Funny pronunciation video

I linked to this a while ago, but my mom sent it to me recently again, and since one of my new capabilities since I upgraded is embedding video, I wanted to try it out. The recent birth announcement for Molly Róisín made me think of it — the pronunciation of Róisín is discussed/demonstrated (hilariously!), as well as a bunch of my other (admittedly difficult) faves (from YouTube).

CatholicMom.com column for June

catholicmom-06.17.15
Louisville Pronunciation Guide by Alex Leung (2004) via Flickr, CC.

My June column is up over at CatholicMom.com today: Let’s Talk About Pronunciation. I’d previously blogged about it here, but I expanded it a bit and incorporated into this article some of your feedback from my original post. I love how much I’ve learned from you all! ❤

It would be great if you could pop over and check out the article, and leave any thoughts/comments you might have!

A couple Irishy things

I watched this video the other day and just died: Americans Try to Pronounce Traditional Irish Names. So true, so funny.

And I meant to post this on St. Paddy’s Day and forgot: Selected entries from “Some Common Words Derived From Christian Names” (in Withycombe):

Biddy: nickname for an Irish-woman, from the prevalence of the name Brigid in Ireland; hence old biddy, an old woman. Also used for calling chickens.

mick(e)y: temper, possibly, like Paddy, from the supposed short temper of the Irish, with whom this is a common name.

Paddy: nickname for Irishman (cf. Biddy).

paddy(whack): a rage, fit of temper. (From the supposed irascibility of the Irish.)

Spotlight: Xavier

I started this post back in September, but was a bit overwhelmed by the depths of my emotion while writing it that I kept putting off finishing it, and putting it off and putting it off …

But I’m feeling energetic today, and I’ve got the Journey channel playing on Pandora, and I’m giving my older five haircuts, which is always a task that I sort of dread (even though I’m always happy at the outcome, and oh my are they looking shaggy right now), so I’m happy to have an interesting something to do in between shearings (they go right in the tub after, so I have a few minutes between each while I’m just letting them soak. So this post is an all-morning endeavor).

So: Xavier. Awesome awesome name. There is no cooler first initial than X, first of all, and St. Francis Xavier is just an amazing patron saint (side note: do you know the CCC saint movies? My boys love the Francis Xavier one — there’s fighting and swords and samurais and it just cannot get any better for a boy). It’s a bit trendy right now, but who cares when it’s got such deep Catholicky Catholic roots?! Also: trendy saint name=evangelization! Woo!

Xavier’s got great nicknames too — X, Xave, Xavey. There’s a little Xavier in my life who started out going mostly by Xavey but has recently declared that he prefers Xave. (He’s five.)

I know you’re wondering, so what’s the big deal? What’s with the “depths of emotion” that I mentioned in the beginning? Why on earth did I put off finishing this post for six long months?

One word: PRONUNCIATION.

Ohmyword, the conversations about the “proper” or “correct” or “only right” pronunciation of Xavier hit my very last name nerve.

This is the deal, this is *the only* thing anyone needs to know about the proper pronunciation of Xavier: There are more than one. Period the end.

Please don’t anyone feel offended if you believe there is only one right way to say it — I’m very sorry if I’m coming across too strong. I used to feel as you did, before I read (and read and read and read) America’s opinions about the pronunciation of Xavier.

For you linguist-types (which I’d like to include myself in, but I think a real linguist would laugh at me) I can give what I think is a pretty decent academic argument in favor of my position that both the ex-ZAY-vyer and ZAY-vyer pronunciations are valid.

Okay, to start: Yes, in American English, the basic rule is:

1. If the /X/ is between a vowel and consonant sound then it is usually pronounced as /KS/

2. If the /X/ is between two vowel sounds then it is usually pronounced as /GZ/

Of course, there is always an exception to every pronunciation rule in English.  If the letter X is at the beginning of a word, then it is sometimes pronounced Z.

Do note that “usually” and “sometimes” are used throughout that quote, and not once does it say “always” or “never”; this tells more about the exceptions to the “rule.”

