Friday, March 5, 2010

Name calling

Friday, March 5, 2010
Loretta reports:

Since Susan and I write books dealing with England and the English, we’re constantly reminded that English is a foreign language.  And a minefield.  Among other things, there’s pronunciation.  Now I grew up knowing something about tricky words because I was born in Worcester, which most people pronounce incorrectly—including, I was stunned to discover, one actual English person actually speaking on the phone to me from England.  It’s pronounced Wooh (like the sound in wool or full)-ster—except by a large segment of its populace, who pronounce it Wis-tah.  You can hear it with an English accent here.

One of my Regency dreamboats, Granville Leveson-Gore, was another name tease.  It’s Loo-son-Gaw according to Black’s Title and Forms of Address and Lewson-Gorr according to the 1936 Whitaker’s Peerage, Baronetage, Knightage, and Companionage.  But if you're talking about Gower Street, it’s pronounced the way it looks.

A marquis in England, one soon learns, is a mar-kwiss or a mar-kwess but not a mar-kee.

Belvoir Castle is Bee-ver Castle, and here it is in British English.

[Illustration:  Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire, England from Morris's Country Seats (1880)]

In researching my latest book, Last Night’s Scandal, I learned that Alnwick, Northumberland, loses a few consonants in pronunciation.  It’s An-ik

Lady Cowper, one of Almack’s patronesses was Lady Couper according to Manners and Rules of Good Society.  But Black’s Titles and Forms of Address offers both Koo-per and Kow-per.

Another name familiar to Regency aficionados is King George IV’s mistress Lady Conyngham.  She was Lady Kun-ingam.

Meanwhile, Cholmondeley shrinks down to Chum-li  (Click on the symbol to hear it here.) Cockburn is Co-burn, and Colquhoun is Ko-hoon.

Lord Elgin—of the famous Marbles—is said with a hard “g.” 

Knollys is Knoles
Mainwaring is Man-nering
Marjoribanks is March-banks
Ponsonby is Pun-sunbi
Pontefract is usually Pum-fret but sometimes said as spelled.
Ruthven is Riv-ven or Ri-then.
Slaithwaite is Slo-it, except when it’s said as spelled.
Urquhart is Erk-ert.
Villiers is Vil-lers.
Waldegrave is Wawl-grave.

This is definitely audience participation, so feel free to add your favorite doesn't-sound-like-what-it-looks-like names.

Top left is a detail of a full-length portrait of Granville-Leveson Gower by Sir Thomas Lawrence.  It hangs in the Yale Center for British Art, along with an astounding collection of other beautiful paintings.

Sir Thomas Lawrence's portrait--at bottom right--of Lady Conyngham is dated 1821-24, when she was the Marchioness Conyngham.


Portia Da Costa said...

Super post! As a resident Brit, even I would have pronounced many of those names wrong. :)

But not Slaithwaite or Pontefract, as I live relatively close to those towns, here in West Yorkshire. Pontefract is mostly pronounced as written, with 'pumfrit' used for 'Pontefract' Cakes, a form of licorice sweet. Very yummy!

News From the Holmestead said...

"feel free to add your favorite doesn't-sound-like-what-it-looks-like names"

I'm from the Pacific Northwest, where we have a large population of Native American tribes. Thus, many of our landmarks, cities, buildings, etc., have Indian names. It's hilarious to hear outsiders trying to pronounce Indian names like Puyallup (pew-WALL-up), Kalalach (CLAY-lock) Chehalis (sheh-HAY-lis), Tlingit (KLING-kit) and Skookumchuk (SKOO-kum-CHUCK). We also have Sequim (Skwim), Pend Orielle (PON-der-ay), Methow (MET-how) and non-locals always mispronounce Oregon as OR-ee-GAWN instead of OR-ee-gun.

Sherrie Holmes

Anonymous said...

I used to live next to the town of Milngavie near Glasgow, Scotland. Everyone used to get that one wrong as it is pronounced Mull-guy. On the American side of things a local town here is spelled Quasqueton but pronounced by the locals as Quass-key, except on the rare occasion when it is pronounced basically the way it is spelled, Quass-quee-ton.

