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Jeruba's avatar

Canadians: how do you know how to pronounce your fellow countrymen's names?

Asked by Jeruba (41907 points ) February 26th, 2010

I’ve wondered this a number of times while watching the Olympics: how do you know which names to anglicize and which to treat with the French pronunciation? (I’m sure the announcers are given a guide. I’m asking about you, the ordinary citizen.)

To be sure, the U.S. and most other developed nations are highly multicultural now, and we all face challenges to pronunciation. But it seems to me that an officially bilingual nation is a special case.

Do you have to learn each person’s name preference individually, or is there some other clue?

When you see Joannie Rochette, how do you know to say zho-ahn-NEE and not JO-nee? When you see Scott Moir, how to you know to say MOY-er and not mwah’r?

Do you know people who spell their names alike but say them differently, one with French pronunciation and one with English? How do you avoid irritating people all the time by making wrong guesses about their names?

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11 Answers

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

I am close to being fully bilingual in English and French and I can.

Jude's avatar

My Dad’s family is from the East Coast (French Acadians). I have a French last name. I took French all throughout high school and University. For me, pronunciation comes easy…

Last name – French spelling – (I don’t mind posting it here): Melançon

It has a cédille under the letter “c”. The cédille changes a hard C sound (like K) into a soft C sound (like S), e.g., garçon.

JLeslie's avatar

Interesting question @Jeruba. I don’t see why this would be any different in Canada than in the US? I knew a boy growing up named Jan (Yan) I pretty much assume if the name is on a man it will be that pronunciation. Spanish names and words I tend to pronounce in Spanish, unless otherwise corrected, or I might ask. Even last names like Stein (steen or stine?). I have a friend with the last name Regnier, my first attempt I said ren-ae (not sure how to write that for the French pronunciation?) but she uses ren-eer

Jeruba's avatar

@Dr_Lawrence, my question is how do you know which names to apply which pronunciation to? Joannie looks English, but you say it as French. Moir looks French, but you say it as English. How do you know when to follow which rules? That’s what I’m asking.

JLeslie's avatar

@Jeruba It would seem you don’t know until the person tells you what they prefer. But, maybe I am way off base. We’ll need some more Canadians to answer I guess.

morphail's avatar

Sometimes you know, when the name is obviously Anglophone or Francophone. But in the two examples you give, I wouldn’t know until I heard someone say them.

Symbeline's avatar

I can usually know which one is English and which is French and how to properly say it, however I will Englishize a French name if it belongs to an English person, as most people will say it that way, unless you’re in a French place, in which English names are sometimes Frenchified.

Say like the name Jason, there is a proper French way to say it (In a sound I can’t even describe through typing.) but even the French just say “Jay-zan”. (Much like the English will say Jock instead of Jaques.)
Being French I don’t have much problems with knowing how they’re technically supposed to be said in both languages, but personally, I’m a boring sheep and just go with however everyone says it. I might point out the actual pronunciation to the person if I know it, and people are usually interested.

I met some dude in Winnipeg who’s last name was Quanelle, but he pronounced it as Kwanell, and he thought it was pretty hilarious that for his whole life he wasn’t saying it “right” after I told him how.
It’s pretty easy to know, when you speak both languages and are familiar with the spelling rules and the phonetics that certain letter combinations are supposed to make, how names are supposed to be said.

I’ll admit being thrown off often though, I’m certainly not a pro, and have never actually heard the name “Joannie” as French original, and I first went to pronounce it as Jan-ee, kind of like the name Jeanne. (Only Jeanne is merely said as “Jan”.)

There are letter combinations in French, as well as intended phonetics that cannot be said in English, and vice versa, hence the switching from things like Jeanne D’arc to Joan of Arc.

(I still cringe when I think of the day that I went to buy a video game called Jeanne D’arc at the store, and to be understood by the clerk, I had to pronounce it as “Genie Dark.”)

I know it mostly because I’m familiar with basic spelling for both languages, but will usually just go at it in whatever’s more convenient for the person or anyone else around.

Haha I had a shrink in school who’s last name was Moir, and I didn’t know if I should call him Mr. Moyer or Mr. Mwar, so I just called him Brian haha.

faye's avatar

We also have to learn. If the person lives in Quebec, go french first try, of course. I would try the french pronunciation of a person out west too, but if the famiily was generations from France, the name often becomes more english sounding. My ex-husband came from Quebec and used to french up some of the names of our towns, Provost became Proveau

Zen_Again's avatar

I agree with @JLeslie – sometimes it’s obvious because of the (French) spelling – but the best way is to hear the person pronounce it themselves.

It would be the same for Jose or Julio in Spanish, I guess. Or any other name from another language/culture. N’est ce pas?

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

I helps to know where a person comes from or more specifically from where their immediate ancestors come. Parents given names are a clue as well.

I will go along with how the person themselves pronounces it.

I just make sure my French pronounciation is up to the task.

Civic_Cat's avatar

Pretty much ditto Symbeline.
If the person is Quebeccois or has a French name, we prounce it French. The same if it’s ambiguoues. If Jean Clark comes from Quebec, I’ll pronounce it as French. I might even pronounce it as French if the person’s from Alberta to be a smart ass. :-D

Also federal politicians can be similarly treated as in Paul Martin.

Didja see that Star Trek episode where Q referred to him as “Gene Luck Pickerd?” :-D

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