getting the pronunciation of Jose accurate to the Hispanic version. Of course, writing off someone for talking ghetto is discriminating against the underprivileged, where writing someone off for pronouncing Jose wrong is discriminating them a different and lesser degree of limited life experiences but in both cases there's a failure of tolerance not communication.

Given the huge number of ways that any word or name is pronounced - the only person I ever met named Jose pronounced in Jzoh-say - it seems to me that you just want to figure out what each individual calls themself and do your best at it.
posted by Jane the Brown at 11:02 AM on March 11, 2019 [12 favorites]

A combination of defaulting to names they already know, especially if they're not paying attention, not knowing the correct pronounciation, and not being able to hear/ say the correct pronounciation.

For example: The other day I was talking about eels. And my husband said "why do you say eels like that, just say eels." "What? How else can you say eels?" "You're saying eee-uhls. Just say eels"
"eeuhls" "eels" "eeuhls" "eels!" Anyway, I can hear how he's saying it, but I cannot physically figure out how to do it myself without that little extra vowel sound. And I've tried. A lot.

Nobody cares how I say "eels," but I can see how if that was part of someones name it would register as me saying it wrong.

I also didn't know I was saying "Jose" wrong because nobody has corrected me and I don't say it very often (and they say it that way for no-way-jose on the WWE, or am I just not hearing the difference?)
posted by stillnocturnal at 11:04 AM on March 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

Like a coworker named Kirsten and I'm sure it's Kirsten and yet when I'm about to say her name my brain goes "wait! is it Kirsten or KRISTEN??" Every. Single. Time.

This is also me. I try very hard to get names right, and still stupidbrain can short-circuit all my best intentions.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 11:09 AM on March 11, 2019

Yeah my cousin married a Brandon, or maybe a Brendon? Luckily I only very rarely see them. And I worked with a Marylene and a Marilyne which read as almost-the-same-name to me and some other anglophones I knew but unmixupable to francophones.
posted by jeather at 11:11 AM on March 11, 2019

Living in Texas, pronunciation of names and everything else is individual, regional and local.
Guadalupe Street in Austin is pronounced as if it is Gwaad a loop, Koenig Road as Kay neng Road, Burnet Road as Burn it Road. The variant pronunciations of oil are innumerable. Most people never use my name when speaking to me and it is common name. I am actually startled when someone says it. They may use it when I’m not present, but then I’m not there to care how they pronounce it. I try to pronounce other people’s names as they wish, but will often fail miserably if I have ever seen it in print or if there is a common local pronunciation. Most people seem to adapt to the pronunciation in the place they live. Then there are those that don’t and insist on the way they want it pronounced, so times coming across to some of the locals as pretentious. And example David pronounced here as Day Vid, accent on the last syllable as Da Vid with the accent on the first syllable.
posted by Sunday Morning at 11:21 AM on March 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

>Other new words seem easy to pronounce right the first time

This is super untrue, but I don't think people get as offended by a different pronunciation of, say, "karaoke" or even "water" because it's not something that belongs to them, personally. (Although I have a name with a bunch of different reasonable pronunciations and it doesn't bother me, I know other people don't mind hearing common nicknames they did not introduce themselves with and that drives me up a wall, so everyone's name tolerance is different).
posted by tchemgrrl at 11:27 AM on March 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have been saying hoe-zay and hoseh under my breath over and over again, and I can barely tell the difference between the Z and the S. I can speak Spanish, and I do pronounce Jose different in Spanish than English, but that's because my Spanish S puts my tongue a lot more forward than and English one.
posted by dinty_moore at 11:33 AM on March 11, 2019

Parts of this thread are breaking my brain.

While we can certainly chalk these things up to laziness, or memory issues, or rudeness, for most people, I think most it's an inability to hear/discern and/or pronounce the difference.

nat and stillnocturnal noted, as I was about to, never having heard "Jose" pronounced with the "eh" sound at the end. This is not a matter of not paying attention. I've never perceived anyone saying ho-zeh. One does not prounounce "San Jose" as "san ho-zeh" but "san ho-zay" -- or have I heard that wrong all my life, as well? If so, we can certainly blame the songwriter of "Do you know the way to San Jose?" ;-) (The s vs. z sound is a separate issue, and I'd argue that's a matter of familiarity or laziness, depending.)

