This is the kind of picky detail most people don’t even notice, but that drives editors (and those with editorial brains) crazy. I just noticed that the LibraryThing page for Hilary Ballon’s The Paris of Henri IV: Architecture and Urbanism gave the king’s name as “Henry IV.” (It doesn’t now, because I changed the entry for my copy, and I’m the only one at LT who owns the book.) That’s odd, I thought, why would the book spell a French king’s name à l’anglaise? I walked the three feet or so to the history shelf and found the book: sure enough, it said Henri—not only on the cover, but throughout. But Amazon.com has it as Henry (which is why LT had it that way, I presumed). Bad Amazon.com! But wait: it seems the publisher’s page for the book also has Henry! What’s going on here? How on earth has such a blatant error stuck around since 1991 (when the first edition came out)?
Update. A self-described “loyal MIT alum” wrote me to say he’d notified MIT Press of the problem and they’ve now corrected the website (as of Feb. 27). We’ll see if Amazon.com follows suit.


  1. This problem is endemic with Karl, Charles, Carolus, Karol and the rest. I take a live and let live attitude.

  2. And with John, Jean, Johann, Johannes, Jehan, etc. I’ve also seen Francois as Francis. But then, I’ve never seen Louis as Lewis, Louie, Ludwig, Lodowick, Ludovicus, etc.

  3. Wikipedia articles for European monarchs tend to exhibit the same phenomenon. I don’t like it, but it seems to be the result of a conscious decision. For example, “William II of Germany”, whom all Anglophones know as “Wilhelm II”. The same is the case in other Wikipedias. For example, Wikipedia.de calls Henry VIII “Heinrich”.

  4. But you guys are talking about name equivalents in general. Sure, I’ve seen Karls get called Charles in English, and Jeans Johns. But a publisher getting the title of its own book wrong?

  5. No, but when I search books I will often guess wrong. Karl XII / Charles XII?
    I have to admit I’ve callously written this one off. I worry plenty of stuff as it is. This is wrong, but so was the Albigensian Crusade, and there’s nothing that can be done.
    I’m a hard man.

  6. This suggests to me that there was a last-minute title change at the publisher that didn’t get fully propagated through the system.

  7. But it’s not just the title. Every reference to Henri IV (or any other Henri) in the book) is spelled that way. I suppose the MIT flacks could have mistakenly announced the book with the wrong spelling back in 1990/91, but in over fifteen years, they haven’t noticed and corrected their website??

  8. (By “that way” I mean Henri.)

  9. Maybe they have different versions of the book for different countries? Or at least different branches of the publishing house.
    I agree that it’s bizarre that the publisher would get it wrong. And I agree (if this is what you’re saying) that it’s not just a matter of being wrong, but being weirdly incompetent.
    The Amazon page is pretty funny, because the image of the book is right there to contradict the given title on the page.

  10. In this case, the author chose “Henri IV” and the publisher printed it that way, so Amazon, LT and MIT Press are obviously wrong.
    But if were the editor I would have questioned the use of “Henri” rather than “Henry”. As noted above, some monarchs like Kaiser Wilhelm don’t generally get translated names in English references (it would have to become “Emperor William”), while others do. Most of the French monarchs translate without requiring a spelling change (Charles, Louis, Philip), but Jean generally becomes John and Francois becomes Francis, so Henry makes more sense.

  11. When is the cutoff for translating the names of royalty? Some time in the early 1900s? Certainly I’ve never heard Juan Carlos referred to as John Charles. And don’t the current British royal family retain their English names in other languages? Popes are a different case and are always translated.
    Martin, “Philip” is a spelling change from “Philippe”.

  12. Whoops on Philippe. But that supports my point. A little Googling confirms that in English references, it’s almost never “Philippe”, so why use Henri in this book?
    Maybe there is some date cutoff as KCinDC suggests. I don’t see an example, among currently reigning monarchs (in countries using the Roman alphabet), whose name is routinely translated into its English equivalent.

  13. I understand it’s strange that French kings named Henri are translated into the English Henry. What I don’t understand is why we do that for English kings as well.
    For example, the English King Henry II (as depicted by Richard Harris in ‘Beckett’, Peter O’Toole in ‘The Lion in Winter’) would have thought of himself as Henri not Henry. (1st language French, ruled half of France, born and died in France, French wife). When did historians decide to anglicize his name? The same would have applied to the other ‘English’ kings named Henry as well, of course.

  14. Maybe most people with the name HenrX used an i back in HenrX II’s day.
    Then, in English-speaking places, they switched to using a Y. So they switched his name as well.
    Just a thought. God knows I’m too lazy to research it.

  15. Steve, see the can of worms you opened?
    Let sleeping dogs lie. I hate to abandon you in your hour of need, but this is a bridge too far. Soon we’re going to be talking about Georg III and the American Revolution. That way lies madness.

  16. I was told that the French Kings were pronounced as “Lewis” in England for a couple of hundred years. Was I misled?

  17. KCinDC asked:
    And don’t the current British royal family retain their English names in other languages?
    I can’t speak for all languages but I know from reading the Spanish press that they certainly do translate the English royals’ names. ‘Elizabeth’ is ‘Isabel’, Charles is ‘Carlos’, etc. (So we call the Spanish king ‘Juan Carlos’, not John Charles, but the favour isn’t returned.)

