View Full Version : The bizarre pronunciation of certain English surnames
02-19-2000, 03:08 AM
Why are a few English surnames pronounced so differently than they are spelled? I’m thinking of names such as Churmondley (pronounced Chumley), Mainwaring (pronounced Mannering), and Featheringstonehaugh (pronounced Fanshaw). Stephen Fry mentioned these names in the afterword of a “Jeeves and Wooster” episode (he was commenting upon the pronunciation of P.J. Wodehouse’s name), but he never explained how or why their pronunciations had diverged from their spellings.
Were these names ever pronounced the way they were spelled? Or were they always pronounced the way they are now and the extra letters just thrown in later on a whim?
02-19-2000, 03:35 AM
I've got nothing to add except that I've also wondered why Taliaferro is pronounced as "Toliver."
I'd always thought that the name pronounced 'Chumley' was spelt 'Cholmondley'. Give or take a letter or two.
This phenomenon must be related to the peculiar process that renders English names so strangely, e.g., Wooster for Worcestershire, etc.
02-19-2000, 10:01 AM
A WAG with no support: if you pronounce those names as they are spelled over and over agin rapidly, they start to sound like the current pronunciations. Seems to work. I don't know if the British are known for being "fast-talkers"; there was a scene in an episode of "I Love Lucy" to that effect (that's good enough for me!), but I don't notice it in recent Britcoms, my only source for hearing British speakers.
02-19-2000, 10:42 AM
I know of one man with the name of Raymond Luxury-Yacht, yet it is pronounced "Throatwobbler Mangrove".
02-19-2000, 11:08 AM
My mother's maiden name Wrisley (which rhymes with grizzly) apparently was spelled Wriotheseley at one point.
02-19-2000, 04:02 PM
An American in London had this conversation with a Bobby:
TOURIST: How do I get to Cholmondeley?
BOBBY: Cholmondeley? Never heart of it.
TOURIST: You know: C-h-o-l-m-o-n-d-e-l-e-y.
BOBBY: Ah yes. Chumley!
(A short conversation follows, ending with :)
BOBBY: I am planning a holidy to America, and I must be sure to see Niagara Falls.
TOURIST: Niagara Falls? Never heard of it.
BOBBY: You know: N-i-a-g-a-r-a F-a-l-l-s.
TOURIST: Ah, yes. Nuffles!
02-19-2000, 04:05 PM
Excuse me: the line in the middle should have said "ending with this:"
02-20-2000, 12:05 AM
But what is a featherstonehaugh? My dictionary says 'haugh' is Scottish English for 'a low-lying meadow in a river valley'. Is an FSH such a valley with light-weight stones?
Ray (not heavy into petrology)
02-20-2000, 12:18 AM
Lots of possibilities. I'd guess that all the names were spelled the way they were pronounced at the time they were fixed in form (since that's typical). As time went on, the pronunciations of longer names changed to make them easier to say.
The names may also have gotten their spelling through a folk etymology. Fir instance, "Churmondley" could have come from the French (something like Charminlé). Later the pronunciation changed.
Around here, I knew a Featherstonehaugh who did pronounce her name the same way it's spelled (though not with the gutteral it obviously originally had).
"What we have here is failure to communicate." -- Strother Martin, anticipating the Internet.
02-20-2000, 12:40 AM
Mark my words, before this thread is successfully over a guy named Bill Caxton will appear.
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