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Baby Name Pronunciation: AHN-drea, AN-drea, on-DRAY-a?

By Gay Cioffi

Just as in real estate where the three most important things are:   LOCATION… LOCATION…. LOCATION, when bestowing a name on a baby the three most important things are: PRONUNCIATION… PRONUNCIATION… PRONUNCIATION.

As a person whose last name is almost never pronounced correctly, Cioffi  (the Ci is like Ch and …oh, if only I had a buck for every time I have had to say that!!), I know that navigating the social territory of “when and how often to correct” those who mispronounce it is tricky, to say the least. I had a third grade teacher who pronounced it KEY-OFF and I cringed every time I was called on for the entire school year.

And while there is the occasional person who states that they don’t mind the various ways that his or her name is pronounced, he or she is the exception, not the rule. I remember being surprised by a friend whose daughter’s name is Lara, (pronounced LARR-a), dismissing my apology for calling her Laura, with a “that’s okay, Larra, Laura, Lora, any of those are fine.”

Most parents, me included, have a very specific pronunciation in mind when naming their child.  My daughter Mia is often called Maya, but it doesn’t happen so frequently that I regretted the choice or considered changing her name, which I have heard of happening. I know of one such parent who after about a year of having her daughter Andrea, (accent on the second syllable) called AN-drea (accent on the first syllable) changed her name altogether. While such a reaction is drastic, it points to the importance of knowing what you are getting into when you choose a name that has various pronunciations or a difficult pronunciation.

So yes, you need to add PRONUNCIATION to the list of considerations as you search for that perfect name.  Will it be Leila (LEE-la) or Leila (LAY-la)? And if you love that first pronunciation, know that your child will be constantly put in the position of having to say, often more than once, what the correct pronunciation is. In my nursery school class, we have had Leo (LEE-o) and Leo (LAY-o), Kara (CARE-a) and Kara (CAR–a), Anna (ANN-a) and Anna (ON-a) and Thomas (TOM-us) and Thomas (TOE-mas).

This was illustrated loud and clear by a friend recently who expressed a lot of concern about how her first name would be pronounced at her upcoming graduation ceremony from a Masters program at Columbia University.  Granted, she has a very unusual first name, Koreli,  a name that bears absolutely no resemblance to how it is pronounced Kor-RAY (accent second syllable). But nevertheless, after five years in the program, her professor, after being corrected many times, continues to call her KO-ray, placing the accent on the first syllable not the second. So rather than happily anticipating the upcoming event, she was still anxiously trying to decide if and how to request the correct pronunciation of her first name as she walked across the stage.

On the show All Things Considered on National Public Radio, when asking for listener comments, directions are given on where to send feedback and conclude with a final request to please be sure to include how the name should be pronounced.  I appreciate the care and respect afforded NPR listeners but know from experience that not everyone practices that approach. If your heart is set on naming your daughter after the adorable character in the Madeline (Mad-e-line) books, just be prepared for those who will call her Mad-a-lynn.

Gay Cioffi has been the Director of the Little Folks School in Georgetown, Washington D.C. since 1980, and has been the recipient of two Wolf Trap Outstanding Teacher Awards.  She is also an accomplished painter and photographer, whose work has been exhibited extensively.

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13 Responses to “Baby Name Pronunciation: AHN-drea, AN-drea, on-DRAY-a?”

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amajo319 Says:

April 28th, 2014 at 8:22 am

Also, consider the ethnicity of your area. I was named AN-drea, but, being born in a very Hispanic city, always ended up being called on-DRAY-a with the “r” very rolled (much to my dismay).

AuroraPond Says:

April 28th, 2014 at 9:33 am

My daughter is named Imogen pronounced em-uh-jen but if people just read her name they call her eye-mo-jean. I just correct them and move on. I love the name enough that I don’t mind correcting peoe.

encore Says:

April 28th, 2014 at 11:40 am

Great blog! Andrea does become a huge issue where I’m from.

chi1127 Says:

April 28th, 2014 at 11:40 am

So true! I have to like the various pronunciations of a name enough to even consider it. I especially keep Spanish and German pronunciations in mind, because we live among a large population of Spanish speakers and my sister-in-law is from Germany.

emilybk Says:

April 28th, 2014 at 12:08 pm

My 21-month-old daughter’s babysitter’s name is Andrea, pronounced AN-drea. She is from a rural area of North Carolina, where I believe this is the most common pronunciation. My daughter, however, calls her Ani (AH-ni), a pronunciation she seems to have invented completely independently of how she’s ever heard Andrea’s name pronounced.

saraallison Says:

April 28th, 2014 at 12:45 pm

Funny you mention Madeline at the end! That is my daughter’s name, prn like the book with the long i sound at the end. I love it prn’d Mad-eh-lyn too, so it doesn’t bother me when people say that. It remains to be seen whether she will mind though! (She’s 2.)

