Pronouncing Dictionary of Proper Names: Pronunciations for More Than 28,000 Proper Names, Selected for Currency, Frequency, or D

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Hard to Pronounce Literary Names Redux: the Definitive Edition

Thanks to some friendly advice from LanguageHat, and seeing competing pronunciations flying around in the comments of the previous pronunciation post, especially for that pesky Goethe, I decided to go to the library and to do a little more Internet research to try to get some definitive pronunciations for these names, specifically printed references where available.At the library I took a look at Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of Literature (EoL) – pronunciations aside, a very cool reference book – which was very helpful in giving me pronunciations for most of the names on our list. The problem is that the pronunciations are given using symbols that are not easily expressed in HTML, and thus are impossible to convey on this blog. Another problem is that the book was published in 1995, and thus leaves out some of the contemporary authors on this list.However, with some further digging online, I was able to find some sources, including Merriam-Webster Online (M-W), which uses simplified, Internet friendly notation. You can refer to the M-W pronunciation guide for help if you need it. I also looked at the online version of the The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition (AH), whose pronunciations I’ve only linked to rather than copied because it uses images to convey pronunciation symbols, and I can’t easily replicate them here on the blog. Best of all, these two sources include audio pronunciations, as well. Very helpful. Finally I also looked at Pronouncing Dictionary of Proper Names (PD), some names from which somebody has posted here.When none of those sufficed I used references from newspaper and magazine articles, hoping that their writers did the research and found out the correct pronunciations, ideally from the authors themselves.J.M. Coetzee – kut-‘see, -‘see-uh (audio via M-W)Paul Theroux – both PD and EoL have it as thuh-ROOHenry David Thoreau – thaw-‘roh (audio via M-W, via AH). The “Pronouncing Thoreau” sidebar on this NPR story goes into some further detail.John Le Carre – luh-ka-ray (audio via M-W, via AH)Dan Chaon – I’m going to stick with my friend Edan’s pronunciation – “Shawn” – since she had him as a teacher.Pulitzer – ‘PULL it sir’ (see #19 in the Pulitzer FAQ, audio via M-W and via AH, which also offers the “PEW” pronunciation as an alternative.)Donald Barthelme – There seems to be some disagreement on this one. AH has it with a “th” sound – see pronunciation and audio – while the EoL has it with a hard “t” sound. Not sure which is right.Michael Chabon – “Pronounced, as he says, ‘Shea as in Stadium, Bon as in Jovi,'” according to this profile, though other news sources pronounce the last syllable ranging from “bun” to “bawn” to “bin“Thomas Pynchon – ‘pin-chuhn (audio via M-W, via AH)Rainer Maria Rilke – ‘ry-nur Maria ‘ril-kuh, -kee (audio via M-W, via AH. AH does not offer the “long e” at the end as an alternative pronunciation, nor does EoL.)Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – Unfortunately not much of a definitive answer here. M-W prefers saying it with more of an “r” sound ‘ge(r)-tuh (audio), but offers ‘g[oe]-tuh as an alternative. AH prefers the latter, note the the subtly different audio. EoL has both of those but it calls the “r” sound “Anglicized.” It also has a “long a” sound in the first syllable listed as Anglicized.Ngugi wa Thiong’o – His first name is pronounced “Googy,” according to UC Irvine, where he teaches, while his last name is presumably pronounced phonetically. Eoin Colfer – The Seattle PI and Guardian both say the first name is pronounced “Owen.” The last name is phonetic.Seamus Heaney – ‘shay-mus ‘hee-nee (audio via M-W, via AH)Jorge Luis Borges – ‘bor-“hays (audio via M-W, via AH)Vladimir Nabokov – nuh-‘bo-kuff (audio via M-W, via AH. Both AH and EoL offer alternative pronunciations with a stress on the first syllable.)P.G. Wodehouse – ‘wud-“haus (audio via M-W, via AH)Chuck Palahniuk – Lots of sources, including USA Today, say “Paula-nik.”Michel Houellebecq – LA Weekly and many other sources say “Wellbeck.”Jeffrey Eugenides – “yu-GIN-e-dees” according to the Houston Chronicle.Jack Kerouac – ‘ker-uh-“wak (audio via M-W, via AH)Colm Toibin – most sources, like the SF Chron have it as “toe-bean,” but the Boston Globe says “Column to-BEAN.”Bonus Links:The BBC Pronunciation Blog.Voice of America’s guide to pronouncing challenging names in the news, and a Washington Post story about that guide.The really cool kids, however, prefer these pronunciations.