Then there’s this:

Xylophone is from the Greek xylon, which is … pronounced with an initial [ks]. Many words borrowed from Greek via French developed a [gz] pronunciation along the way, which was reduced to [z] word-initially when adopted into English.”

and

“English, like some other languages, systematically reduces certain consonant clusters; but it has a conservative spelling system (which incidentally often reminds us where a word comes from).

The clusters we reduce are mostly in borrowings from other languages: particularly initial clusters /ks/ (‘x’), /pt/, /pn/ which are generally from Greek, but also for example /hr/ (and in fact /h/ anywhere but initial) as in “Tahrir square”.

This reduction happens in some native words as well: initial /kn/ as in ‘knave’ is pronounced /n/ in modern English, though the related word ‘Knabe’ in German still has the /k/ pronounced; and words like ‘night’, old English ‘niht’ (with the /h/ pronounced), cf German ‘Nacht’.”

Which I quite like, both because I’ve always wondered how it was that Xavier-pronounced-ex escaped the basic American English rule that x- words are pronounced with a z, and because it points out the “ks” idea, which I think is the key.

Here’s my hypothesis: What people variously call the ex-ZAY-vyer or eggs-AY-vyer or ig-ZAY-vyer pronunciation is really the evolution of an original ks-AY-vyer pronunciation. It’s pointed out in the Greek example above, and I was reading the other day a book called Polish First Names by Sophie Hodorowicz Knab and Ksawery is the Polish version of Xavier. There’s that Ks-!

But so many seem SO RELUCTANT to admit that both pronunciations are valid! And it doesn’t seem academic — it seems personal, empirical, subjective. Despite the fact that any name source that provides pronunciations always provides both (behindthename, babynamewizard, and nameberry are three examples [although Nameberry’s entry also includes this annoying and incorrect tidbit: “Note that though that the initial ‘x’ does have a distinct appeal, the correct pronunciation has it beginning with a ‘z’ sound”), people still insist that only one or the other is the *only* correct one (usually the ZAY-vyer pronunciation), usually based on their own experiences.

In my experience, ex-ZAY-vyer was the only pronunciation I knew, and I therefore thought it was the only one and certainly the correct one. As I learned more, I suspected it might be that the ex-ZAY-vyer pronunciation was more common in Catholic circles; even the Baby Name Wizard book had in its first edition that ex-ZAY-vyer was the “Catholic and X-men” pronunciation.

But then as I learned more, I discovered that that wasn’t watertight either — and even the BNW book, in its most recent edition, changed it to ex-ZAY-vyer being only the X-men pronunciation.

This discussion thread and this one too on the BNW forums suggested variations in pronunciation might be regional (and some also pointed to the idea of ex- being a Catholic pronunciation), but there were some commenters whose location and Catholicism seemed to dispute that. In fact, some of them pointed to the (Catholic) Xavier Universities as the benchmark for how to say the name … with a z:

the press in towns around the American Xavier Universities (one in Ohio, one in Louisiana) enjoy making fun of non-locals who do the “egg” pronunciation, even writing that when they quote the people, like during NCAA basketball tournaments, a time when these Catholic schools are more likely to be in the national spotlight”

and

“I spent 25 years in New Orleans, and I dare say the universities know how to pronounce their names

But then this, in the same thread, seemed much more balanced:

I’ve heard the Xavier University argument before, but I don’t find it convincing as far as what the English pronunciation of Xavier is *supposed* to be — all it says to me is the two universities chose ZAY-vyer as their pronunciation so yes, anyone who calls them ex-ZAY-vyer University would be incorrect, because that’s not their chosen pronunciation. I know other Catholic entities named after the saint that pronounce it ex-ZAY-vyer.”

