Help Me Say the Rev's Name Right
February 26, 2006 1:53 PM   Subscribe

GermanLanguageFilter/TheologyFilter. What is the correct pronunciation of the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr's name? Definitive opinions sought.

Yes, it sounds silly and picayune, and I think I've got it right. But I need to make sure I'm doing it correctly for an upcoming talk, and thus far I've only written about the guy and have never had to utter his name in front of an audience composed of people who will gleefully stone me to death in the Q and A if I make so provincial a mistake as to say the Great Man's name wrong.

So your help and expertise- whether in German-American names, in mainline mid-century Protestant theologians, in American intellectual history- is much appreciated.
posted by foxy_hedgehog to Religion & Philosophy (10 answers total)
I just read some Niebuhr for a class I'm taking, and the (reliably knowledgeable) professor pronounced it Nee-Bohr.
posted by Espy Gillespie at 2:06 PM on February 26, 2006

Best answer: Well, going strictly on the rules of German pronunciation as I was taught them, it would be "RHINE-HOLD NEE-BOOR." The general rule with you have i's next to e's in German is you pronounce the second one. And the u has much more of an "ooh" sound than an "uh" sound. Hope that helps!
posted by web-goddess at 2:08 PM on February 26, 2006

When I was in college, my professor pronouced it the same way E.G. and web-goddess described, so you're on safe ground there.
posted by ambrosia at 2:16 PM on February 26, 2006

This non-native German speaker would say it as web-goddess just laid out. I would put it into IPA, but I'm lazy and might get it wrong.

German pronunciation is not all that hard, so tossing aside regional pronunciations and going for Hoch Deutsch, I'm 99% certain that that pronunciation is correct.
posted by teece at 2:32 PM on February 26, 2006

Response by poster: Thank you all so much! Going to repeat it to myself on the stairmaster...
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 3:04 PM on February 26, 2006

An easy way to remember it if you don't speak German is the simple rule "never say die" (since, in German, you would say DEE)

Also, in German, you pretty much always pronounce everything you see written. No silent "e" or that kind of thing.
posted by cloudscratcher at 4:19 PM on February 26, 2006

I had a professor who himself had Reinhold Niebuhr as a professor when he was a student. He pronounced it pretty much as web-goddess says, except it was more like NEE-BURR.
posted by cali at 5:03 PM on February 26, 2006

Now tell me how to pronounce "picayune."
posted by chococat at 8:36 PM on February 26, 2006

It is very much a Chainy - Cheeney kind of thing. Everyone calls "Dick Cheney" - CHAINY, even though his family and friends (and he himself) pronounces it Cheeney.

Actually, cali is right as far as popular pronunciation. Most everyone pronounced (and continues to pronounce his name):
The best site on Niebuhr is a site associated with the program Moral Man & Immoral Society: The Public Theology of Reinhold Niebuhr. Pronunciations of his name can be heard throughout this program and they use NEE-BURR. Here are a few audio clips:

Interview With Niebuhr and James Baldwin in 1964

Interview with Richard W. Fox author of Reinhold Niebuhr: A Biography

HOWEVER, his daughter (who should know how to pronounce her birth name) uses NEE-BORE. It's funny because the interviewer continues to use the popular pronunciation of NEE-BURR! Here is the wonderful interview with Elisabeth Sifton (Niebuhr's daughter) where several times she clearly says NEE-BORE.

You say tomato.....I say.......

Hope that helps!
posted by Gerard Sorme at 12:47 AM on February 27, 2006

If he were German, the 'd' on the end of 'Reinhold' would be pronounced like a 't' - not sure if his being American makes a difference, though.
posted by altolinguistic at 1:09 AM on February 27, 2006

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