Pamela.

It occurred to me to wonder where the name Pamela came from, so I went to my Dictionary of First Names (by Patrick Hanks and Flavia Hodges), where I found this entry:

Pamela (f.) English: invented by the Elizabethan pastoral poet Sir Philip Sidney (1554–86), in whose verse it is stressed on the second syllable. There is no clue to the sources that influenced Sidney in this coinage. It was later taken up by Samuel Richardson for the name of the heroine of his novel Pamela (1740). In Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews (1742), which started out as a parody of Pamela, Fielding comments that the name is ‘very strange’.

So now, in addition to pronouncing Byron’s hero “Don JOO-ən,” I have to remember to say “Pa-MEE-lə” for Richardson’s. I note that the Wikipedia article on the name says “It is widely thought that Sidney intended the name to mean ‘all sweetness’ having in mind the Greek words pan (‘all’) and meli (‘honey’),” but had that been the case he would surely not have stressed it on the second syllable, because meli has a short e, and they cared about these things in the sixteenth century. The Wikipedia article also says “The name’s popularity may have been hindered by the tendency to pronounce it /pəˈmiːlə/ pə-MEE-lə which was not fully superseded by the now-standard /ˈpæmələ/ PAM-ə-lə until the start of the 20th century,” but their source for the dating is A World of Baby Names, and I’d like to see a more scholarly source.

Comments

  1. Edwin Percy Whipple, writing of Fielding, says that the change was already there for Richardson.

  2. Based on scanning Verses on my going away, I take it.

  3. Well found!

  4. “Pamela” as Spanish for a wide-brimmed ladies’ hat is pronounced as spelt.

    Pamella Bordes was briefly famous in 1989; I remember the unusual pronunciation of her name, but not the matching spelling.

  5. Just curious: How come you linked to the “Articles for deletion” page rather than the actual Wikipedia article?

  6. J. W. Brewer says:

    I was going to say that it was Fielding who wrote the parody “Shamela,” and to my modern ear the wordplay works much better if one assumes the parody name follows the “modern” pronunciation of “Pamela,” although I was (and am) prepared to listen to claims that sha-MEE-la would have sounded amusing enough to an 18th century ear.

  7. Well, per MMcM’s link, it was already PAM-ela for Richardson.

  8. J. W. Brewer says:

    And fwiw my brother (who is an academic specializing in 18th century lit) definitely says “PAM-ela” for the novel in question. But I guess I don’t know whether he would actually use a “correct” period pronunciation if there were scholarly consensus that that had been different versus thinking that was an unnecessary affectation. Or if he would pronounce it differently when talking to me about what’s on the syllabus for the course he’s teaching this semester versus when giving a prepared talk to other insiders at a scholarly conference. But I do agree that the inference-from-presumed-scansion noted above seems pretty good so there’s probably no difference anyway.

  9. Because “Pamela” comes at the end of the refrain line, it could be stressed either way. I can certainly make it work as “pa-MEE-la.”

  10. Really? How about “Alison”:

    An hendy hap ich habbe yhent,
    Ichoot from hevene it is me sent:
    From alle wommen my love is lent,
    And light on Alisoun.

    Would the last line “And light on Maria” (to take a random amphibrach) work for you?

  11. Yes, sort of? But the rhythm of the first half of the line has to change quite a bit – I don’t know the proper poetic words, but it becomes more 123 123 than 12 12 12.

  12. Ken Miner says:

    “So now, in addition to pronouncing Byron’s hero “Don JOO-ən,” I have to remember to say “Pa-MEE-lə” for Richardson’s.”

    Good luck, my galericulate friend. Today, if you are too right, everyone will take you for wrong.

  13. George Gibbard says:

    Ali-SOUN rhymes with “And feye fallen adoun”. It is apparently derived from French: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alison_(given_name)
    cf. Chaucer’s [ˌnaːsiˈuːn] > nation.

  14. George Gibbard says:

    That is, it makes most sense to assume that the Old English initial stress rule was not applied to French borrowings in middle English, instead they initially kept their French stress which was sometimes later shifted back: so Chaucer congregaciˈoun > congreˈgation. And Middle English poetry scans better when read as if stress in French words was as in the French. For the later stress shift, cf. Polish uniˈwersytet from German Universiˈtät (stress shift of two syllables — whereas native Polish words stress the penult) and Yiddish zikhˈroynes ‘memoirs’ from Hebrew zɪxroː ˈno:θ (stress shift of one syllable, whereas native Yiddish (German) words stress the initial syllable unless a prefix is involved).

  15. zikhroynes

    I wonder if the stress here is due to folk etymology: zikh- was perceived as zikh ‘self’, memoirs being writings about oneself.

  16. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says:

    @George Gibbard
    “For the later stress shift, cf. Polish uniˈwersytet from German Universiˈtät (stress shift of two syllables — whereas native Polish words stress the penult)”

    Those aberrant antepenultimate stresses in loanwords have by now largely died out in the speech of younger people, in my experience (and thank gods). By the way, the prescriptive norm also allows stressing the third-to-last syllable in a handful of native nouns, for example rzeczpospolita.

