Boston’s Central Burying Ground was established in 1756, so it’s newer than the other Boston cemeteries I’ve blogged about (King’s Chapel, Granary, and Copp’s Hill). Nevertheless, it still contains some pretty interesting names:
At first glance, Guillaume always looks like gobbledygook to me. It’s the French form of William — that much I know — but it takes a few seconds for me to remember that it’s pronounced ghee-ohm, not not gwill-awm or gwee-awm.
And it’s not just Guillaume that trips me up. I find many other French names (Étienne, Edwige, Anaïs, etc.) equally tricky to pronounce.
So for those of us who struggle with French names, here are some simplified rules of French pronunciation, plus names to illustrate each rule.
This list is far from comprehensive, and my pronunciations are just approximations, but hopefully my fellow non-French speakers out there will find it helpful nonetheless.
French Pronunciation + French Names
AU: The vowel combination “AU” is pronounced like a long o.
Paul, in French, is pronounced pohl.
Margaux, a French form of Margaret, is pronounced mar-goh.
CH: The letter combination “CH” is typically pronounced sh.
Charles, in French, is pronounced shahrl.
D, P, S, T, X, Z: The six consonants “D,” “P,” “S,” “T,” “X” and “Z,” when at the end of a word, are typically silent.
Arnaud, the French form of Arnold, is pronounced ar-noh.
Denis, the French form of Dennis, is pronounced de-nee (remember the Blondie song?).
Lucas, in French, is pronounced loo-kah.
Louis, in French, is pronounced loo-ee (think Louis Vuitton).
…They’re not always silent, though. Here are some exceptions:
Alois, the French form of Aloysius, is pronounced ah-loh-ees.
Anaïs, a French form of Anna, is pronounced ah-nah-ees.
David, in French, is pronounced dah-veed.
Ë: The pronunciation of “Ë” (E with a trema) is like the e in the English word “bet.”
Gaël and Gaëlle are pronounced gah-el or gai-el.
Joël and Joëlle are pronounced zhoh-el.
Maël and Maëlle are pronounced mah-el or mai-el.
Noël and Noëlle are pronounced noh-el.
É: The pronunciation of “É” (E with an acute accent) is somewhere between the ee in “see” and the e in “bet.”
Noé, the French masculine form of Noah, is pronounced noh-ee.
Salomé, in French, is pronounced sah-loh-mee.
G: The consonant “G” is soft (zh) when followed by “E” or “I” but hard (gh) otherwise.
Georges, the French form of George, is pronounced zhorzh.
Guy, in French, is pronounced ghee.
H: The consonant “H” is silent.
Hélène, the French form of Helen, is pronounced eh-lehn.
I: The vowel “I,” and the forms Ï, and Î, are all pronounced ee.
Loïc, a French form of Louis, is pronounced loh-eek.
J: The consonant “J” is pronounced zh.
Jacques, the French form of Jacob, is pronounced zhahk.
LL: The letter combination “LL” is typically pronounced like an l.
Achille, the French form of Achilles, is pronounced ah-sheel.
Lucille, the French form of Lucilla, is pronounced loo-seel.
…But in some cases “LL” is pronounced like a y.
Guillaume, the French form of William, is pronounced ghee-yohm or ghee-ohm.
OI: The vowel combination “OI” is pronounced wah.
Antoine, the French form of Antony, is pronounced an-twahn.
Grégoire, the French form of Gregory, is pronounced gre-gwahr.
OU: The vowel combination “OU” is pronounced oo.
Lilou is pronounced lee-loo.
R: The consonant “R,” when at the end of a word, is typically pronounced.
Clair, the French masculine form of Claire, is pronounced kler.
Edgar, in French, is pronounced ed-gahr.
…When the “R” is preceded by an “E,” though, it is not pronounced.
Gauthier, the French form of Walter, is pronounced goh-tee-yay or goh-tyay (remember Gotye?).
Olivier, the French form of Oliver, is pronounced oh-lee-vee-yay or oh-lee-vyay (think Laurence Olivier).
TH: The letter combination “TH” is typically pronounced like a t (which makes sense, since “H” is silent).