I recently heard someone refer to the ex- pronunciation as an Americization (?) (by which she meant “incorrect”) of the proper pronunciation. A commenter on one of the threads linked to above said this:

This issue is SOLELY an anglophone problem for this Basque-origin name. Other languages, such as French and Spanish, have clear, single ways of pronouncing the name. And none of them try and and say “X,” whether that means “eks,” “eeks,” or “equis.” It’s solely from the British English and their anglicization of a foreign name, not part of the name’s origins. As I always tell people, you don’t pronounce “eks” to start xylophone, Xerxes, Xena, Xanadu, or Xanax, either.”

which sounds very fancy and educated, but she’s incorrect in that (1) I’ve already shown that both Greek and Polish say “ks” when beginning at least some x- words/names, which is what I argue the ex- pronunciation is really doing, and (2) while the examples she offers of various x- words and X- names are ones that are only said with a z sound, she didn’t include yet another exception to the “rule,” which bolsters my argument: Xenia.

Are any of you familiar with the name Xenia? It’s Greek, and also used in Poland and Russia, and while the ZEE-nyah pronunciation is used, it seems the ks-AYN-yah pronunciation is more prevalent. It’s even spelled Ksenia sometimes. (Also, how fun to know that several Sts. Xenia are revered in the Orthodox Church!) The BNW book includes it as an entry, so it must be used *enough* in the U.S., and yet there was no discussion of the “proper” pronunciation beginning with z, or that the ks pronunciation is wrong.

So what does this all boil down to? Both pronunciations are fine and acceptable. ex-ZAY-vyer is not incorrect, though I might be more inclined to call it the k-SAY-vyer pronunciation. I will absolutely support your right to pronounce your child’s name any way you wish (since, when it comes to proper names, no one has the market on the “correct” pronunciation, so say the Sisters that taught my mom) — but I will also argue tooth-and-nail with you if you try to tell me that the ex/ks pronunciation is wrong.

There. Glad to have that sorted.

I did try to come up with a list of names that are pronounced in such a way that don’t follow American English pronunciation “rules” and thought of Thomas (the Th pronounced T) and Camille (the i pronounced ee) and Padraig (no one bats an eye at saying PAW-drig instead of PAD-rig) and Siobhan (not easy for a lot of people to remember how to say, but I don’t hear anyone saying shi-VAUN is wrong) and Nathalie (the French spelling but as far as I know no one fusses and insists on saying the th as th rather than T like Thomas), also Rene(e) and Desiree …

One last thought: I saw someone online say once that the disagreement over the pronunciation of Xavier was enough to make her not want to even consider using it for her son. PLEASE do not let that be your takeaway from this post. It’s an AMAZING name with an amazing patron  saint. All that’s required when people wonder about the pronunciation or say your version is wrong is to state simply which pronunciation you use and that both are considered acceptable, just as you would if you named your daughter Lucia or Lara or Corinne. If they tell you you’re wrong, send them this link.

What do you think of all this? Have I lost any readers over my strong opinion that both pronunciations of Xavier are valid? Can you think of other proper names, used here in America, whose pronunciations don’t follow the “rules” and yet they’re accepted as fine?

Baby name consultant: Baby #4, if a boy

Angela and John have three born children already, with these amazing names:

Lucia Marina (Italian pronunciation of Lucia)

Kolbe Oliver

Blaise Campion

Baby #4 is due February 4th!! That’s in two days!! And they’re struggling to come up with a boy’s name. Angela writes, “Now we’re expecting #4 on Feb 4 and I’m starting to stress that we don’t have a boys name … given our history, I’m guessing chances are it’s a boy.  I love the name Benedict, but my husband had an ill-behaved dog with that name.  We are both warming to Clement, but it hasn’t really jumped out at me.  I have been reading a bit about Bl Pier Giorgio, but I think Pier Giorgio is a little heavy for a non-Italian family (our last name is very German sounding and we’re very anglo-looking).  We do like Raphael, and he was in our OT reading at our wedding, but I had a student with that name, so a bit of a mixed association.  My husband likes Chrysostom for a middle name, and I think the name has great meaning, but with a middle name like that I’d like to have something more accessible for the first.  I liked your suggestion for Bede as a nickname for Benedict, and I’ll try that one out with my husband.  But he really can’t seem to get on the Benedict band wagon.”

