Pronunciation Guide to Foreign Names

As a courtesy to readers who may not be familiar with the pronunciation rules of the languages I profile names from, this is a general guide to the most common, unfamiliar letters and sounds. This isn’t meant to be comprehensive, and won’t cover the letters whose pronunciation is obvious, like B, M, and F. I’ll also only be covering sounds and letters from languages I’m familiar with, which would be Indo–European, Finno–Ugric, Kartvelian, and Semitic.

A—Generally pronounced as a long A by English-speaking standards. Extra emphasis is added when there’s an accent.

Ą—Pronounced like a nasal O, as in the French word bon/ne, and found in Polish and Lithuanian.

Ä—Comes in long and short variations. When short, it’s like the E in “bet.” Long, it’s like the “ay” in “say.” Used in German, Estonian, Swedish, Finnish, Slovak, Tatar, Turkmen, Luxembourgish, North Frisian, and several other languages.

Ā—Found in Latvian and pronounced like the a in “car.”

Ǎ—Pronounced like the U in “but” in Romanian; like the O in “editor” in Chuvash.

Å—Most commonly seen in the Scandinavian languages, and with long and short versions. It’s kind of like the A in “awe.”

Á—Commonly found in Spanish, Hungarian, Portuguese, Irish, Czech, Slovak, Galician, Welsh, and Icelandic. It’s a long A.

À—Commonly seen in French, Italian, Occitan, Portuguese, Scottish, Sardinian, Galician, Catalan, Welsh, and Maltese. It’s a short A.

—Found in French; a long A. Letters with a circumflex indicate the absence of a consonant (typically S) which was deleted after the vowel.

×Found in Portuguese; indicates a nasal A.

C—Pronounced like TS in Western and Southern Slavic languages, Hungarian, Albanian, and German. In Italian, when it comes before a vowel, it becomes a CH sound.

Ć (Ћ ħ)—Unique to Serbian Cyrillic, and called Tshe. Not to be confused with the CH sound, which also occurs in Serbian. The pronunciation is somewhat akin to the ch in “chew.” Also found in Polish, Bosnian, Croatian, and transliterated Montenegrin. The non-Serbian and Montenegrin pronunciation is similar, but not exactly alike.

Č—Pronounced CH and found in Polish, Slovenian, Lithuanian, Latvian, Bosnian, Montenegrin, Czech, and Slovakian.

Ç—The major languages this is found in are French, Portuguese, Catalan, and Albanian. It’s kind of like a soft C.

Cc and Ch—When followed by E or I in Italian, it’s pronounced like a K. In French, it’s SH, and in Dutch, it’s a hard, guttural GH. In Hebrew, Czech, and Polish, it’s like the guttural CH in Chanukah.

Cs—Found in Hungarian and pronounced CH.

Cz—Found in Polish, also pronounced CH.

Ċ—Maltese letter, another CH sound.

Đ đ (Ђ ђ)—This letter, unique to the Serbian Cyrillic alphabet, is called Dje and pronounced somewhat akin to the J in “juice.”

Dž (Џ)—This letter, unique to the Serbian Cyrillic alphabet, is called Dzhe and pronounced somewhat like the J in “jump.” It’s also found in Macedonian and Montenegrin, which have adopted the Serbian alphabet.

Ð ð—Found in Old and Middle English, Icelandic, and Faroese. It’s sometimes transliterated as DH, or just D.

Ď d’—Used in Czech and Slovak; pronounced DYEH (one syllable).

Dzs—Found in Hungarian; makes an English J sound. Most often encountered in transliterations of names like Ginger, Jennifer, and Jessica.

Ę—Found in Polish and Lithuanian, and pronounced like a nasal E.

Ē—Used in Latvian; pronounced like E in Easter.

Ë—Most commonly seen in French, Dutch, Albanian, Luxembourgish, and Kashubian. In Albanian and Kashubian, it’s “uh.” In the other languages, it mostly signifies E is pronounced separately from the vowel before it; e.g., Henriëtte, Raphaël.

É—Found in Spanish, Hungarian, Icelandic, French, Czech, Slovak, Catalan, Portuguese, Galician, and several other languages. It’s like the “ay” in “say.”

È—Short E (“eh”), most commonly seen in French.

Ê—Found in French; pronounced “eh.”

G—Pronounced with a hard sound in Germanic, Slavic, Finno–Ugric, and Baltic languages. In Romanian, it’s soft before E and I, hard everywhere else.

Ģ ģ—Soft G in Latvian.

Ġ—Makes an English J sound in Maltese.

Għ—Maltese silent letter, except at the end of words and names. Then it’s pronounced like Ħ ħ.

Gli—Found in Italian. Think of it as a very rolled L, with the I taking a “yee” sound. The G isn’t pronounced.

