Why does Deborah Kerr rhyme with "car"?

I’ve always heard that Deborah Kerr’s last name is pronounced to rhyme with car, far, or tar. Why is that? Is it a British thing? Or a Scottish thing? Do other people named Kerr pronounce it the same way? How about Graham Kerr or Miranda Kerr?

Of course, I realize the answer might be no more complicated than “because she says it that way,” but I’m sensing there might be a deeper truth out there. Fight my ignorance, if you please!

How do you pronounce James Clerk Maxwell?

I am pretty confident that there isn’t. Certainly there are British people named Kerr who pronounce it to rhyme with “fur”. Particular ways of pronouncing names, especially surnames, are simply family traditions, whose origins are almost certainly going to remain forever obscure.

No. The more common pronunciation of the name “Kerr” is /kɛr/ which (in my accent at least) is the same as “care”, not “car”.

Now that you’ve brought that up, what is the deal with the British pronunciation of “erk” as “ark,” as in “Clerk” and “Berkeley”? Is it just, as njtt said, family tradition, or is there something linguistically special about that combination of letters?

Actor Kerr Smith pronounces his first name to rhyme with her not car, so it doesn’t seem to be universal.

My first thought was “Berkeley Square.” Also, I’ve usually heard George Bernard Shaw’s middle name pronounced “BAR-nard.” I don’t know if that’s how he pronounced it, though, or if it’s Americans over-generalizing from Berkeley and the like.

Considering Featheringstonehaugh, etc., “Kerr” could be pronounced “ball peen hammer.” Or “Caughner Niquolos.” Sometimes spellings just don’t give you a clue.

OT, but I’d love to see an SNL skit with a baby-name spelling bee. [/OT]

I thought Deborah Kerr’s surname rhymed with ‘Goatgobbler Stangrove’.

There is a Congressman Tiberi who pronounces his last name “tea-berry”. Either that’s an idiosyncratic pronunciation or they think “tuh-bear-y” sounds too Italian. :dubious:

Well, I am not sure what you think it should be, or, indeed, how he himself pronounced it, but the regular British pronunciation of that name is BUR-n’d, whereas, to the best of knowledge, the regular American one is Ber-NARD. I have never heard him called BAR-nard, in either country. Of course, he was actually Irish, so…

(Barnard, pronounced your way, is a name, but it wasn’t his name.)

On this subject, how is err pronounced? (As in, “To err is human.”) I’ve always though it was pronounced like air. But I’m listening to an audio book and the reader pronounces it as ur. Which of us is wrong?

To my surprise, the OED only mentions the “ur” pronunciation, with the vowel of “burn”.

I’ve heard it both ways (not to get all Shawn Spencer on you). I’ve always assumed (without any good reason) that the first way is the American pronunciation and the second is the British.

Former president of University of California, Clark Kerr, pronounced it like the word “care”. Only the spelling of names is legally bound, so people can pronounce their names pretty much any way they please. Like the Enroughty family in Virginia, who for many generations have pronounced their name as if it were spelled Darby.

There have been three Major League Baseball Players whose surname was LeFebvre, who all pronounced it differently:

Jim la-FEE-ver
Joe la-FAY
Bill la-FEV (closest to the original French)

As in Barnard’s Star. Which, of course, rhymes with “Kerr.”

This ought to be within the bounds of this thread’s general intent, but there was a vocal group in Nashville from the 50’s (still active) known as The Anita Kerr Singers that were backup artists for any number of hit recordings in Country, Pop, and even Jazz genres. She pronounced it to rhyme with “fur” or “cur” (this may be why Karr may be preferred).

The fun thing about her is that her husband (at least at the time that I was delivering blueprints to architectural firms in the area) changed his surname to Kerr to avoid being thought of merely as Anita’s husband.



Well, yes, if you mean the first syllable, and Kerr as in Deborah.

I’ll need more than the emoticons to address whatever puzzles you. :slight_smile: