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Names With Counterintuitive Pronounciation - Stiffkey

Names with Counterintuitive Pronunciation

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“The Name is spelled Raymond Luxury Yacht, but it is pronounced Throatwobbler Mangrove.” (from Monty Python’s Flying Circus)


The example shows, in a humorously exaggerated way, that oftentimes the spelling of names does not correspond with their pronunciation. When we first pronounce words that we have never before come across or heard of, especially names, we intuitively mispronounce them when using our own knowledge of phonetic rules. The name of this particular phenomenon – and at the same time the solution for articulatory problems – is Counterintuitive Pronunciation.


Exceptions rule !

While acquiring our first language, we learn at an early age how to pronounce certain grapheme clusters correctly according to the phonological rules set by the actively spoken language.

It is at school that we are first confronted with the fact that most of the rules applying to our own first language can rarely be adapted directly to another.

Native German speakers and speakers of English alike sometimes have difficulties pronouncing French words and vice versa.

Here are some examples of words, that are often intuitively mispronounced by foreign speakers of English:


  • Subtlety
  • Iron
  • Bomb
  • Womb
  • Tomb
  • Paradigm
  • Numbness
  • Comb


A German speaker of English would, according to the acquired set of phonological rules, intuitively mispronounce those words unless he or she is aware of the “silencing” of certain consonants and the changing of vowel sounds in respective grapheme clusters.

Still, native speakers of english have their own difficulties as well as a unique way of dealing with them:


Places with counterintuitive Pronunciation


The Place Stew visit
Stiffkey is a village in Norfolk, England. The name Stiffkey means “island with
stumps of trees” and is pronounced Stewkey (/ˈstjuːkiː/).


Chai Knees Touch
If the name of a certain place is pronounced Chai Lai (/ˈtʃaɪlaɪ/) , where in
the world could it be?
The correct answer is of course: Chili, New York City.


Omission Ocean
The community of Tsawwassen in British Columbia (Canada) translates as “facing the ocean” and is correctly pronounced t’wasson (/təˈwɑːsən/)


Well-Known Names – Unknown Pronunciation

Guttural fricatives, fusing, and then some

Though the basic rules of pronunciation are taught in respective classes, the pronunciation of names is a totally different field of articulatory mishaps.


Matt Groening

What do you do if you read a name you’ve never heard before? You look for another word you have heard before that is written similarly. In this Case, the word Phoenix comes to mind, so, based on this correlation the correct pronunciation should sound like “greening“, right?

Wrong (D’oh!), it’s “Grayning” actually.


Kyle MacLachlan

This American actor has achieved quite a bit of fame for his roles in Dune, Twin Peaks and Sex & The City. German speakers of English could feel tempted to pronounce his name in a very “scottish” sounding manner, with a guttural fricative on the – ch-. “Mag-lak-lin” is the correct way to pronounce it though.


The first and last name of british actor Ralph Fiennes, when pronounced correctly, get ‘fused’ together thus forming “Ray Fines“.


The last name of South African actress Charlize Theron sounds a lot more like TRON, when pronounced correctly (Trron).


Fictional Characters

Sometimes the only purpose of a character’s name is to serve as a humorous stylistic device, e.g. running gag.


Dr. Hfuhruhurr

A brilliant surgeon played by Steve Martin in Carl Reiner’s take on the Frankenstein subject, “The Man with two Brains“.

Though he keeps claiming that his name is “spelled exactly like it sounds”,…


… the only person to intuitively say his name correctly is his ‘brainy’ love interest Anne Uumellmahaye. Hfuhruhurr, in turn, is the first person to ever pronounce her name correctly.


Mr. Teatime

An overzealous assassin who appears in the novel “Hogfather” by Terry Pratchett. His name is constantly being mispronounced. Only one ‘living’ entity of the Disc-World pronounces his name correctly as “Te-ah-tim-eh.”



Surely you know some more names with counterintuitive pronunciation???

…yes, I do. And don’t call me Shirley…!

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image sources

  • Names With Counterintuitive Pronounciation – Stiffkey: photo by Craig Tuck under CC-BY-SA 2.0; edited by webGilde

One Response

  1. I went to school with two sisters named Siobhan and Niamh. I learnt their names before I learnt the spellings. This one time someone asked me to spell their names and I had several ideas on how to. But Siobhan is pronounced as “Shi-vawn” or “Shi-von”. And Niamh is pronounced as “Neive” or “Nieve”. Had me like… mind blown!

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