As for TravellingCari writing: I pronounce it Cah-ree but am frequently called CAR-ee or Ker-ee, I'm completely perplexed. I would have assumed it was a different spelling of CARE-ee (like the Stephen King book or SatC's Carrie Bradshaw). But if not, I've never heard anyone ever say CAH-ree (does it rhyme with Mari, a name I've seen a few times, like Marti without the T?) or CAR-ee (though I can pronounce that), and I don't know what to do with "Ker-ee" (though see below).

This brings to mind what I wrote in a similar post not that long ago:

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.)

I have sat here for multiple minutes sounding like a cat trying to cough up a furball trying to pronounce the latter half of TravellingCari's paired CAR-ee or Ker-ee. I'm wondering if she's saying "Ker-ee" should be pronounced with the vowel sound you'd use for "Kevin" -- keh-vin. If so, I'm doubling down on the fact that it is absolutely impossible for me to pronounce keh-ree (as if it were like keh-vin) without doing it in super-slow motion...or choking to death. I can't fathom how the "eh" sound can ever be followed by an r.

I don't think this is a name thing, but a word thing. I'm studying Italian. I cannot pronounce "gli," the plural definitive article that comes before a vowel. Even using the slow-mo on Duolingo, I can't really hear it well enough to give myself a rule -- it's somewhere between lee and lyee, but not quite, so since I can't make sense of what that sound is (I have perfect hearing, so it's cognitive), so I can't reproduce it.

I can't figure out what anyone here is saying is the difference between the T in Top and the T in Stop, either. And now, I realize (like stillnocturnal), I can't really pull off eels (or kneel, heel, meal, keel, feel) without there being at least a little ee-yuh in the vowel sound.

Given all this, I'd argue that while there are a variety of reasons why someone might intentionally mispronounce a name, unintentional mispronunciations should be chalked up to people approximating the sound they're hearing as best they can.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 11:39 AM on March 11, 2019 [6 favorites]

This discussion is bizarre. Where I live, nobody pronounces my name correctly (nor my kids') on their own - and I have no expectation that they will. I do expect them to learn how I want it pronounced. That's kind of the point of a name, isn't it? You tell me what to call you and how to spell it, and I will - to the best of my ability.
posted by MiraK at 11:40 AM on March 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

I do this specific typo all the time (I always catch it, because I know myself now - but it's not a word I ever have reason to type otherwise), and it's one of the things that forced me to come to an uneasy peace with the fact that even though my name is RIGHT THERE at least twice on every email, people are (mostly) not misspelling my name AT me.

I get what you're saying, Lyn Never, but this drives me bonkers
My name is right there. You're responding to an email from me, or you've managed to email me (first initial, last name) and then I get "Kerry". No.
Amusingly, autoincorrect turns me into Marianne, which is a misspelling of my mom's name. That one I know as autocorrect and just chuckle
posted by TravellingCari at 11:55 AM on March 11, 2019

In our society, names come loaded with implications about gender, race, class, ethnicity, nationality, etc etc, whether we want them to or not, and I think many people respond to unfamiliar names or pronunciations with whatever other baggage they have around names that they feel the need to enforce with others.

My name is Mikell. I am a woman. You pronounce "Mikell" exactly like "Michael." When I introduce myself and inevitably get the "huh?" look from someone (generally a man), I say "just like the guy's name." And I have more than once had men INSIST to me, INSIST, that no, I must mean "Michelle." Or "Michaela." Or "MeeKELL". Or something else, depending on whether or not they see the spelling at the same time they're hearing me tell them how to pronounce it. Particularly because I work in male-dominated industries, I think they are pushing back on the gender expectations associated with the sound of my name and how they want to feel about me as a woman in that particular environment.

And similarly, especially with non-Western foreign names, I think people's baggage greatly affects how they treat learning and remembering the pronunciation.
posted by olinerd at 12:04 PM on March 11, 2019 [4 favorites]

I have sat here for multiple minutes sounding like a cat trying to cough up a furball trying to pronounce the latter half of TravellingCari's paired CAR-ee or Ker-ee. I'm wondering if she's saying "Ker-ee" should be pronounced with the vowel sound you'd use for "Kevin" -- keh-vin. If so, I'm doubling down on the fact that it is absolutely impossible for me to pronounce keh-ree (as if it were like keh-vin) without doing it in super-slow motion...or choking to death. I can't fathom how the "eh" sound can ever be followed by an r.

