Do Brits sometimes change pronunciation of their names for social climbing?

Inspired by this CS thread on a minor Discworld character named Mr. Teatime (pronounced “te-ah-ti-meh”):

I’ve gotten the impression from various sources that, on some occasions, Brits sometimes insist on what appears an odd pronunciation of their family names, specifically to make the name sound more Norman-French (aristocratic) than Anglo-Saxon (not). Perhaps I got this idea from Mark Twain, who told a story (can’t remember if it was fiction or not) about a pretentious fellow named Dunlap who claimed noble ancestry and insisted his name should be spelled (and pronounced) “d’Un Lap.” Is there anything to this?

I also recall reading that in the years before the French Revolution, there was some such fashion among parvenus – e.g., Danton spelled his name “D’Anton.”

I’ve never come across such examples in real life, and suspect most cases are anecdotal or urban-mythical. There’s certainly real names with standard pronuncations which would give credence to such stories (Featherstonehaugh and St John are two which come to mind, being pronounced fan-shaw and sin-jun). And both are fairly upper-class names, again tying in with the social-climber aspect.

Regarding Danton - a quick Google suggests that it is indeed of French origin. The explanation could as easily be that French backgrounds were deliberately hidden after the revolution.

There used to be a BBC sitcom where the female lead was named Hyacinth Bucket. The running joke was that she insisted that her name should be pronounced Hyacinth Bouquet.

Of course he was French. And Danton never left France. The point is that by French standards “D’Anton” sounds/looks like an aristocratic name – “of some place called Anton” (nobles often having names or titles of that form) – while plain old “Danton” does not.

Ahh, if we’re talking about them weird people across the channel, it’s a whole different matter :wink: Other such name changes have taken place in various parts of Europe, such as the aristocratic “von Xxyyzz” becoming simply “Xxyyzz” as the old imperial society disappeared.

Fan-shaw is the most common pronunciation of Feathersonehaugh. But some branches of the family use Fes-ton-hay and others Feer-ston-haw.

Ahh, yes, they’re the part of the family we don’t talk to.

There is the surname “Death”, pronounced “Deeth” and probably originating in the low countries (modern Belgium and Netherlands). Given its unfortunate spelling, the affectation “De Ath” has sometimes been used.

Tolkein plays around with this in Lord of the Rings. Bilbo Baggins lives in “Bag End”, a simple Anglo-Saxon translation of the French word “cul-de-sac”. His social climbing relatives are the “Sackville-Bagginses”, a branch of the family that’s putting on airs by appending a French-sounding prefix to plain old “Baggins”. Of course France doesn’t exist in Middle Earth, but the SOUND of the name alone sugggests pretense.

Dorothy Sayer’s mystery maven was named Lord Peter Death Bredon Wimsey. I remember reading at one time that it was to be pronounced de-ath, but I can no longer find a reference. Or another guide to the proper pronunciation.

And what’s the bloody deal with pronounceing “St. John” as “sin-jin.”

Then again, there was poor Tess Durbyfield.

I recently discovered that a friend of my parents whose surname is spelt “Menzies” pronounces it “Mingeez”. Again this isn’t social climbing, this person has no need to climb ;).

Isn’t it more that as people see names written without hearing the original pronunciation the trend is to go for the ‘logical’ pronunciation which then becomes more accepted and widespred making those who push for the old/original pronunciation seem pretentious ?

Mingus is how the name is pronounced in that part of Scotland where it originated, so your parents’ friend is undoubtedly just following family tradition. As you say, no social climbing necessary.

I’ve also heard someone with the name “Featherstonehaugh” (sic) introduce himself as “Free-stone-hew”.

“That’s FROHNKinsteen!”

I know one example where this happened, although the change in pronounciation came after the family were better known.

There was a family called Stobart that lived in Carlisle England, where I am from. I knew the kids from school and Stobart was pronounced (excuse these rough phonetics) stobb - art. The father of this family owned a haulage company that is now huge in the UK called Eddie Stobart LTD. This family is now are now very well off. They moved into a manor and are main sponser of the local football (soccer) team. Anyway, with the high social status they reffered to themselves as the Stoe -bahrts
(spoken like toe, with an S. and Bart with too many A’s in the middle).

I really don’t think it’s fair to assume they’ve adapted the pronunciation for this reason, rather than simply accomodation the fact that most people pronounce the name that way (I’d never come across the short-O pronunciation before).

the Scottish Liberal MP Menzies Campbell pronounces his name as Mingis, which is why his enemies call him ‘Ming the Merciless’

and the acqaintance I mentioned is also known as Ming … although they predate (the 30s TV series at least) the merciless one.

My cite for the variant pronunciations of Featherstonehaugh was an article that appeared in Life magazine (I think) sometime in the late 1960s or early '70s, called “An Englishman’s Name is His Castle.”

It humourously examined the unexpected pronunciations of British names, many of which are well known (Leicester pronounced Lester, Worcester pronounced Wooster, etc.) Another of the other family name examples it gave was Cholmondley, pronounced Chumley.

The author theorized that if Minnesota were in the U.K., St. Paul and Minneapolis would be known as Simple and Mipples.

The same principle was taken to its illogical conclusion by Monty Python: