How DO You Pronounce That?
By Abby Sandel
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?
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on November 21st, 2016 at 3:30 am
Bronte, Zoe and Chloe were originally spelled in English with the ë symbol (for example, Charlotte Brontë), which is why it is pronounced BRON-tee, rather than Bront or Brontay, Zo-ee (rather than rhyming with toe or roe) and Chlo-ee (rather than cloh). To me that makes it very clear which is the correct pronunciation. If it were meant to be Brontay, the spelling would have featured an é (like Estée, Renée or Esmée).
Fun fact #1 – the Brontë family originally spelled their name Brunty.
Fun fact #2 – the New Yorker is one of the few publications to still use the ë symbol (known as a diaeresis) in its writing to show that the e sound is meant to be pronounced separately from the preceding vowel sound (i.e. in the word reëntry or the name Chloë).
on November 21st, 2016 at 8:08 am
Except for Caroline and Madeleine, all the other -line names I say rhyming with “win”
I’m a Spanish speaker and I say Isla depending on the context: ees-lah if the text is in Spanish, eye-lah if it’s in English. That said, I don’t think Isla is used as a name in Spanish, so I don’t run into that problem
I say Bronte in Spanish (bron-teh), but I think bron-tee sound better
I say Olivia as oh-livia (again, that’s the Spanish pronounciation)
Jase/Jace rhyme with Chase
I’ve always said Roan as “Rowan” without the w (roe-an)
I say Dashiell as dash-ee-el and Xavier as ex-zay-vier. I only ever heard those names in The Incredibles and X-men and that’s how they said it (dash-ee-el was probably siad respecting Spanish pronounciation)
It’s evident Spanish shapes the way I say things a lot, even when I’m speaking English
on November 21st, 2016 at 9:15 am
There’s also Adeline rhymes with seen or keen, which was was one of my ancestors’ names.
on November 21st, 2016 at 9:50 am
This is funny, because when I first saw the name Emmeline, I assumed it rhymed with win or kin, and I loved it that way. When I was corrected, that it generally is said to rhyme with sign or wine, the name lost a lot of its magic. But I hate the way -lynn looks, so this name dropped significantly in my estimation! It makes a difference!
on November 21st, 2016 at 10:35 am
The name Cassia always throws me: Cash-uh; Kay-sia (like Asia); Cass-ee-uh?!?!?! I think it is super cute and a great way to the nn Cass, without Cassandra, but how do you really say it?!
on November 21st, 2016 at 11:04 am
I’ve just listened to audio samples of how to pronounce the name Lucilla, in various countries. I am now more confused than I was to begin with, as it’s fair to say – there is no one way! I guess that you either play it safe with names or not. Phonetic spellings do help, although some of those get silly.
on November 21st, 2016 at 11:39 am
My name is Dara (rhymes with Sarah), and I’m forever correcting people who pronounce the Dar- like car or far.
on November 21st, 2016 at 11:48 am
Just go to show that many names are going to be mispronounce no matter their popularity! This article definitely reflects at least 90% of the pronunciation issues I see pop up on the NB forums, good article. 🙂
on November 21st, 2016 at 12:37 pm
How do you pronounce Carys and Anouk?
on November 21st, 2016 at 4:56 pm
It’s amazing how much native english speakers’ accents change these names. When I read the Olivia vs Ahlivia bit, I thought “who on earth would pronounce it Ahlivia”…then promptly discovered its nearly everyone in the US. I think you’d be hard pressed to find an Olivia pronounced without an OH sounds anywhere else in the world. Canadian commenting!
on November 21st, 2016 at 4:59 pm
Carys = care + ihs
Anouk = Ahn + ouk (not oo like book but a really round oo like poop [sorry couldn’t think of a better one])
on November 21st, 2016 at 5:05 pm
Lisaahs- those names are both pronounced exactly as they appear; Carys rhymes with Paris and Anouk is uh-nook.
My 4-year-old brother is Aloysius and constantly gets weird pronunciations or spellings when others try to write it. Alowishus, Alloitious, Alawisius, Elowishes…. luckily he goes by the nickname Wishy which is easy.
on November 21st, 2016 at 5:47 pm
I *just* posted about this with Rosaline…dh & I though Rosa-leen but I wondered if it would get roz-uh-line. Gorgeous name but we decided against it to avoid the issues with pronunciation.
on November 22nd, 2016 at 1:10 am
As an American, I’ve never heard anyone Ahlivia for Olivia. Weird.
