For Pronunciation Of Names, Get As Close As Possible To The Source

The simplest thing to do if there’s any doubt about how to say someone’s name, of course, is to ask that person to say it for you.

What if he or she isn’t alive?

The best sources include:

- Tape or video of the person saying his or her name.
- Guidance from family members.
- Guidance from close friends.

These are NOT primary sources:

- Tape or video in which a journalist is heard introducing the person. We don’t know if the reporter got the name right, and we don’t know whether the person was too polite to correct the reporter.
- Historians, government officials or others who should know what they’re talking about. “Should” doesn’t mean they “do” know how to say the name.

Meanwhile, in case you haven’t looked at it in a while, here’s a highlight from NPR’s “Philosophy of Pronunciation”:

“NPR guidelines for proper nouns encourage on-air staff to approximate the pronunciation of proper nouns (names and places) as they are pronounced by the person or by residents of the place. However, they are not supposed to sound as if they’re splicing in a native speaker when pronouncing foreign names and places. And there are exceptions to this rule -– Americans do not say Roma or Moskva and so we say Rome and Moscow.”

As always, members of the RAD team are ready to help if someone’s name isn’t already on our Intranet list of pronouncers.

(“Memmos;” Oct. 28, 2016)

October 28, 2016

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