The CARee one ends up a bit like the ahhh if a doctor were looking at your throat, with an R at the end CAAHri.
I say Cari with the a as in cat. Kerry is close to Kevin with a stronger R, if that makes sense. It's not the Er as in err.
I think (Northeast US), Carrie and Cari are pronounced roughly interchangeably
posted by TravellingCari at 12:29 PM on March 11, 2019

My name (Kyle) gets mispronounced frequently. Some of it is that, like Mikell above, people assume that my name can’t be Kyle, because I’m a woman, so they change its to Kylie or Kelly or Kayley (even if I spell it! even if I say “like the boy’s name”). People do this regardless of of how familiar with English they are.

Also non-native English-speakers sometimes have trouble with hearing/producing some of the sounds. On one trip a barista in a Parisian train station wrote my name down as “Gailloy” and the person running a hostel in the Italian alps got my name as “Kaio.” Even when I speak French myself, I pronounce my name a little differently because it’s hard to squeeze that hard initial K-I sound into a fluent sentence (also the L tends to get a lot longer).

It’s tough, sometimes I can hear a difference in the way someone is pronouncing their own name but I can’t quite produce the sound that I hear. And I know that sometimes I can’t even hear the difference. And other times it’s hard for me to produce the sound without it feeling unfluent.

And of course some people just don’t care to make the effort! It is an effort though, for a lot of people.
posted by mskyle at 12:41 PM on March 11, 2019

My partner has a pretty common Japanese name, which he shortens to a one-syllable, three-letter name most of the time. It's an extraordinarily common sound in English, but one that's usually represented with a short-O when spelled, rather than a long-A (think: spelled Tag, but pronounced Tog). The amount of people who mispronounce his name on a daily basis is stunning, and even worse are those who insist it's a common American name like Todd or Tom, when he's obviously just introduced himself as something that isn't that.

So why Hoe-zay? Any Hoe-zay sayers care to clarify?

For what it's worth, I spent a solid couple minutes confusedly trying to pronounce José the way you'd described it. I'm a white American woman, but I grew up hearing Spanish spoken in daily life and speak it (poorly, but with a decent accent) myself, have lived and traveled all over the world, and generally care about getting names right. I thought, have I been pronouncing José wrong my entire life?! Then I realized I just had to switch my brain into Spanish to say it right, and I did. So my hot take: what makes it hard to integrate proper Spanish pronunciation into an English sentence also has something to do with the aspiration -- if I speak Spanish with a perfect accent, but without changing my 'breathiness,' I'll still sound like an American butchering a foreign language, even if all the vowel and consonant sounds are correct. It's hard to switch back and forth -- it's more than just knowing the right sound, it's a physiological shift you have to make on the fly.
posted by tapir-whorf at 12:55 PM on March 11, 2019 [9 favorites]

I have a friend called Jorja which is pronounced exactly the same as Georgia and one day someone asked me where she was and I heard it as Georgia, not Jorja, and got very confused because I didn't know anyone called Georgia. I still have no idea what happened in my brain that day.

I once confused the shit out of my manager by telling him I didn't know anyone named Casey - when he asked me where my co-worker KC was.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 12:59 PM on March 11, 2019 [5 favorites]

I grew up mostly monolingual English to bilingual English/Spanish speaking parents.
And so there were a few words that I only learned in Spanish until I was in school. I didn't even know they were Spanish words--they were just words.
For instance, I smelled with my nariz and ate with my mouth.

The first time I heard an Irish Catholic nun call one of the kids “Jesus” in English, I was stunned.
Nobody is named “Jesus” in English.
But people are certainly named “Jesús” in Spanish.
To this day, those are two very different names in my brain.
posted by calgirl at 1:40 PM on March 11, 2019 [5 favorites]

Funny anecdote: A college friend of mine (from Minnesota) married someone from Sydney, Australia, and moved there. Her married name was Taylor, generally a super easy and very common name almost everywhere in America. One day, she had to call customer service and was giving the CSR her account information.

“What’s your first name?”
Friend gives first name.
“And your last name?”
“Taylor.” In classic Midwestern-American, this comes out as TAY-lurr.
“I’m sorry, could you repeat that?”
“I’m very sorry, I’m still having trouble. Could you spell it?”
My friend sighs. “TYE-luh.”
posted by Autumnheart at 5:06 PM on March 11, 2019 [9 favorites]

People are people, and people will mispronounce EVERYTHING.

