Attention Dopers who speak German

My friends last name is Clahn. She & all her reletives pronounce it with a long “A” as though it were spelled Clane (rhymes with plane). Although everyone else in the world tends to pronounce it with a short “a” as if it rhymes with don. Others have even pronounced it as “Clan”.
She doesn’t speak German, but has encountered people who do,and half have told her that she is pronouncing her own name incorrectly.
Imagine that!
A search of her geneology did not produce any clues as to how her ancestors pronounced the name. But her family has always used the long “A”, and they came to this country in the 1890’s. Any comment from the teeming millions?

Everybody has the right to decide how their name is pronounced. Even if you pronounce Knight cuhn-ig-it.

While I agree with RM, you did ask a question, and you deserve an answer.

In German, it would be pronounced Clahn (with an “ah” like in “fond”). Although, I’m not too sure how German “Clahn” is. Generally speaking, in German, the hard ‘k’ sound is represented by a ‘K’. Both ‘Klahn’ and ‘Clahn’ don’t mean anything in German (so far as I know). 'Course, McKnight (my last name) doesn’t mean anything in English…

And I do pronounce it “mick’-nite” not “mick’-cuhn-ig-it” :slight_smile:

Luckily I read this before opening the Monty Python Killer joke thread, or I’d be dead now.

My Harper Collins rather large German-English dictionary has only four pages for German words beginning with C; Clan is included, (but not Clahn), though this is most likely a later introduction and not the source of anyone’s name.
One would expect Germans to pronounce the name as Sheepshead indicated, but to correct your friend is over the line. I heard a story of an exchange student who went from America to Bavaria and started correcting the local dialect (pronounciation and grammar). I don’t think he was well-liked while he was there.

The only common c-words I can think of that aren’t borrowed from other languages are "Chor’ (choir) and “Christ” (prounounced as if engl. ‘Krist’)

panama jack

“Wer keine andere Sprache kennen, kennt sein eigne nicht.” - Goethe

I apologize Mr. Sheepshead for what ended up being a personal comment–I was trying to use a Monty Python reference to make the point.

A friend of mine has the last name Shithead. They pronounce it Shi-THEED.

I wonder if it’s an a or an a-umlaut (ä).

Also, there are different dialects of German than Hochdeutsch (High German). The continental pronunciation of my own last name follows the Plattdeutsch (Low German) rules, not the Hochdeutsch rules of pronunciation. Further complicating the situation is the fact that the name is ultimately of Polish origin. Here in American we pronounce it yet another way.

I was thinking the same question before I got to the end of the thread. There are a couple of German dialects where Clähn might be pronounced “clane.” Of course, the other possibilities include a WWI-era pronunciation change to not “sound” German (especially if the older folks in the family spoke with an accent) or some significant progenitor living among people who couldn’t get it right who gave up, accepting the pronunciation that the locals foisted off on him.

My in-laws have the second problem. Their name, in French, has a very obvious pronunciation to anyone who is at all familiar with French, and is fairly clear to anyone familiar with any of the Romance languages. The middle sounds are a vowel followed by a diphthong. Most people mispronounce the vowel and turn the diphthong into a schwa sound (which changes the accent); a few people drop the diphthong and turn it into a single-syllable word. The family has simply given up, using the “slurred” two-syllable version, themselves, while answering to the single-syllable version.

If the Clahns lived among the sort of neighbors that my in-laws did, they are lucky they don’t call themselves Clones.

I agree with tomndebb that it was a probably a spelling/pronounciation change either at WWI or when they got to the New World.

As has been said, Clahn doesn’t look like a typical German word. If had originally been spelled with an umlaut, it would have been spelled Claehn or Klaehn. (Adding an “e” is a common way of anglicizng an umlauted vowel.) Adding the umlaut back gives us Klähn, which looks pretty German, and would be pronounced Clane.

Yes, an umlaut would make it similar to “clane”, and often people in the New World just stopped putting in the dots, and didn’t bother to add an “e” either.

As for the origins of the word, many German words/names that otherwise might be written with a “K” are sometimes written with a “C” for no other reason than that there never used to be standard spellings. In fact, there is an astonishing number of German place names that begin with “C”. An important part of Stuttgart is Cannstadt, there is a town I know by the same of Camburg, etc.

As far as the meaning of “Clahn” is concerned, none that I can determine, and I am quite fluent in German. Of course, try to figure out most English names…

My guess would be that it’s a bastardization of Kolon, auf Deutstch for colony, or that your family listed itself as from Koln (Cologne) and it got misrepresented as the family name. Just a guess.

Sorry Jam, it seems more like a German name in its own right. And Kolon doesn’t mean colony in German. The name of the city, Köln (Cologne in Eng. and French) does however come from the old Latin name, Colonia Agrippinensis, which was originally a Roman center.

The name Clahn is much too far away from Köln to come in question.

Good guess, though.

Yerk! Hate it when I get it wrong. The word is the feminine “Kolonie”, not just “Kolon” (damn beer! Makin’ me read wrong, ‘n’ stuff!). Still, I stand by my earlier remark, concerning either Kolonie (or some variation thereof) or Koln.

Yes, Kolonie is German for colony, but Klahn/Clahn is much too far from Köln. The -ah- in the name is indicative of a real German name, and not what some immigrations officer decided he thought he heard. Besides, German immigrants stuck up for the real spellings of their names more than others did.

Of course there are many many German names based on places of origin, often with an -er ending when dealing with cities. In this case that would be “Kölner” or even “Cölner” (Part of Berlin is in fact Cölln with a C).

Checking my local Leipzig phone book, there are in fact 2 Klahns, (one of whom lives around the corner, maybe I should go ask what she thinks about this!)

There are also 15 Köllner/Koellner listings in the book, all with two l’s for some reason (reflecting Berlin? or just an old spelling).

Just checking another town, I did in fact find a Klähn (pron. “Klane”), so both versions are indeed possible.

y’know, thill, I think we’re just going to have to agree to disagree on this one. Klahn or Clahn is really not that far (in my mind) from Koln, particularly when it comes to immigration via Ellis Island or other ports of call.

I was fortunate enough to have English family surnames, so that there was very little confusion–but I know that some immigrant families adopted the names given them by the officials who wrote down what they thought were accurate spellings of family names.

Mind you, I could be wrong on this “Clahn” thing. And I’m certainly open to other answers–it’s not MY last name, after all (which means “tinker” BTW). Having Klahns in Leipzig certainly does help clarify things, but I suggest that the OPer do a genealogy search.