Pronunciation of Names – a Brief Introduction


In my blog I mention many names, mostly of places but also of people, famous and not so famous. The pronunciation of most of these names is easy, either because they are well known or because the spelling adequately reflects the pronunciation. Other names present difficulties because their pronunciation differs to a greater or lesser extent from what is suggested by their spelling. I have therefore decided to compile a list of names mentioned in my blog (and perhaps others suggested by readers) that I think may cause difficulties, particularly to readers not resident in the UK. I will refer to this list whenever I think the pronunciation of a name needs clarification.

Accents vary greatly across the UK and so it is necessary to specify which one is used to describe the pronunciation of names in this list. The accent used is Standard English. The difficulty here is that there is no generally agreed definition of standard English (see Standard English in the Wikipedia). As a rough definition, we might say it is the version of English that most educated speakers of British English would consider the norm. (It is not the ‘Queen’s English’ because the dialect used by the Queen and her social class has features of its own that are not part of Standard English and in some cases depart radically from it.)

The most efficient way to reflect the pronunciation of a word is to use the International Phonetic Alphabet but few people outside the ranks of scholars of language are comfortable with it. I will therefore describe the pronunciation of words in a less rigorous but I hope equally understandable way. I will do this by using comparisons with sounds in other better known words and by suggesting a transcription in ordinary alphabetical letters. This may not be watertight but I think it generally works.

The list is in no sense complete. It will start off short and grow longer with time. I am tempted to go through all my blog posts to collect all the ‘difficult’ names I find in them but I don’t have the time for that. If there are names whose pronunciation you are uncertain of, please let me know and I will add it.

The list places the names in alphabetical order.


Gloucester: the apparent diphthong ‘ou’ is pronounced like the ‘o’ in frost and lost; the letters ‘ce’ are not pronounced at all. The word rhymes with foster and coster. Suggested transcription GLOSTER

Holborn: the first ‘o’ is pronounced like that in show and grow; the ‘l’ is not pronounced at all and the last syllable has a neutral sound like the last syllable of nation. Suggested transcription: HOE-B’N

Leicester (Square): the apparent diphthong ‘ei’ is pronounced like the ‘e’ in lemon and semaphore and the letter pair ‘ce’ is not pronounced at all. The word rhymes with jester and tester. Suggested transcription: LESTER

Marylebone: the first four letters are pronounced like the word marry; the last two syllables have neutral sounds like the last two syllables of national. The first syllable bears the stress (cf marry). Suggested transcription: MARRYL’B’N

Southwark: the vowels ‘ou’ are pronounced like the ‘o’ in cover, the ‘w’ is not pronounced, ‘th’ is voiced as in them and the letters ‘ar’ have a neutral sound. Suggested transcription: SUTHUK.

Streatham: the vowels ‘ae’ are pronounced like the first ‘e’ in letter and kettle, the ‘h’ is not pronounced and the following ‘a’ has a neutral sound. Suggested transcription: STRETT’M.

Thames: the ‘h’ is silent, the ‘a’ is pronounced like the ‘e’ in lemon and semaphore and the ‘s’ is voiced as is usual at the end of words. The word rhymes with gems and stems. Suggested transcription: TEMZ.

Wymondham: the ‘y’ is pronounced like short ‘i’, the letters ‘mo’ and ‘h’ are not pronounced at all and ‘am’ has a neutral sound. Suggested transcription: WIND’M.

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