Working at a fast food joint drive-through window, guy asked for my name and number. We had to wear name tags, so I figured I'd go ahead and make that real, but I gave him Jenny's phone number. (867-5309)

He looked down at the napkin I'd handed him. Looked back up at me. Spelled out my name - which is not, but is similar enough to, Dress - "D, R, E, S, S." Looked back up at me and said, "Dress? Is that how you pronounce that?"

"Only on this planet. Have a great night!" *slams window shut*
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 6:24 PM on March 11, 2019

One does not pronounce "San Jose" as "san ho-zeh" but "san ho-zay"...

Unless you're in San Jose, IL, where "Jose" rhymes with "rose".
posted by she's not there at 6:27 PM on March 11, 2019

Everybody knows Jose rhymes with “no way”, right?

The Carrie/Cari/Kerry/Carey pronunciations... to me, Carrie has a short “a”, to rhyme with “marry” (or “carry”). Cari rhymes with car, tar, far. Kerry is a short e, like Kelly, Kent, Sherry. Carey is a longer syllable, to rhyme with “air”. All sound very different to my ears.
posted by tinkletown at 7:27 PM on March 11, 2019

Names are so variable in pronunciation, I think it's only 'wrong' once you've heard it the right way from the name owner or someone close to them who knows--and assuming you're capable of pronouncing it the same way. I think of the difference between my classmates who could not be bothered to remember that a classmate named Delia pronounced it DELL-ee-uh instead of the more common (in our area, at least) DEE-lee-uh, and some British former coworkers who understood perfectly well that my teammate's name was Sarah but literally did not seem to be capable of not calling her Sarahr. After the first couple times you're corrected, "DEE-lee-uh" is just wrong. But I can't fault you for your accent.

Similarly, I hope my South Asian friends named Gautham understand that I will not always get that retroflex right, but I will do my damndest to try, and to get the rest of it right.

(If you are a Sarah or a Gautham who feels otherwise, please let me know!)
posted by rhiannonstone at 7:39 PM on March 11, 2019

In my case, it's because some people (mostly Americans) cannot hear one of the sounds in my name. I have a non-rhotic accent, which means the R in the middle of my RL name is super soft when I say it in English; I have to say my name with an exaggerated American accent so that people can actually hear the damned R.

I genuinely thought I was losing it until a friend confirmed that yes, I did say my name differently in English and Hindi, the latter with a far more pronounced R.
posted by Tamanna at 8:43 PM on March 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have a perfectly good, very short English name that is known, if uncommon, in the US. It is said as it is written, and it doesn't leave you with a lot of options. It is regularly mispronounced and misspelled.

I've also worked in countries with languages where the spelling is still perfectly phonetic locally, and nope. One of my bosses mispronounced it for YEARS, despite being corrected regularly.

On the other hand, life's too short. I have a creatively spelled Starbucks cup pic pinned up by my desk to confuse people.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 9:59 PM on March 11, 2019

Everybody knows Jose rhymes with “no way”, right?

Well, as we've learned upthread, this is not universally known. And that Spanish "t", like in tamales, or taco? Can't hear any difference, myself, although I understand it happens because the tongue's put in a different place. It's like Mary, merry and marry -- people from somewhere say they're pronouncing these differently, but I can't tell 'em apart when they do.

Another example of this I've heard, consonant, not vowel, relates to the capital of China. Many Americans pronounce it "Beizhing" instead of using the proper Pinyin "J" which sounds (as it should) like an English J. (Don't get me started on the Pinyin "X" and "Q".) The theory I've heard about why Americans pronounce it wrong is, that "zh" sound is just so rare in English -- we only know it from French words like leisure and casual. And bourgeois. All that foreign stuff may as well be French as far as Americans are concerned. At last, some 'muricans.
posted by Rash at 10:12 PM on March 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