I had loads of fun thinking of names for this little baby on the way, if a boy. I love Angela and John’s bold over-the-top (in the best way!) Catholic naming style. I mean, it’s *Catholic*. Woo! I think I came up with some good ideas (I usually shoot for three) for a little brother to Lucia Marina, Kolbe Oliver, and Blaise Campion:

(1) Xavier

Instead of a specific name, I almost made my #1 choice “super Catholic, short-ish, last-namey.” Lucia, Kolbe, and Blaise are all of similar length, which is visually pleasing; they’re super heavy-hitting no-doubt-about-it Catholic; and Kolbe and Campion are both last names. I love all those attributes, so I tried to think of others that I thought felt similarly and came up with: Jude, Damien, Fulton, Claver, Bede, and Xavier. Angela said she liked my idea of Bede as a nickname for Benedict, so I wondered if she’d like Bede on its own. Jude is great, Fulton is great, Damien is great. Claver is more unexpected, and maybe too much hard-C/K with Kolbe? I think my runner-up for #1 would be Jude. I like Jude Chrysostom very much.

But Xavier really rose to the top for me as it perfectly fits all the above criteria (super Catholic, short-ish, last-namey). I particularly like that, though it was originally a last name, it’s become well used as a first name, so it kind of bridges the very-last-name feel of Kolbe (though Kolbe is on the rise as a first name, I hear it from time to time) and the first-name-ness of Lucia and Blaise. One downside is that it has two acceptable pronunciations in English (ex-ZAY-vyer and ZAY-vyer), a fact that tends to be polarizing enough that some parents can’t handle it if someone calls their son by the wrong pronunciation. I myself think it’s easy enough to just correct people, probably as they already have to do with Lucia. I like Xavier Chrysostom, and the nicknames Xave and Xavey are super cute on a little guy, never mind the coolest initial ever: X.

(2) Gabriel

The presence of Raphael on their list right away made me think of Gabriel, and then when Angela said she’d like to have a more accessible first name to balance out Chrysostom, I was totally sold. Gabriel has that heavy-hitting-Catholic feel of the other kids, and totally fits in well with them in my opinion, while being pretty popular at the moment on the name charts, so it’s more familiar to people than Kolbe and Blaise. Gabriel Chrysostom is such an awesome name imo, I really like it for this new baby. A runner-up for #2 for me would be John — just John. As in, John Chrysostom. As in, John the dad. With Lucia, Kolbe, and Blaise, it’s unexpected, but John is always a great name, especially when paired with an unusual middle.

(3) George

Pier Giorgio was my inspiration for George — I agree that Pier Giorgio would be too much for a non-Italian family, but Peter George is the same name and would totally fit with the family’s ethnic background. Lucia, Kolbe, Blaise, and Peter sound great together! And Peter George would be my runner up here. But then I was thinking about Pope Francis’ pre-papal name being Jorge, which is George in Spanish, and thought maybe George would be cooler in the first name spot — the Pope and Pier Giorgio remembered in one name! Then I was thinking even more about the Pope Francis connection, and how his full pre-papal name was Jorge Mario, and how Mario isn’t technically a male form of Mary, but I know some people use it that way, and I thought that George Mary would be an amazing name for a little boy with the kind of parents who could/would use Mary for a boy’s middle name. I could definitely see Angela and John pulling it off! Lucia Marina, Kolbe Oliver, Blaise Campion, and George Mary. Faaaabulous. 🙂

So those were my ideas — how about the rest of you? We don’t have long to help Angela and John name this little baby — please comment away!

UPDATED TO ADD: After I had typed all this up, I had two more names come to mind that might work: Bosco (or the full John Bosco) (I was inspired by my last name spotlight!), and Chrysostom itself. I have a friend who has a friend whose name is Chrysostom and he goes by Chrys.

Baby name consultant: Baby #4, a girl

Mama Jessie, who’s due in less than three weeks!, wrote asking for help with naming her little girl. She and her husband already have Noah, Owen, and Eleanor (nicknamed Ella), and in considering names for the new little one, she wrote, “We both would like a saint name somewhere in there but aren’t particular about whether it is first or second … My one firm rule is that if the first name is over 2 syllables, I have to have a way to nickname it down to 2 or less … Names we both love that we have considered are Gianna, and Philomena. We are struggling with both though bc we don’t have a nickname for either that we like (Gia, Anna, Lola, Fila, Minnie and mena are all no gos) Plus we aren’t even sure Philomena is a saint since apparently there was some change in the 1960s and we have been told yes and no by different sources. My husband loves Terese. I can’t nickname it and worry about mispronunciation. My absolute favs are Lucy and Magdalena, both which my husband likes but he would want Lucy to be a nickname and has ruled out Luciana and Lucia , or he needs a nickname for Magdalena that is not Maggie or Lena. We both really like Grace for a middle name but aren’t set on it. I’d love something that matches the feel of both Eleanor/Ella like my first little girl but by the time I weigh everything else, I can hardly think about that too.”

First off, I too love nicknames — having one is pretty much a rule for me — so I enjoyed trying to think of some for Gianna and Philomena. For Gianna, besides the Gia and Anna that Jessie said they couldn’t use, I thought of Gina and Nina (which I particularly like), and I also know a little Gianna who goes by Gigi. For Philomena, I loved all the nicknames they’d already considered and discarded — nice job Mom and Dad! — and I contributed Pia, Pippa, Pina, Fina, Finn or Finna, and Pim to the list. Regarding Philomena as a saint, I’d never heard anything about her not being one until Jessie’s email! I looked it up — she’s in all my saints’ names books, but this article says differently (and quite convincingly): Why is Philomena No Longer Considered a Saint? Its use is certainly a mark of a super-Catholic family, and even the article I linked to above said, “In fact, this may actually not be the name of the person in the tomb at all, for the Greco-Latin roots of the word simply mean ‘lover of the light,’ and thus the tomb-inscription may have been intended as a description of the deceased person rather than her personal name.” So if one wanted to use it in that way — because of its meaning, and that meaning’s connection to God and His Truth — that would be quite valid, in my opinion, and quite faith-filled. It would definitely make an interesting story for a little girl named Philomena!

But I try to give three suggestions when considering a name dilemma, and I decided not to include Gianna or Philomena in my final three. Rather, my first is:

(1) Louisa

Louisa is inspired by Jessie’s love of Lucy and her husband’s desire for Lucy to be a nickname for a more formal name. He doesn’t like Lucia or Luciana, so I’ll throw out there that Lucinda and Lucille are also common Luc- names. But I’ve long thought Lucy would be a natural nickname for Louisa, and I love Louisa. It totally has the same feel to me as Eleanor — in fact, Eleanor is included in the list of similar girl names to Louisa in the Baby Name Wizard book (which I consider to be basically the most expert of all name books), which is just like striking gold to me, because Jessie had said, “I’d love something that matches the feel of both Eleanor/Ella like my first little girl but by the time I weigh everything else, I can hardly think about that too.” And with either St. Louis de Montfort of Bl. Louisa Therese (!) de Montaignac de Chauvance (who I knew nothing about until I looked up Louisa in one of my books! She was beatified by JP2, which is very cool) as a patron saint, Louisa nn Lucy, to me, satisfies everything Jessie seemed to want in a name. I love Louisa Grace, as they like Grace as a middle name, or Louisa Therese like Bl. Louisa.

Despite a name’s seeming perfection on paper, though, sometimes it just doesn’t do the trick. So my second suggestion is:

(2) Magdalena

Jessie described Magdalena as her other favorite along with Lucy, but said her hubby doesn’t care for Maggie or Lena. Well. If all that’s standing in the way of them using this gorgeous name is the right nickname, I think I got them covered. What about: Magda, Meg, Molly or Dolly, Madge, Mandy, Mae/May, or Maddy? Magdalena Grace is so pretty, and as a special bonus, Molly is listed as a name with similar feel as Noah in the Baby Name Wizard book! I really think Magdalena nn Molly could work, I love how Molly bridges the style between Magdalena and Noah, Molly totally feels like it could fit with Eleanor/Ella to me, and it’s Irish like Owen! Woo!

