English aristocracy--how to pronounce names and titles, both real and fictitious

When encountering English aristocratic names in print, whether real or fictitious, I’m never quite sure how they should be pronounced. Americans’ first impulse is to pronounce such a name exactly as spelled, so we pronounce the “Marlborough” in “Duke of Marlborough” just like the cigarette, unless we’ve been told that it should be pronounce “Mallbro”. There are also the notorious examples of Chomondoley-Marjoribanks, pronounced “Chumley-Marchbanks”, and Saint-John, pronounced “Sinjun”.

So when it comes to aristocratic names, especially when they are known to be very old, is generally the case that they are not pronounced as spelled? How would one assume the following fictional names from P.G. Wodehouse’s stories to be pronounced?

(The Duke of ) Dunstable
(The Earl of ) Emsworth
(Viscount) Bosham
(Lord) Brangbolton
(Earl of ) Yaxley
(Mr. & Mrs) Travers

I do know that Wodehouse took many of these names from real places, so if anyone happens to know those places they can provide a definitive answer.

My travels in England have been fairly short, but while I was there I only recalled hearing a few unlikely pronounciations. The most notable one is the handling of any name ending in -ester. “Gloucester” is two syllables. -able endings are pronounced as they’re spelled. In a -worth ending, you elide over the ‘r’, as I recall.

My impression is that most English dialects do not pronounce a terminal ‘r’ anyway, unless the next word begins with a vowel, so that might just be more a matter of accent.

The OPs examples are pronounced as written.


Titles are pronounced as they are spelled, just as the dictionary would have you. Viscount is the only one which you might have to look up- it’s VI-Count, no “s”. Marquis is more or less pronounced like the French do.

Threepwood might be “thripwood”. “i” as in “dip” or “sip”.

Obligatory Monty Python Quote


Interviewer: Good evening. I have with me in the studio tonight one of the country’s leading skin specialists, Raymond Luxury Yacht.
Raymond Luxury Yacht: That’s not my name!
Interviewer: [tries literal pronunciation] I’m sorry; Raymond Luxury Yatscht.
Raymond Luxury Yacht: No no no, it’s spelled, “Raymond Luxury Yacht,” but it’s pronounced, “Throat Warbler Mangrove”.
Interviewer: You are a very silly man, and I’m not going to interview you.

I guess it just comes from practice - took most of us Brits a while to work out that Arkansas and Arkansaw were the same place :smiley:

Quartz’s take on things was right - though some people pronounce Travers as Tray-vers. Might be a regional or class difference there. It’s mostly Trah-vers though.

I should point out that when I mentioned titles, I meant the specific name that goes with the “Lord” or “Duke”, and not the rank. For instance, in the case of Wodehouse’s Earl of Emsworth, whose family name is Threepwood, I was considering Emsworth to the the title and Threepwood to be the name. I apologize for not being clearer.

This thread is getting very silly, and I think it should be closed.

This is not true for ‘-chester’ endings, which are pronounced as spelt. And as a rule, don’t ever say always! You can guarantee there’ll be an exception to any rule. Such as ‘Cirencester’. :wink:

A couple of general rules, however: ‘Dunstable’ and words with similar endings put the emphasis on the first syllable, the ending rhyming with ‘trouble’. And ‘-ham’ endings have a silent H, and are not emphasised. So while Birmingham, Alabama is “Bir-ming-ham” with no great emphasis on any syllable, Birmingham, West Midlands is “Bir-ming’m”.

Those responsible for closing this thread have been sacked.


::collapses in a heap; roll credits::

That’s not really an exception to the rule, since there are two pronunciations: one with 4 syllables as written, and /sisester/ (where the /i/ is a short “i”).

I’d never heard of that pronunciation before

It seems to be the old-fashioned way of saying it. In recent years, people seem to have regularised to follow the spelling “Cirencester”:


(I last lived in England more than 40 years ago, which is why I say it the older way.)