Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Tricky Surnames & How to Pronounce Them

Tuesday, April 18, 2017
Lawrence, Lord Granville Leveson-Gower
Loretta reports:

The first time I saw this image, in a book, I was quite impressed. The first time I saw the portrait in person, at the Yale Center for British Art, I swooned. His stance and attitude, if not his face, have inspired more than one of my historical romance heroes (and he’s appeared in my blogs before).  And yes, you can judge the book by the cover. He was quite the ladies’ man, and aspects of his life have also made their way into my stories.

Today, though, I want to talk about his name (again): Leveson-Gower is not pronounced the way it looks. The correct pronunciation, according to Whitaker’s Peerage, Baronetage, Knightage, and Companionage of 1936 (and other guides) is LEWSON-GORR. Some books use Gore and others use Gor, and my 1985 edition of the A& C Black Titles & Forms of Address has it Lōō-son-Gaw, but it's never Gow-er and Leveson is never Lev-e-son. Wikipedia spends some time explaining the “counter-intuitive pronunciation.” This is merely one example of the way titles, surnames, place names, and other proper nouns can trip us up.

Manners and Rules of Good Society (1913 ed quoted below) offers some basic suggestions about pronouncing names, and a list of some most commonly mispronounced. I had room to post only a couple of pages, but you might want to take a look at the chapter. You may be surprised (Americans more than English readers, I suspect).
THERE are, perhaps, two reasons why various surnames are so frequently mispronounced, the one being unfamiliarity with the freak of fashion which governs the pronunciation of certain well-known names, the other ignorance, or want of education.

When sensitive persons hear a name pronounced differently from the way in which they have themselves but just pronounced it, and in a tone and manner strongly suggestive of correction, it is wounding to their amour propre.

As a rule, when persons are in doubt as to the correct pronunciation of any particular name, it would be best to avoid mentioning it, if possible, until their doubts are set at rest by someone better informed than themselves.

Names that have a fashionable or peculiar pronunciation, or are pronounced otherwise than as they are spelt, are but few, and names which it is possible wrongly to accent are also not very numerous; but it is surprising how often these names occur in the course of conversation.

...With regard to placing the accent on the wrong syllable in the pronunciation of names, it requires but little thought to avoid making this mistake, a popular error being that of placing the accent upon the last syllable of a name; whereas, in a name of two syllables, the accent should invariably be placed upon the first, and the second syllable should be as it were slightly abbreviated or slightly altered.

In names of three syllables the error usually consists in placing the accent upon the last syllable, whereas the accent should be placed upon the second syllable. There are occasional exceptions to this rule, and the few names given in this chapter, both as regards their pronunciation and accentuation, will serve as a useful guide in the pronunciation of uncommon names.
Manners and Rules of Good Society

Surname Pronunciation
Surname Pronunciation

Image: Sir Thomas Lawrence, Lord Granville Leveson-Gower, later first Earl Granville (betw 1804 and 1809), courtesy Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.


Gavin T.D. Greig said...

It's worth noting that in English notations of pronunciation there will sometimes be an "r" after a vowel, particularly "a", for which there appears to be no explanation, such as in "Glamis - > Glarms" on the second page.

Glamis is a Scots name with no "r" in the pronunciation, so this also appears odd to me as a Scot - but the key to understanding is that the "r" trailing a vowel is not pronounced in English speech, it just indicates a lengthening of the vowel - so a non-English pronunciation guide might express this as "Glahms" instead (where the "h" is not pronounced either - isn't this fun!).

Cynthia Lambert said...

Am reminded of Bertie Wooster's friend, Cyril 'Barmy' Fotheringay-Phipps; pronounced Fingy Fips. Also the Duke of Buccleuch (Beklu), and the Marquess of Cholmondeley (Chumly), and Dalziel (dee ell), and Featherstonhaugh (festonho), St. John (sinjin), and Earl Wriothesley (rizli).

Lil said...

I can still remember giving a oral book report on Kenilworth in high school in which one of the characters was the Earl of Leicester. I must have tried every possible way to pronounce it—Lee-caster, Lie-caster, Lee-sester, etc.—but the teacher didn't tell the the correct pronunciation until I was finished.

Loretta Chase said...

I grew up in Worcester, which is right next door to Leicester, MA. I'm always fascinated by the way people pronounce it, especially those who add an "h" to make it Wor-chest-er. No, I say, It's like Worcestershire sauce, you know? But that brings blank looks as often as it brings enlightenment. Woo(short oo, sort of like wuh)-stah, if you're from around there. Woo(short oo)-ster, if you put your "rs" where they actually are, rather than in random places where they are not (New Englanders will understand this, as will those who've encountered New Englanders).

Cyranetta said...

A British friend once told me of a town in the area where she grew up that defied a visual approach to pronunciation - "Trottes Cliff" pronounced "Troslee".

Lucy said...

I'm still trying to sort out the logic between Gifford and Gillett. *shakes head* Thanks for posting this: I will definitely have to consult it in future. Not because it matters terribly much on the printed page, but I can just picture giving an interview and mispronouncing my main character's name. Oy!

Gavin Greig, thanks for adding that explanation. "Glahms" makes rather more sense that "Glarms."

Holly said...

My favorite surname pronunciational peculiarity is Featherstonehaugh- pronounced as Fanshaw.

Aorist said...

I am so keeping a link to this site. At my parish church, I am always finding out how to pronounce things. "I'm headed to Belvoir Castle," I said. "Where's that?" "Near Grantham." "Oh, Bever Castle."

Kristine Hughes said...

Brougham/Broom. Thank goodness I've been pronouncing Hughes correctly (Hews), though telemarketers often pronounce it Hug-iss or Huge-ess. I tell them there's no one here by that name and hang up.

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