The thing I don’t get is when someone asks me what her name is and I of course say, “Madeline,” and they proceed to immediately say, “Oh, hi, Madelyn!” Like they didn’t even just hear me say that, or notice there’s a difference! It doesn’t really irritate me, just confuses me. Maybe they really don’t hear the difference? Most people catch on pretty quickly though.

Theodora_Phoenix Says:

April 28th, 2014 at 2:08 pm

I always pronounce Andrea as ANN-dree-ah. At my old church there were several people who pronounced it ON-DRAY-uh. It seemed to be a matter of ethnicity, as all the people who chose the latter were Hispanic. I’m not saying that’s how it is in general, just in my area. Does anybody else think “Leigh” should be pronounced as Lay and not Lee? Maybe it’s just me, but I read Ashley as Ash-lee and Ashleigh as Ash-lay.

gipro2003 Says:

April 28th, 2014 at 4:12 pm

My daughter has a name that is almost impossible to pronounce in English, Karin (KAH-rin with a rolled ‘r.’) I love it enough and it has enough personal and family meaning that I let people call her Karen.

Anaxandra Says:

April 28th, 2014 at 4:31 pm

I guess I’m just one of those ‘rare’ people that didn’t mind the mispronunciations. Both first and last name. Although for my kids I generally pick names that are known and names and the (or one of the) common in my area pronunciation. I don’t see the point of naming my kid Andrea on-DRAY-a here, it’s just an uphill battle.

itsaluckystar Says:

April 28th, 2014 at 5:43 pm

Great post! This is something I worry about, because both my hubby and I love Lucia (pronounced Lu-CHEE-a, since my family is Italian) but I worry about the pronunciation issue, as many people will say Lu-SEE-a or LOO-sha. I don’t mind correcting people – my name gets butchered all the time, but that’s because it’s long and unfamiliar, not because there are three accepted pronunciations. That said, I think all three pronunciations are lovely, so I think we’d still go for it anyway. I was having trouble coming up with other examples of names that fall into this situation and boom! A whole post on it! I had never thought of the Ahn-DREA/AN-drea mispronunciation, or Kare-a/Karr-a.

Anotherkate Says:

April 28th, 2014 at 9:54 pm

Madeline would be on my list if it weren’t for Madelyn, which has a very different feel to me… Darn :/
In some ways a name with many pronunciations is harder than having a simply exotic/unknown name. Sure my friend’s daughter Saoirse will forever have to spell her name and even say it aloud for people, but I think people will listen more closely since they won’t come in with preconceived ideas of the pronunciation.

WarlordFrancesca Says:

April 29th, 2014 at 3:44 am

If a name has a pronunciation that leaves me puzzled, before possibly butchering it, I politely and casually bring it up so that I use it correctly. Andrea is certainly a name that carries a multitude of pronunciations. Personally, I instinctively think “awn-DREY-ah,” though realize that many in my area would apply “ANN-dree-uh.”

“LAY-oh” for Leo? Interesting. I’ve only ever heard “LEE-oh.” Leila, to me, is always “LAY-lah.” Lara is “LAHR-ah.” I size Madeline by its spelling and usage. In the US, that usually means that its suffix is the deciding factor (unless the form is a foreign variation).

I have encountered a great many attempts by others in regards to my own name (Italian first name and surname). Francesca, in my view, seems to have been utilized in film and popular culture enough that I would have thought many would see “frahn-CHES-kah” as the recurrent pronunciation, but it appears not. At this point, I tend to only bother making a correction if I will be seeing the person on more than one occasion. “frann-SESS-kuh,” “frann-SISS-kah,” “frann-SESS-ikuh,” “FRANS-kuh,” and so on, are quite common.

I understand why many would be upset by and find inconvenience in “difficult” names, but I am only mildly irritated at worst and imperturbable at best. I generally request my nickname, Frankie, in place. Being quite the awkward duckling, if someone wants the bulk of a conversation to be about names, I don’t mind as I usually do not have a prepared topic.

indiefendi Says:

April 29th, 2014 at 9:43 am

I pronounce it ahn-DRAYa because every Andrea I’ve known pronounced it like that and I just like that better than ANNdreea. There’s a popular Romanian fashion model named Andreea Diaconu and I think it’s unique because I’ve never seen it like that.

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