Hard to Pronounce Literary Names

Update 3: Thanks to some friendly advice, and seeing competing pronunciations flying around in the comments, especially for that pesky Goethe, I decided to go to the library and to do a little more Internet research to try to get some definitive pronunciations for these names, specifically printed references where available. So here is a new updated post on Hard to Pronounce Literary NamesAsk the Internet any question you want, and usually you’ll be able to learn the answer, but for some reason it’s not very good at helping people find out how to pronounce words and names. I’ve noticed, looking at my visitor logs, that people show up here again and again trying to find how to pronounce a handful of difficult literary names. Sadly they’ve found no answers here… until now. So on to the pronunciations.J.M. Coetzee – the Nobel Laureate’s name is pronounced “cut-ZEE-uh” according to this Slate article and a number of other news items.Paul Theroux – This well-known travel writer’s name “is pronounced ‘Thor-ew,'” says the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, “not like the dude from Walden Pond” (which would be Henry David Thoreau, whose name, according to the “Pronouncing Thoreau” sidebar to this NPR story is frequently mispronounced; it is supposed to sound like “thorough.”)Spy novelist John Le Carre is pronounced “luh KAR-AY” or “luh kahr-AY,” according to this site, which lists pronunciations found in the Pronouncing Dictionary of Proper Names (who knew that such a book existed?). Incidentally, Le Carre is actually the pseudonym of David John Moore Cornwell.Contemporary novelist and short story author Dan Chaon is pronounced “Shawn.” So says my friend Edan, who was a student of his at Oberlin.Pulitzer, as in the prize and newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer – Number 19 in the Pulitzer FAQ: “The correct pronunciation is ‘PULL it sir.'”If anybody else has other ideas for hard to pronounce literary names, leave them in the comments and we’ll add them to the list. Meanwhile, here’s a bonus link. The BBC has launched a pronunciation blog (via LanguageHat).Update: Some great suggestions are rolling in from the comments. Kyle’s got some classic problem names:Donald Barthelme = “Bartle-may” not “Bar-THELM” as I had originally heard. Michael Silverblatt solved that one for me.Michael Chabon = “SHAY-bun” not “Sha-BON” like my friend has said.Thomas Pynchon = “PIN-chawn” not “PIN-shin” or “PIN-chin” etc. etc….and for kicks here are two German oldies that need some respect…Rainer Maria Rilke = “RILL-kuh” not “RILL-kee”and Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe = “GOO-tuh” not “GARE-tuh” like we smarmy Americans like to think it is. I have heard it as “GO-thee” and all kinds of botched up ways, but yesterday I asked a German woman who is a Lit. major and she straightened it out. Apparently, here in the states we overemphasize the umlaut to an R when it isn’t as harsh as that. [Bud contends that you don’t “ignore the r sound altogether in Goethe.” In Chicago, there is a Goethe Street in the Old Town neighborhood, which the locals apparently pronounce Go-EE-the, though I could never figure out if they were just pulling my leg. –Max]Laurie adds Ngugi Wa’Thiong’O, the Kenyan author whose latest book Wizard of the Crow just came out and Eoin Colfer, neither of whose names I know how to pronounce. Any help? She also suggests Seamus Heaney, Nobel laureate, which The Traveller tells us is pronounced SHAY-mus HEE-knee.Update 2: Some debate about Seamus Heaney in the comments, but this NY Times article seems to confirm it: “SHAY-muss HEE-nee”. Kyle, meanwhile, informs us that Eoin Colfer is pronounced “Owen”. My favorite unpronounceable book title, by the way, is James McCourt’s Mawrdew Czgowchwz, pronounced “Mar-dew Gorgeous”.

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