The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), a part of the Library of Congress, has a page called Say How? A Pronunciation Guide to Names of Public Figures that is based on an excellent idea:
Say How? was born at the Library of Congress Talking Books for the Blind Recording Studio, where pronunciation of words and names borders on obsession. We found that one area was conspicuously missing from all of our many dictionaries and pronunciation guides: names of lesser known and contemporary public figures. Reference works tend to favor the famous and the dead. So at our Studio we began compiling a file of 3 x 5 cards with names of people prominent and obscure, past and present, in the fields of entertainment, politics, sports, literature, science, crime, fashion, medicine, law – anyone, in short, who’s name could possibly turn up in a book…
Our sources are many; personal knowledge, publishers and authors, print references, foreign embassies, archival film, radio airchecks, etc. Endless media monitoring, from the Olympics to talk shows to Court TV, has proved invaluable. And yes, some sources are more trustworthy than others. Attention must be paid. But the major source, whenever available, must be the person him/herself. For instance, the surname Moreno is commonly said as either mor-EEN-o or mor-AIN-o, but Rita Moreno pronounces her name mor-ENN-o. And despite the spelling, Brett Favre says his name is pronounced FARV. So FARV it is, and mor-ENN-o it is, and that’s that.
Common usage, a useful standard with conversational speech, becomes less useful when applied to people’s names. Most people pronounce Chico Marx’s first name as CHEEK-o, but Groucho always said CHICK-o. Most people say DEZZ-ie Arnaz, but Lucille Ball always said DESS-ie. I’ll go with Groucho and Lucy. Do you say EEL-ya Kazan? Many do, but Elia says ee-LEE-ya. And Louis Armstrong has gone on record as preferring to be called Louis, so no matter how many millions call him Louie, it’s Louis here…
In print, a name must be spelled correctly. This is the oral/aural equivalent.
So says Ray Hagen, compiler of the list, and I applaud his ambition and his principles. The problem is that the list has errors, of both spelling and pronunciation, that make it somewhat unreliable. The pronunciation has gotten an intrusive -l- in “Abadia, Jorge (HÔR-há ä-bäl-DÉ-ä); the spelling has faltered in “Abeywardebe, Harsha” (it should be Abeywardena, which is reflected in the pronunciation); I find it hard to believe there is a silent -a in Adeshina (given as ä-DÁ-shin). One of the most glaring offenders is “Sacirbey, Muhamed (SHÄK-
Say How? is meant to be an ongoing project, with errors corrected and new names added regularly. In fact, we eagerly solicit any and all contributions and corrections. Please send all such information to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I will use it with pleasure, relying more on the American entries than the foreign ones, and will send in corrections as they occur to me. (Via Incoming Signals.)