  18. Re: cut-off times: the monarchs of the trilingual Kingdom of Belgium still use two concurrent names, French and Dutch. Therefore Baudouin Ier (1951-1993) is also Boudewijn I. However, Germanophones seem to use the French, if Wikipedia is to be trusted, and I don’t ever remember seeing a reference to King Baldwin in English…
    Here in Quebec we use the English names of our (sigh) British monarchs, but spoken phonetically in French. So we speak of Reine Elizabeth /elizabɛt/ and Prince William /wiliam/, not Guillaume /gijom/. (Pls forgive my attempt at IPA pronounciation, may not have it right but you get the idea.)

  19. ThePedanticPrick says

    My half-a-cent: Maybe it’s better this way. When I travel to a Spanish-speaking country, I don’t tell people my name José or Pepe instead of Joe because they inevitably call me “Yo”, which I must patiently explain is not my name, but rather a interjection used by the underclasses. The reader of Don Juan (see Librivox) pronounces the name of the protagonist as Joo-an.
    I realize this doesn’t change the fact that Amazon.com is being grossly incompetent, but it’s just my thoughts on the matter of translating names.

  20. Thanks, Justin. I had no idea. Here’s the Spanish Wikipedia article on “Isabel II”.

  21. Pyotr the Great?

  22. I think of spelling French monarchs the English way as an American thing, which might explain the Google results. I always assumed that since Americans are taught Spanish instead of French, it made sense for them to write “Henry IV” (“Henry [the?] fourth”) where I would write, read, and say “Henri quatre”. It would never have occurred to me to pronounce “Henri” as “Henry”, but I can imagine Americans might do this quite naturally and reasonably and treat the spellings as direct alternatives. To me, “Louis” and “Lewis” are pronounced quite differently, but I think at least some Americans treat them as the same.
    I also think it’s just the way it was done before spelling was standardised, when people thought of all the equivalents as the same names, but pronounced with a different accent, and saw the spelling as decorative more than distinctive.

  23. The Bard of Avon Calling says

    “The true Tragedie of Richard Duke of Yorke, and the death of good King Henrie the Sixt” Act 3, Scene 3: “Flourish. Enter Lewis the French King”

  24. Forget the names confusion; the real question is: do you lend books with mouth-watering titles like this to your long-distance friends?

  25. Sure!

  26. Started drooling already.

  27. I wonder how the best of the active French footballers (since the gloriously monikered Zinedine Zidane’s retirement) ended up with the name Thierry Henry. It’s pronounced “Henri.” Even by the BBC.
    His family is from Guadeloupe, but the island’s been French since the late 17th century.
    One more thing: Henry’s nickname in England is “King Henry.” Pronounced “King Henri.” Really, the English have outdone themselves on his account.

  28. David Marjanović says

    In German almost all monarchs are translated all the way to about WWI: Ludwig der Vierzehnte, I kid you not. For later ones we keep the original. I’m sure “Henry” is such a deliberate translation.
    Incidentally, translating first names was apparently considered obligatory in all cases in earlier times. I have come across an old book, in German, by “Alexander Dumas”, and I’ve heard my grand-uncle pronounce the poor man that way (keeping the surname French).
    American pronunciation of Louis? Doesn’t the city of Saint Louis keep the s, too?
    I had no idea Isabel(la) was the same as Elizabeth… 😮

  29. In America Lewis is always the same, but Louis can be either “Lewis” or “Louee”. It’s a very odd split, because “Louee” can be a nickname or familiar, and it often comes down as a family name that way, either from recent immigrants or from old French families. And of course, it’s correct French, but nonetheless I believe that Americans who say “Lewis” think they’re being careful and correct and avoiding slang and dialect.
    The American West had a lot of early French settlers (via either Louisiana or Quebec), and my guess is that the name Louis comes down through families with the correct French pronunciation even in families who have lost French. And old French-surnamed families often are salt-of-the-earth hillbilly types.

  30. Haun Saussy says

    Hate to complicate things, but Henri/ Henry IV spelled it with a Y, as was normal in sixteenth-century French; so the inauthentic spelling may be super-authentic. See for example

  31. I love complications, so thanks! But whether it’s authentic or inauthentic, it’s not the spelling used in the book, so the question of why MIT Press gets their own title wrong is still up in the air.

  32. Those that are interested in the name saga, this site will can help on Henri/Henry
    http://www.british-history.ac.uk/search.asp?query1=henri {henry}
    then there is Lewis [Louis] “We read in the Story of Lewis the Ninth of France, …”…
    then Pieter de la Pierre a changes to Peters 1663
    So why the changes or no change, some want to blend, others want to stand like sore thumbs.
    It has much to do does increase thy net worth.
    Later times the Markee and its pull on the dollars, change many an Ivan, Juan, Jean, Evan to a be a John now it be back to Ewan, Ian, even Giovanni or Johanne, as it has better dollar pull.

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