Thibault, the French form of Theobald, is pronounced tee-boh.
TI: The letter combination “TI” is sometimes pronounced like an s or sy.
Laëtitia is pronounced lay-tee-sya.
W: The consonant “W” is pronounced like a v.
Edwige, the French form of Hedwig, is pronounced ed-veezh.
And finally, just a few more French names that I tend to have trouble with.
Anatole is pronounced ah-nah-tohl.
Étienne, the French form of Stephen, is pronounced eh-tyen.
Geoffroy, the French form of Geoffrey, is pronounced zho-fwah.
Ghislain and Ghislaine are pronounced either ghee-len or zheez-len.
Ignace, the French form of Ignatius, is pronounced ee-nyas.
Those aren’t too hard, right?
That’s what I tell myself…and then I come across Guillaume in the wild and my mind goes blank all over again. :)
If you know French and would like to add to the above (either another rule of pronunciation or a more precise pronunciation for a particular name) please leave a comment.
If you’re not a French speaker, here’s my question: Which French name gives you the most trouble?
A reader named Virginia is expecting a baby in September. For a boy, she’d selected the name Phineas. She liked “that it was unusual without being bizarre,” and that it started with ph. But now she’s not so sure about the name:
All was fine and dandy until I read an article about violence in the Bible. It vaguely mentioned Phineas as a name from the Bible used as a talisman by white supremacists. What!?!
That was a shock to me too. According to the Anti-Defamation League, the Phineas Priesthood is “a violent credo of vengeance that has gained some popularity among white supremacists and other extremists in recent years.” I’d never heard of the Phineas Priesthood before–not even when Julia Roberts named her son Phinnaeus a few years ago.
Virginia doesn’t want to give up her favorite name, but she also “can’t live with such an association,” so she was hoping for some name suggestions. Other names she’s considering include Joel and Samuel (for boys) and Sigrid, Phoebe, Elisabeth, and Anne (for girls). All are family names.
First, a few thoughts:
I doubt many people are aware that white supremacists use Phineas as a code word. It’s an odious association, but maybe it’s also obscure enough that it’s not worth worrying about…?
I really like Sigrid and Phoebe–they’re both significant and unusual. Especially Sigrid. (Phoebe is being used more and more every year, so it might not be unusual for long.)
And now, name suggestions. Here are some unusual-but-not-bizarre boy names that I think Virginia might like:
And some girl names:
What other names would you suggest to Virginia? (And, what’s your take on the Phineas dilemma?)
Update: The baby has arrived! Click here to learn the baby’s name.
Some parents see names like Angelina, Isabella, and Olivia and think, “I’m not going to bother weeding through these dainty little sissy-names on the off chance I find a good one. Forget it. I’m gonna flip ahead to the boy names.”
What these parents might not realize, though, is that there are plenty of strong, non-frilly girl names out there. Here are three types I’ve come up with:
Girl Names with Boyish Nicknames
A boy name wrapped in a girl name — the best of both worlds. Most of the full names below are based on boy names, so they simply shorten to the same pet forms.
Alex – Alexandra
Andy – Andrea, Miranda
Bernie – Bernadette
Cal – Calista, Calla
Clem – Clementine
Dan – Danielle
Ernie – Ernestine
Frank – Frances
Gerry – Geraldine
Gus – Augusta
Jack – Jacqueline
Jo – Josephine, Johanna
Max – Maxine
Mo – Monique, Maureen
Nick – Nicole, Monica, Veronica
Rick – Erica
Rob – Roberta
Sal – Salome, Sarah
Tony – Antonia
Will – Wilhelmina
Girl Names with Lots of Consonants
Girl names with at least as many consonants as vowels tend to sound much more serious than vowel-laden girl names. Especially if they end with a consonant (or a consonant-sound).
*Technically, these names have more vowels than consonants. But it doesn’t sound like they do, and that’s the important part.
Girl Names with Unusual Letters/Sounds
Unusual things command your attention. They may seem odd, but, because they stand out, they also tend to seem bold.
What other types of girl names would you add to this list?