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How DO You Pronounce That?

November 20, 2016 Abby Sandel

By Abby Sandel

Most baby names come with a fairly predictable pronunciation, at least in English. No one argues over Emma or Mason, and we don’t mangle Charlotte or James.

And yet, other names are open to multiple possibilities. They’re not necessarily wrong – just different. Our assumptions about correct pronunciations are shaped by regional accents and changing trends. Pages and pages in our forum discuss this very issue.

It’s a different challenge from names that are misheard. Name your daughter Emmeline, and she’ll probably be called Emily at least some of the time. But that’s a different kind of frustration than explaining that she’s emmaLINE, rhymes with fine and sign, not emmaLYNN.

Or, of course, the opposite. Because it can be emmaLYNN, rhymes with kin and win, just as easily. Unless, of course, you pronounce it emmaLEEN.

Let’s take a look at nine baby names with pronunciations that often lead to confusion.

Caroline, Madeline, and every girls’ name ending with –line – Speaking of Emmeline, the same debate applies to every girl name ending with –line. The only way to know if all the girls named Madeline, Adeline, Caroline, Evangeline, and so on prefer –lyn or –line is to ask. Plenty of parents attempt to sidestep this problem by spelling their daughters’ names Madelyn or Adalyn – now the most popular spellings of both names in the US – but that seems to work only some of the time.

Bronte – This literary surname name is typically pronounced BRON tay in the US.  In Australia, though, it’s bron TEE. And some of our American readers make a case for the tee pronunciation, too.   Given the popularity of names like Zoe, Chloe, and Penelope maybe it’s no surprise that we often read the final ‘e’ as a long ‘e’ sound. Another name plagued by the ay/ee division? The equally literary Esme.

Mya – Is Mya a respelling of Mia? Or Maya? Singer Mya pronounces it like the latter, and spells it with an accent: Mýa. It’s a safe bet that most Myas also prefer the Maya pronunciation. And yet, swapping an ‘i’ for a ‘y’ is common in the US, and doesn’t necessarily change the sound. Lyla probably doesn’t get called Layla.

Isla – Maybe Isla shouldn’t be confusing. The ‘s’ is silent in the Scottish name: eye la. And yet, especially in the US, Isla is also familiar as the Spanish word for island. In that case, Isla is pronounced ees lah. With the rise of nature-inspired names like Luna – the Spanish word for moon – it’s easy to imagine other choices, like Isla, following a similar path. And if you happen to live in a community with many Spanish speakers, perhaps the occasional mispronunciation is inevitable.

Olivia – Is it OH livia or AH livia? As with Madeline/Madelyn, some parents have attempted to address Olivia’s pronunciation question by spelling their daughters’ names Alivia. Most seem to favor the AH pronunciation regardless of spelling. But it’s hard to forget the original theme song for the animated cartoon Olivia, which emphasized more of an OH sound. Then again, the new intro for the series favors the AH livia pronunciation.

Jase, Jace, and Jayceon Do Jace and Jase rhyme with Chase? Most often, yes, though some may pronounce it like the initials J.C.. And is Jayceon a respelling of Jason? Rapper The Game spells his name Jayceon – and pronounces it with an extra syllable: jay see on on his VH-1 reality series, Marrying the Game. I’d guess most Jayceons do, too, but if uncertain, it’s always best to ask.

Roan – Nature name Rowan is clearly meant to be two syllables. So are the Irish Ronan and the Latin Roman. But how about Roan? It could sound exactly like Rowan, or it might rhyme with lone and stone. Sharon Stone’s son seems to say his name more like Rowan, but as a word usually applied to the reddish-brown coat of a horse, Roan is always one syllable.

Dashiell Dashiell Hammett pronounced his name DASH el — kind of like castle, but with a sh in the middle. It was a family surname for Hammett. But some prefer three syllables: dash ee el. Given the popularity of Gabriel, that’s not such a surprise. Just like Madeline/Madelyn and Olivia/Alivia, some parents have used the simplified spelling Dashel to remove any doubt.

Xavier – There are at least three pronunciations for this name, from the run-together zayv-yer, rhymes with savior, to three-syllable zay-vee-er, to X-Men approved ex-zayv-ee-er. Once again, pronunciation preferences drive spelling choices. Zavier and Xzavier both rank in the current US Top 1000, though traditional – and ambiguous – Xavier remains the clear favorite.

What names are you always confused about how to pronounce? Does your name or your baby’s name sometimes get mispronounced, and in what way?

About the author

Abby

Abby Sandel is nameberry's Senior Editor and resident Name Sage. Look for her baby name news round-ups every Monday, and her Name Sage columns on Wednesdays. Abby is the creator of the baby name blog Appellation Mountain and mom to Alex and Clio. For a chance to have your questions answered, contact Abby at namesage@nameberry.com.

View all of Abby's articles

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