Paul Oberjuerge header image 2

What’s in a Name? A Lot, When it is Oberjuerge in France

August 9th, 2019 · No Comments · France

It is a hard name to pronounce. No question. Oberjuerge. Go ahead, take a whack at it. What is your best guess?

It has been anglicized, a bit, if that helps your guesswork.

Here in the south of France, where we are based, locals officials and merchants will attempt to pronounce the name rather than concede up front they have no real idea how it should sound. Mostly because the French do not want to be over-familiar and use a given name in a formal setting.

And it does little or no good to spell it for them, because spelling is a nightmare of French pronunciation of the English alphabet.

So, with no further temporizing, here are some of the best guesses, via francais.




Well, none of those is how the name is pronounced among my relatives.

And the French pretty much guess that, and they then often ask that the name be spelled. (Which I cannot do, because the French alphabetical sounds are beyond me.)

So Leah spells it for them, using French alphabet sounds. And it sounds like this, to the anglophone ear: O-beh-euh-air-zhee-ooh-euh-air-zhay-euh.

This is shot through with difficulties. In French, the letter G is pronounced J and J is pronounced G. Also, the vowel sounds for “long” E and “long” U, distinct in English, are muddled in French. Softened. The French also figure the last E is not pronounced, since that is how it would be in France.

And at this point, everyone is confused, and we suggest using first names, which the ever-polite French tend not to do.

We should note here that Americans rarely guess right when first encountering “Oberjuerge”. My ancestors, more than a century ago, tried to anglicize it, and they came up with this: OH-burr-JER–gee.

The one advantage English speakers have is that we can spell it in a way that they will understand. As opposed to the poor French, trying make sense of spelling it using French sounds.

Usually, this routine is a bit fun and almost never antagonistic. “Why do you spell it like that?” comes up, but not in a edgy way.

Here, in our little town, the neighbors and visitors do not feel the weight of politesse when approaching “Oberjuerge” — and just give it a wide berth.

So, here in our village, it is “Paul” and “Leah” — with the latter name pronounced in “Star Wars” fashion — LAY-uh.

Far easier than expecting them to make sense of Oberzhurje. Or worse.


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