Hetty Sorrel said...

I think it was David Frost (many years ago) who said "Being posh is going orf to play goff with Rafe"- old-fashioned/upper class pronunciation of "off", "goff" and "Ralph" respectively. I think the British have accepted the American pronunciation of Ralph except when it's the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams- woe betide the radio announcer who gets this one wrong!

Jane O said...

Many years ago when I was a freshman in high school we had to give oral book reports every month. One month I read Scott's Kenilworth, in which one of the main characters is the Earl of Leicester. I had absolutely no idea how that was supposed to be pronounced, and in the course of the book report I tried a different variation each time — LIE-ses-ter, LEE-ses-ter, LEE-kes-ter, etc. The teacher didn't take pity on me until I had finished and she told me it was pronounced LES-ter.
That was, I suppose, one way to make sure I never forgot.

nightsmusic said...

Great post! It always amazes me how far off we can be with pronunciations of other country's places and forget that we do the same thing with our own. .

But I'd sure love to live over there and learn the right ones ;o)

Linda Banche said...

I love reading about words and the differences in language between England and America. We understand each other because we're all speaking English, right? You might believe that when you read it, but hearing it is another matter.

According to what I've heard, one difference between American and British English pronunciation is that Americans pronounce every syllable, (thanks to Noah Webster) and the British swallow syllables. Your post seems to bear this out.

Lyn S said...

My last name is English in origin, a younger son came over to the US in 1830. It is rather simple, but is either mispronounced or mispelled. It is


LorettaChase said...

Sherrie reminds me of the plenitude of Native American place names, including a lake in Webster MA. Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg is the long version, with which schoolmates used to delight in astounding us lesser mortals, who stuck to "Webster Lake." You can read all about it at:

Kate said...

My favorite is the village Mousehole in Cornwall, pronounced Mou-sel, of course!

My daughter is married to an English man, lives in England, and is always on the lookout for funny pronunciations..knowing how much I love them.

My English son-in-law nearly expired from laughing on a road trip to Oregon when we passed the small town of Wanker's Corner! But that's a whole different topic!

News From the Holmestead said...

Good lord, Loretta, your (mumble, mumble) lake must require a degree in linguistics to pronounce it! I'd love to hear someone say the full name correctly.

Kate, if your SIL thought Wanker's Corner was hilarious, have him come visit the town of Humptulips in Washington State. *g*

Sherrie Holmes

Margaret Porter said...



dunnettreader said...



SonomaLass said...

With British English, the first rule seems to be that if the word or name origin is French, one MUST pronounce it differently as a matter of national pride. Lieutenant becomes "leftenant," filet becomes "fillit," and so on. I think that explains some of these, like Beauchamps and Marquess.

But aside from that, I have noticed that the British are very fond of proper name pronunciations (people and places) that leave out many of the letters. In my case, it was more that I knew what they sounded like and then didn't know how to spell them or recognize them on paper. I specifically remember embarrassing myself by spelling a friend's name as it sounded, "Sinjin." Um, that's spelled "St. John." Ooops!

Unknown said...

How about the Philadelphian-isms based on old Lenni-Lenape names:
Passyunk (Passhunk)and Schuylkill (Scukill)are the best known.

Ed said...

I went to school in England. We had a classmate called Alan Earwaker (pronounced Erica).

It resulted in a lot of high school jesting about names that sound so different from the spelling. One classmate illustrated some of these with the immortal line:

"My name may be spelled Cholmondeley Fotheringay Featherstonehaugh, but it's pronounced Chumley Fungey Fanshaw".

Anonymous said...

So glad I found you on the web. As a docent at the Yale Center for British Art, I need to know how to pronounce these names correctly! Your other information on period detail and history are invaluable. Thank you, thank you!

QNPoohBear said...

Wow! The only one I know is Worcester. I was born there (MA) too! I even heard an Amtrack conductor pronounce it "Worchester" once. That made me cringe. In England, Warwick is pronounced without the W in the middle.

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