(3) Terese

My final suggestion is Terese. I do love this name. I’d never seen it spelled that way before (I was only familiar with Therese), but I looked it up and apparently it’s the Basque and Scandinavian form of Teresa, according to my trusty behindthename.com source — I like it! The two pronunciations I’m familiar with, and I believe they’re both valid, are teh-REHZ and teh-REESE. One of my very favorite nicknames in the whole world is Tess, which is a traditional nn for the Theresa names; I’ve also seen Reese used as a nn when the teh-REESE pronunciation is used. (As an aside, I once heard of twin sisters Aurora and Therese that were nicknamed Rory and Reese. So cute!) I don’t mind Reese — it’s fun and spunky — but I adore Tess (it’s quite high on our own girl list). If neither Tess or Reese suits though, Tea, Tracy, Tessa, and Tressa are all nickname for the Theresa names (Tea and Tessa/Tressa probably more so for Theresa itself rather than T(h)erese, but I personally see no reason you couldn’t use them if you wanted to for Terese). My personal preference would be for a different middle than Grace with Terese, just for flow — I quite like Terese Magdalena.

So that’s what I got! What do you all think? Do you have any other idea or suggestions for Jessie and her husband?

Let’s talk about pronunciation

I love a “correctly” spelled and pronounced name as much as the next name nerd. But in my years (and years) of reading reading reading name blogs and name books and name discussion forums, and inserting myself (invited or not) into any name discussions I hear going on around me, I’ve come to realize that I have not always been correct. Or rather, that certain “errors” I sometimes see/hear people make in regards to names are not actually as incorrect as I have believed.

One big example is Kateri.

I am familiar with the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs (for the North American Martyrs, including St. Isaac Jogues) in upstate New York, which is at the birthplace of our brand new St. Kateri Tekakwitha. For the life of me, I can’t remember ever hearing anyone who works there actually say the name Kateri, but I’m sure they must have in my presence a thousand times, and since I grew up knowing Kateri is pronounced kah-TEER-ee, I assume that’s how they say it. (Otherwise I’d have some memory of being jarred when hearing a different pronunciation said at the shrine, right?)

Therefore, I always knew that Kateri was pronounced kah-TEER-ee.

Then I made a friend who has a sister named Kateri, and they say kah-TARE-ee.

Then a friend named her daughter Kateri, pronouncing it KAH-ter-ee (nickname Kat, so cute!).

Behindthename.com’s entry for Kateri didn’t even venture a pronunciation, and among the people who commented the following pronunciations emerged as ones they’d heard used or assumed were correct: KAY-teree, kah-tuh-REE, kah-TAR-ie (all I think of with this is the John Wayne movie Hatari and the Atari video game system), and GAH-dah-lee, which is said to be the “authentic Native American pronunciation.”

Given all this, would you be able to say there is one “correct” pronunciation? Which one would it be, and why?

What about Gianna? St. Gianna Beretta Molla is so beloved (for good reason!) that she has a million little namesakes — first names, middle names, Confirmation names, religious names. It seems the Italian/original pronunciation is JAHN-nah, but I’m sure you’ve all heard and/or used the pronunciation jee-AH-na. Does that make the latter wrong? Not in my opinion, and I’ve got good company: My mom was taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph at the convent school she attended from Kindergarten until twelfth grade, and she remembers the Sisters — who were sticklers for every kind of rule — specifically teaching them that when it comes to proper names, no one has the market on the “correct” pronunciation.

Yes, Sister.

How do you say Kateri and Gianna? What other names can you think of that have different pronunciations? (Coming very soon, a spotlight on the grandaddy name of split pronunciation opinions: Xavier.)