  17. Ali-SOUN rhymes with “And feye fallen adoun”.

    Yes, my point was that you could stress either the first or the last syllable and have it fit the meter, but certainly not the second, and for me the same holds for the Richardson; I was very surprised at Ben’s “I can certainly make it work as “pa-MEE-la.”

  18. George Gibbard says:

    I see, sorry to be obtuse.

  19. No, I just didn’t make my point very clearly. (Not the first time I’ve been guilty of that.)

  20. Yeah, I might have to take back my suggestion that it scans effectively with pa-MEE-la. This was based on a jig-like underlying meter for the refrain of ∪ —∪ —∪∪ —∪. This scanning was based on a misscanning of “blessed” as one long syllable, which would seem likelier without an accent indication. With “blessed” misread as monosyllabic, the line becomes ∪ —∪ —∪ —∪ (with penult Pamela); there’s no way that line would work with PA-me-la (*∪ —∪ — —∪∪). But every other refrain has an unstressed syllable before Pamela, which makes me certain that blessed must be two syllables, lack of accent mark notwithstanding. And given the iambic bent of the poem, this consistent short syllable before Pamela strongly suggests initial stress on Pamela.

    As for zikhroynes, I think a connection to zikh wouldn’t occur to Yiddish speakers; they’d be too aware of other cognate words with no reflexive sense, like zikorn “memory,” the plural of which is zikhroynes; or zikhroyne levrokhe “his memory for a blessing,” said on mention of a deceased venerated person. Also, zikh for most Yiddish speakers would be pronounced zakh in Northern Yiddish or zekh in Southern Yiddish. Still, an interesting suggestion.

  21. On Polish uni’wersytet, rzeczpos’polita – I remember being taught that this is in imitation of Latin uni’versitas, res ‘publica.

  22. Well, what this shows is that people who speak a language with fixed stress aren’t compelled to use it in each and every word (which makes sense anyhow; they are able to learn languages with movable stress as individuals, after all).

  23. “How come you linked to the “Articles for deletion” page rather than the actual Wikipedia article?”

    The deletion discussion explains why the most important information has been excluded from the actual article. Google would also work, except for the EU’s right to be forgotten directive. DuckDuckGo FTW.

  24. Ah, gotcha.

  25. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says:

    “Well, what this shows is that people who speak a language with fixed stress aren’t compelled to use it in each and every word (which makes sense anyhow; they are able to learn languages with movable stress as individuals, after all).”

    Surprisingly they aren’t but anyway forces do operate towards stress regularization, at least in Polish. Such deviant stresses feel like a wrench thrown into the machinery when you have to decline such nouns (so by the respectable prescriptive rules there’d be a N. uni”wersytet but Genitive uniwersy”tetu [regular stress], N. elektryk ‘electrician’ [regular stress] but Genitive e”lektryka yet Instrumental plural elektry”kami [regular again]). Stress is also getting regularized in certain native verbal and numeral forms which have got a non-penultimate stress due to their historical compound nature.

    “On Polish uni’wersytet, rzeczpos’polita – I remember being taught that this is in imitation of Latin uni’versitas, res ‘publica.”

    It’s harder to explain two other native nouns this way (neither a Latin calque, by the way) which according to the aforementioned venerable rules can supposedly be stressed on the third-to-last syllabe (szczegóły and okolica). Not that I have heard anyone pronounce them like that (or if I ever did, it was some pretentious journalist). Conversely, the expression~word w ogóle is pronounced “w ogóle by many (or even “wogle, haha).

  26. Is okolica borrowed from Russian (where it has antepenult stress)?

  27. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says:

    I don’t think it is, the etymological dictionaries treat it as a cognate plus it’s attested from early on in Polish (before any major influx of East Slavic borrowings). Nevertheless now I think the particular pronunciation could indeed be influenced by Old Ruthenian or Russian. The dialects of Kresy are known to have exerted a strong influence on the formation of Standard Polish (phonetically quite different from a typical dialect within the current borders). After all Poles also say w piz”du… On the other hand, I’d find it very unusual if the local linguistic milieus propagated a form suspected of being influenced by Russian.

  28. I agree, but I thought it was so odd a stress for a native form that Russian might be a possible explanation.

  29. David Marjanović says:

    Aren’t dziękuję and dziękujemy (“[I/we] thank [you]”) usually stressed on the first syllable?

    Well, what this shows is that people who speak a language with fixed stress aren’t compelled to use it in each and every word (which makes sense anyhow; they are able to learn languages with movable stress as individuals, after all).

    Well, some are. Most native speakers of French have serious trouble stressing anything but the last syllable in English.

  30. Aren’t dziękuję and dziękujemy (“[I/we] thank [you]“) usually stressed on the first syllable?

    Are they?? You’re blowing my mind!

  31. David Marjanović says:

    I’ll be in Poland again soon…

    In any case, colloquially, they’re often shortened to dzięki or even dzięk.

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