Working in a bookshop one quickly becomes used to customers mispronouncing names of authors. Sometimes the name is so far from the original it’s a challenge to identify the correct author without embarrassing the customer. Understandable though – if you don’t hear the name spoken how will you know the pronunciation? (Though I find it hard to believe the guy who asked for something by Shacky Spee Are A had never heard Shakespeare’s name said aloud). It’s more embarrassing for a bookseller to get it wrong, I think. We’re supposed to know, aren’t we? I tend to approach names I’m unsure of with some gusto in the belief that if I say it confidently enough, people won’t challenge me. There are some names I seem to have to say a lot, like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, whose enormous popularity means I get asked “Who wrote…” at least once a week, with Adichie being the answer. Writing this I googled “How to pronounce…” and am relieved that it seems I have been doing an ok job of it. Conversely I was surprised when listening to the radio some time last year to hear Don DeLillo pronounced De Li Low and not De Lie Low as I had been saying it. The shame!
I was reminded of this last week when I read a tweet from Chris Power saying “My god, I’ve been pronouncing Joseph Roth as ‘wrath’, not ‘wrote'” – yup, me too!
At work my colleague and I discussed more surprising pronunciations. Did you know that Herman Hesse is apparently pronounced Hesser? That Vikram Seth is Sate? That Robert Louis Stevenson is pronounced Robert Lewis Stevenson? (Incidentally my colleague assures me that Jekyll as in Jekyll and Hyde is pronounced Gee Call.) Sebastian Faulks is apparently Folks.
I’d love to hear of others too – for the sake of bookseller pride I need to know.