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When Spelling a Hard Name Gets Harder

December 22nd, 2016 · No Comments · France

In France, I cannot spell my own name.

Not because I have forgotten but because no one here would understand my pronunciation of the letters.

Turns out, the French not only have “a different word for everything”, as the comedian Steve Martin put it, they also have quite different pronunciations when naming several of the 26 letters.

In English, it’s spelled out … oh-bee-ee-are-jay-you-ee-are-gee-ee.

In French? Nothing like that.

Here goes:


The French “e” sound is particularly odd, to the ear of an anglophone. It never has an “ee” sound; that job falls to the letter “i”.

“euh” is a sort of aspirated sound from the back of the mouth. I can’t do it. Sort of like “uh” but with a little tweak at the front.

The French, meanwhile, have problems with the letter “r”. Often, they pronounce it like a “w” — a “king” is pronounced “wah” but spelled “roi”.

So, anyway, making a dinner reservation is often a chance for significant miscommunication and nearly always requires a second or third attempt.

It is far easier to go with “Paul … table for two”.



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