@jessiemay- My great-grandpa’s middle name was Aloysius. I’m not surprised people have a hard time spelling it, it’s not very common anymore!
on November 22nd, 2016 at 4:58 am
And once again, if you’re in Spanish speaking areas, Xavier might be pronounced Hah-vier, and Julian Huh-liahn. 🙂
on November 22nd, 2016 at 6:59 am
My daughter’s name is Noemi, but everyone calls her Naomi the first time. I have to explain pronunciation a couple times for some people to get it right.
on November 22nd, 2016 at 1:12 pm
Gge: In the UK we tend to say uh-livia (probably because we’re too lazy to say ‘oh’) we do this with a lot of names/words, at the beginning, middle and end if they have a soft ‘a’ or ‘I’ sound. For example: Amelia = uh-mee-lee-uh, it’s what we call a schwa which means it’s an undisguishable vowel sound.
on November 22nd, 2016 at 3:43 pm
Emmeline is PROPERLY pronounced “emma leen uh”. Therefore it should be Emma LEEN in English. As with Evangeline it’s the exception to the rule. I don’t know how in heck people pronounce line as lyn… at all.
I say Dashiell with every syllable. “Dashul” doesn’t make sense for me.
on November 22nd, 2016 at 4:17 pm
@Esita, accent diaeresis, it does not change anything. The diaeresis is used to pronounce the vowels separately, as you said. Their origin is Greek and they should be pronounced like é in Renée or Esmée. The only difference is that the diaeresis is used when the letter BEFORE the diaeresis has to be pronounced (so they can be on a ï, ë, ü). “é” is not necessarily preceded by a vowel, there are no rules.
Example: Noé or Noë (form of Noah), Canoë (French word), Nathaël, Noémie/Noëmie, Zoé/Zoë, Chloé/Chloë, etc.
If you check greek words, you will notice that the sound is “é” and not “ee” 😉
on November 22nd, 2016 at 5:54 pm
We live in the US, and my daughter’s name is Annika. I was prepared for the AHH-ni-ka vs. ANN-i-ka confusion because my husband and I actually went back and forth for a few weeks about which pronunciation we preferred. We went with AHH-ni-ka since it’s closest to the original Swedish pronunciation. But I was completely thrown for a loop when 95% of people reading her name out loud said “Ah-NEEK-a.” Doctors, nurses, librarians, teachers – almost everyone calls her “Ah-NEEK-ah.” I still love her name, but it is annoying to correct people constantly.
on November 23rd, 2016 at 6:00 pm
My name’s Naomi, and I’ve had people mispronounce my name as Nancy :/ Not kidding. It’s not spelled like Nancy, and it doesn’t even sound like Nancy.
on November 23rd, 2016 at 11:12 pm
My name is Caroline (CaroLINE, not CaroLYNN) and my sister’s name is Madeline (MadeLINE, not LYNN). Luckily, we both go by nicknames (Carly and Maddie), but I don’t think we’ve ever gone to the doctor’s office, for example, and had our names pronounced properly.
I can understand the confusion with Madeline. But Caroline just seems obvious to me.
Another -ine name that used to give me trouble was Augustine. I used to always think it was “AW-guh-steen,” but now I exclusively pronounce it “Aw-GUH-stihn”. (I went to a school called St. Monica, and the other Catholic school in the area was St. Augustine, which is why the name came up in the first place.) I’d love to use the name Augustine (“Auggie” for short) but I’d be worried about mispronunciation.
on November 25th, 2016 at 8:49 am
Quite interesting names here. You can check out for more names on this site http://www.suggestbabynames.com/meaning_of_african_boyname_amani.html
on December 2nd, 2016 at 5:43 pm
Not knowing anyone with the name, I always assumed “Vera” was pronounced like “Sarah” (which I prefer), but I’ve seen on many naming sites that the more common pronunciation is with a long “e,” so “Veera.” I’d been saving the name for a future daughter but wouldn’t want to constantly correct people to use my preferred pronunciation! Would love to see an authoritative poll of how this name is pronounced regionally, as well as hear Berries’ thoughts on if I could still use my preferred pronunciation without too much confusion.
on December 13th, 2016 at 4:19 am
Thank you for teaching us how to pronounce various names http://www.suggestbabynames.com/meaning_of_african_boyname_faraji.html
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