I’m often curious about how people pronounce their names.
There is a scene from the 1939 version of Goodbye, Mr. Chips in which Robert Donat accedes to the growing trend to pronounce Latin according to scientific rather than poetic principles – Kikero, with a hard ‘c’ rather than a soft one.
The controversy over the conventional pronunciation of Latin is captured in this 1916 article from the New York Times in which a defender of the Italianized pronunciation frames it in terms of Germanic (for it was German philologists who researched and then championed the original pronunciation of Latin) scholarship versus (wer-sus) the pronunciation of the Roman Curia.
“The Germans, representative of the real and uneffete Romans, have a passion for uniformity and discipline. Why should two sounds of c be uttered in concillium? The Latin consonants must march goosestep. What has made France, England, Italy, decadent and degenerate? Soften the sound of your c’s and g’s, and you soften the character of the people so abasing them.”
Sometimes, of course, people really don’t care how their names are pronounced. In exceptional instances, however, there is always a chance that one risks giving offense – Fran-ken-STEEN, as Gene Wilder insisted, not Fran-ken-STAHYN.
As an opportunity to have dinner with Tim Heuer of the Microsoft Silverlight Team approached this week, the correct pronunciation of his name became a small source of anxiety.
When a colleague asked me about it, I suggested that it was pronounced like howitzer without the itz.
Immediately afterwards, I became concerned that it actually was pronounced in the German fashion, HOY-er.
It turned out that both are incorrect. After consulting with a Microsoft Evangelist, Glen GOHR-dun, I discovered that Tim’s name is pronounced HYEW-er.
Shawn Wildermuth called me out over the weekend for pronouncing Rocky Lhotka’s name with a long O rather than a short one. Again the anxiety of pronunciation struck. Rocky’s last name is actually pronounced LAHT-ka, like the character from Taxi.
Shawn’s last name, in turn, is pronounced with a short rather than a long U – as in MOTHER and not like VERMOUTH. His first name is not Irish, but instead is derived from the Shawnee Indian nation – such strange things we discuss in the backrooms of conferences.
Since some Wintellect consultants were also with me lounging in the speaker’s room during the Silverlight Firestarter, I inquired into the pronunciation of Jeff Prosise’s name. The I in his last name turns out to be long, while the stress is on the penultimate syllable: PROH-sahys, like precise but more emphatic.