There’s a wonderful thread at Crooked Timber (which I found via The Tensor): the post involves a (not that amusing) anecdote about a doctoral candidate defending her dissertation on Samuel Pepys and pronouncing the surname wrongly because she’s only seen it written, but the commenters provide endless examples of words and names that they or others have mispronounced (as well as names with local pronunciations), and I learned some things. I was unfamiliar with the name Keohane, for instance; apparently it’s a variant of the Irish name usually spelled Cohan, and is pronounced either koh-HAN (as in Ireland) or ko-HANE (the version apparently used by the theorist of Utilitarianism). And someone asked about pronouncing Kristeva (“I always assumed that her native land stressed the penultimate syllable and her adopted France the last one, so you could say it either way”), which is something I’d vaguely wondered about on the rare occasions I encountered her name, so I looked it up and composed the following response:

You can’t assume anything about Bulgarian names; the stress can fall on any syllable, and (annoyingly) it’s very hard to find out the correct way—Bulgarian reference works, unlike Russian ones, don’t tend to provide stress marks. Her name in Bulgarian is Юлия Кръстева, for which a standard transliteration would be Yuliya Krŭsteva (another version of the last name would be Krasteva: see Wikipedia); since the Russians stress the name on the first syllable, I make the risky assumption that the Bulgarians do too, in which case it would be pronounced in Bulgarian CRUST-eh-vah. I don’t know why she chooses the i vowel, but I say KRIST-e-va, and that’s the way I like it.

My full comment was considerably longer, since there were already 179 before me and I had to respond to a bunch of them.


  1. mollymooly says:

    Actually, Keohane is [kjo:’ha:n], not [ko:’ha:n]; similarly Keogh and Kehoe are [kjo:]. Americans apparently handle the glide by suppressing it, as in “Hyundai”, rather than exaggerating it, as in “Kyoto”.

  2. mollymooly says:

    Also, in the Dublin phonebook there are 10 Keohanes and no Cohan. (There are Cohens, of course.) There are further Keoghans, Keogans, and Keowns. How would Americans pronounce McKeown? English football Martin Keown is “Key-own”, not “Cone”.

  3. Homer Mershon says:

    I don’t know any formally stated principle about accent stress in Bulgarian, but the rule which I follow, and which generally seems to work, is that the stress falls on the root idea of the word and stays there regardless of the variations resulting from affixes. The one rule I remember about stress is that with abstract ideas, the stress moves to the final syllable when there is a final article. For example, “radost” means “joy”, with the stress on the “rad” but “the joy ” would be “radostTA”.
    The name “Krusteva” comes from the root idea of “krust” meaning “cross”, with suffixes -ev and -a.
    [Here, the “u” is the Bulgarian vowel “er golem” pronounced “uh” but with the same form as the hard sign in Russian. The word “krustoput” mean “crossroad”, but there, the root is the “put” and the “krusto” is an adjectival prefix. [Both “u” are the “er golem” here.]
    As for marking stresses, I have two dictionaries — “Bulgarski Tulkoven Rechnik (1955)” and Stefanov “Pulen’ Bulgaro-Anglijski Rèchnik’ (1914) — and both have the stresses fullly marked. [The 1914 dictionary is composed in the pre-1945 script. There the “er golem” has two uses. The vocalic form is “u” in the transliteration while the final silent gender marker is represented by the apostrophe. The form “è” represents the letter named “e dvoino”, which was pronounced “eh” in the west and “ya” in the east. And while I think of it, “golem” means large, so the name for the equivalent of the Russian soft sign was “er maluk”, meaning “little er”.]
    I hope that is all somewhat useful information.

  4. Yeah, I should have been clearer — dictionaries mark stress, but encyclopedias (where you have to go for proper names) tend not to — or at least they didn’t a couple of decades ago, when I was dabbling in Bulgarian.

  5. John Emerson says:

    Here’s the Wiki on “Mandelbrot”.
    The pronunciation of the name “Mandelbrot”, which is a Yiddish and German word meaning “almond bread”, is given variously in dictionaries. The Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary and the Longman Pronouncing Dictionary give [ˈmæn.dəlˌbɹoʊt] (first syllable sounds like “man”; last syllable rhymes with “boat”); the Bollard Pronouncing Dictionary of Proper Names gives the quasi-French pronunciation [ˈmæn.dəlˌbɹɔː] (last syllable rhymes with “draw”); the American Heritage Dictionary gives [ˈmɑːn.dəlˌbɹɑt] (first syllable has the vowel sound of the ‘a’ in “father”; last syllable rhymes with “pot”).
    Mandelbrot himself, as most Frenchmen do, pronounces his name as [mɑ̃dɛlbʀot] (roughly maw-dell-brote) when speaking in French.
    You could make a Yiddish / German / French / English chart for the guy. Just another example of the hellish results of immigration.

  6. marie-lucie says:

    Since Julia Kr-steva settled in France, she had to say her name to French people, who wrote it as they heard it – with a sound not quite the French i but closer to it than to the ü sound (as in German) that the spelling Krusteva would have called for. Looking at the lady saying her name, her lips would not have been stuck forward and pursed as if she were saying ü, so that would have been another clue to her auditors to interpret the sound as equivalent to the French i.

  7. marie-lucie says:

    her auditors
    I mean her hearers.

  8. Suzanne Brant says:

    My last name is Keohane and it is not pronounced the way as mollymooly states. I have many relatives in Cork, Ireland & my great uncle Patrick Keohane has a memorial statue built for him as he was on Scotts Expedition to the South Pole and recovered Scotts body & a few others after they froze to death. In English, the name has been changed to Ko-hane. In Ireland, it’s still pronounced as it should be, Cohan.

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