My name, extremely common in the country of its linguistic origin, is rare in the US where I grew up and has a consonant cluster most people can't cope with. My nickname, ditto, has three possible spellings and I use the rarest in the US. (My uncle, who knew me from the day I was born, never once spelled it right, but he was that kind of guy and nobody minded.)
When I go to a Starbucks in the US, I tell them my name is Rebecca. My name isn't even slightly Rebecca, but it's a nice name that most people in the US are familiar with in one form or another, and I "look like" a Rebecca in terms of gender, age, ethnic type, so it's an easy association for the people there and saves us all some wrestling with spelling and pronunciation.
In Japan my name is unlikely to be pronounced right, containing all the wrong consonants, so with friends and my husband I go by its Japanese equivalent as a nickname. People just have trouble with sounds they're not familiar with; in some contexts it's appropriate to work hard to get familiar with them, in others it's easier not to try. (Issues of racism etc. etc. start coming up when people don't bother to try when they should...)
posted by huimangm at 11:08 PM on March 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

I blame my parents for giving me a name that no one outside of Denmark and Norway can pronounce. Heck, add my surname in, and less than half of all Danes and Norwegians can pronounce it. Anglophone friends who try mostly make it even worse. Japanese friends just avoid using my name in front of me, which I find polite. Parents: don't call your children names that only work for 5 million people.
That said, at this point I don't care at all. I've tried to get people to use nicknames, but that didn't work either, so I gave up and just live with having my name broken every day. It's just a name. And, there are languages I can't get. I can sometimes hear I'm wrong, but I can't make my mouth make the sounds. Other times I can't even hear I'm wrong. Some Spanish and Arabic sounds are impossible to me, and some Dutch sounds. I don't speak Chinese, but I know I can't pronounce Chinese names, at all, not even close.
In smaller countries and countries with many different nationalities, people are much more likely to speak several languages already from childhood. A friend who grew up in India speaks 8 languages fluently, with hardly any accent. From early on, she's learnt to hear and pronounce a lot of different sounds. In English speaking countries, learning another language is less necessary, so it takes some specific circumstance to get people to try, and even then, getting the sounds right is not always a priority; that's where José happens. It's lazy, but that's because you can be lazy. There's a reason people anglicize their names when they move to an English-speaking country.
posted by mumimor at 11:39 PM on March 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

This thread reminds me of the classic comment on Ask a Manager about a Joaquin/Wakeen mixup.
posted by peacheater at 6:02 AM on March 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

Different languages and the names that originate or are popular within them tend to have accents on different syllables comparing to other languages. I think people without additional instruction will accent the syllables in a name in a way most in line with their native language.

I mention this cause your first two examples are names found in Russian that English speakers miss pronounce in this way. English speakers would tend to say VLA di mir while Russian speakers ( to me at least) sound more like vla DI mir.
posted by WeekendJen at 8:06 PM on March 12, 2019

I just came here from the thread on the blue. Fascinating discussion. My first name is only occasionally pronounced incorrectly by English speakers even though it's a common word, but that's mostly because it's relatively rare *as a name* and people can't seem to get their head around it and think it's a name from another language, so they go through all these weird contortions to find a different pronunciation.

But even I can't pronounce my surname. As far as I know, nobody in my family can, and my parents and grandparents pronounce it entirely differently than my generation does. It's a French name, but as far as I know nobody in my family has been a native French speaker for 300 years. But! We've been in Canada for almost a century and a half at this point, albeit in an almost entirely Anglo region, making my generation the first in a very, very long time to get some exposure to French. So I can pronounce the é, the French way, which previous generations could not (it doesn't help that local typewriters and computers have historically had problems with accents; even my birth certificate has my name spelled without the accent), and I can reach a decent compromise between the English and French versions of the other vowel combinations, but there is a throaty double "r" sound that I just can't do. Or rather, that I can do, but *not* following the vowel combination in my name. I can do it just fine after other vowel combinations. (My father's pronunciation of our name is so flat it's like somebody went over it with a steamroller.)

"José" is probably difficult for me to pronounce correctly both because I'm an Anglo *and* because I have an é in my name that is not only from a language I don't speak, it does something *entirely different* in that language *and nothing at all* in mine. It's a complex thing to keep in my head even when I'm just saying my own name. I'm going to miss the goal sometimes when I'm saying someone else's.

That being said, I don't get upset when someone with a different accent pronounces my name wrong because of that accent. I do my best to get other people's names right, but I *also* speak accented English, even though it's a regional accent and not the result of speaking a different language, and I feel like a complete asshole when I "put on" an accent that isn't mine, like I'm making fun of the native speakers of that accent (event though that isn't my intention).
posted by Fish Sauce at 10:07 AM on March 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

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