A Rose By Any Other Name
Say my name, Say my name
Several years ago, when I taught high school seniors, I was going through my roster for a particular class, checking with students for correct pronunciation of their names. When I arrived at one young man’s name, I extracted, from the deep recesses of my mind, the faint memory of college semesters of foreign language. I proceeded to call out his last name in my best French accent, which was met by several giggles throughout the class.
One brave soul diplomatically corrected, “Mrs. Reed, it’s not pronounced ‘Bo-shom,’ it’s actually ‘Beech-em.’
I glanced back at my roster and tried to reason how the word “Beauchamp” could be pronounced “Beech-em.” I mean, even with prolonged consideration of the first syllable, I still would’ve thought the “beau” was just like a name for a young man who might also be professing his love for his young lady (typically pronounced “Bo”). Speaking of young man, the student in question gazed up at me from his desk and grinned, “Yes, Mrs. Reed, they’re right, just like the street in town, ‘Beech-um.’ “
How could this be? A mispronounced name and street? I gave him my best “Pardon, moi,” and moved on to another student’s name. Ahhh, here was one I could pronounce properly, a traditional Metcalfe Countian name–Phelps. I noted this student lived on Subtle Ridge, an area with which I was very familiar; actually, the majority of my husband’s family still lives there, so one would hope I say this address with full confidence.
Ya’ll Talk Proper Now!
However, this spot-in-the-road community can’t escape the pronunciation controversy either. A recent incident reminded me that there’s a fine line between “speaking proper” and “being correct,” and sometimes there’s just no way to do both. At least not in rural, southern Kentucky…
For example, if one is trying to be tactful and polite when notifying someone she has a piece of spinach stuck in her teeth, then she needs to be subtle (pronounced with a silent letter “b”). But if a person is a “good ol’ boy” who lives on one of the highest hills in Metcalfe County, often referred to as Subtle Ridge, then he’d better pronounce that letter “b” when verifying his address.
A Place Named Savoyard
Another community in northern Metcalfe County bears the traditional green road sign of “Savoyard.” So, is that last syllable pronounced just as it appears, as in “I mowed my yard today” or does the name lean toward the more genteel “Suh-voi-ahd” since its origin could be from the London opera? What about LeGrande in nearby Hart County? Does one focus on how grand an area it is to live, or strive to impress visitors with the Spanish version of a large taco?
Probably one of the best-known discrepancies in our area is a town in Monroe County with Biblical roots, Gamaliel. If a person determines the area derived its name from the Sanhedrin leader, then it’s probably pronounced the same, “Ga-mail.” However, many locals add a third syllable for some unknown reason, resulting in “Ga-mail-yeh.” Obviously, it’s a genuine quandary whether one should follow tradition or attempt to be linguistically correct. Either way, a person risks being ridiculed or accidentally insulting a native southerner.
No Way to Say “Louisville” and Please Everyone!
It’s not only a southern issue, though; for example, consider the city near Lexington called Versailles. As mentioned earlier, a person with just enough foreign language background to be considered “dangerous” might be tempted to call this place “Ver-sigh,” but said person would be incorrect. Residents pronounce their hometown with the final s-sound, as in “Ver-sales.” Don’t even get me started about the numerous ways to articulate the home of the U of L Cardinals, the site of the Kentucky Derby, and our wonderful state fair!
What’s In A Name?
Whether contemplating a location or a person’s name in Kentucky, now days I lean toward the “better safe than sorry” philosophy. As for my students over the years, I guess I can’t say too much about mispronunciations—I gifted our two daughters with the cursed monikers, Annika and Jerrica. They spend the majority of their time politely telling others their names aren’t pronounced “Ah-knee-kah” or “Ann-eh-kuh,” nor is it “Jer-ree-kah” or “Jessica.” To their repeated disappointment, finding personalized items in gift shops is a lost cause. Experience is the best teacher–I’ll be sure to warn them that my grandchild’s first name shouldn’t be LeGrande or Savoyard, no matter how catchy it may appear!
by Laura Nunn Reed, Shakespeare fanatic and perpetual mis-pronouncer of local names