Gn—Found in Italian; pronounced like the Spanish Ñ (i.e., the “ny” in “canyon”).

Gy—Found in Hungarian; similar to the British pronunciation of the “du” sound in “endure” or “due.”

Ħ ħ—Maltese letter; makes a normal H sound. Without the line, this letter is silent.

Ī—Found in Latvian; pronounced “oo” as in “soon.”

Í—Long I; found in many European languages.

I ı—Like the I in “cousin”; found in Turkish and Azeri.

İ i—Long I; also found in Turkish and Azeri.

Ì—Found in Italian; indicates where the stress falls.

Ï—Found in French; indicates two side-by-side vowels are pronounced separately.

ΗFound in French; pronunciation doesn’t change.

J—Pronounced as a Y in Germanic, Western and Southern Slavic, Scandinavian, Albanian, Baltic, and Finno–Ugric languages. It’s akin to ZH in French, and is typically pronounced like an H in Spanish. However, the Spanish pronunciation can differ depending upon the region.

Ќ—Transliteration of Macedonian letter Kje. Pronounced ky as in “cute.”

Ķ ķ—Makes a T sound in Latvian.

Kh—Like the guttural Ch in “loch” and Chanukah. Found in East Slavic languages using Cyrillic.

Ł—Uniquely Polish and pronounced like a W.

Ļ ļ—Like the “li” in “million”; found in Latvian.

Lj (Љ)—This letter is unique to the Serbian Cyrillic alphabet, and called Lje. It’s pronounced like the LL in “million.”

Ll—Found in Spanish and French. In Spanish, it usually makes an English Y sound, though is pronounced as J or SH in some countries. In French, it can either be a Y or L sound.

Ly—Found in Hungarian; makes a Y sound (i.e., the L is silent).

Ñ—Found in Spanish and pronounced like the ny in “canyon.”

Ń—Unique to Polish and pronounced like Ñ.

Ņ ņ—Found in Latvian; pronounced like Ñ.

Nj (Њ)—Unique to Serbian Cyrillic; called Nje. Also used in Montenegrin and Macedonian, which have adopted the Serbian Cyrillic alphabet. It’s pronounced like the ny in “canyon.”

Ny—Found in Hungarian; also similar to the Spanish Ñ.

O—In the Cyrillic alphabet, O is pronounced like a long A unless the stress falls on it. This, for example, is why Boris is properly pronounced Bah-REECE, not BOR-iss.

Ø—Found in the Scandinavian languages and pronounced kind of like a U, or the eu in “bleu.” Its pronunciation varies slightly, depending upon the particular word or language.

Ö—Comes in long and short versions in German. When short, it’s like the I in “flirt” or the O in “word”; when long, it’s like the O in “worm” or the I in “bird.”

Ő—Found in Hungarian; a longer, closer Ö.

Ó—Found in many languages; indicates an “oh” sound.

Ò—Found in Italian; takes an “oh” sound.

Ô—Found in French; pronounced “oh.”

Ō—Primarily found in Livonian and pre-1946 Latvian. It indicates a long O.

Õ—Found in Portuguese; indicates a nasal O.

Q—Pronounced CH in Albanian.

Rr—A rolled, trilled R found in Spanish.

Rz—Found in Polish and Kashubian; similar to ZH in Russian.

Ř—Used in Czech; similar to the above sound.

Š—Pronounced SH; used in Polish, Czech, Slovakian, Slovenian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Croatian, and transliterated Serbian, Macedonian, and Montenegrin.

Ś—Found in Polish and the transliteration of Montenegrin; pronounced SH.

ß—This uniquely German letter is kind of like an overpronounced S.

Sz—Pronounced SH in Polish; S in Hungarian.

Ţ—Found in Romanian; pronounced like the ZZ in “pizza.”

Ť ť—Letter Tje found in Czech; like the “ty” in Katya.

Ty—Found in Hungarian; like the “Tu” in the British pronunciation of Tuesday.

Þ þ—Found in Icelandic, Old and Middle English, Old Norse, Old Swedish, and Gothic. It takes a TH sound, as in Thor (Þor).

Ü—Found in German, with long and short versions. When short, it’s like making an “ee” sound while pursing the lips almost completely. The long form merely lengthens it.

Ū—In Latvian; a short I as in “girl.” In Lithuanian, it marks a longer vowel.

Ű—Found in Hungarian; longer, closer form of Ü, with tightly-pursed lips.

Ú—Indicates a long U; found in many languages.

Ù—Found in Italian; indicates the stress falls on U.

Û—Found in French; pronunciation only changes when it comes after E. In that case, U is pronounced separately from the E.

Ǔ—Uniquely Belarusian letter; pronounced like W. Comparable to Polish Ł.

Ů—Found in Czech; like the “oo” in “fool.”

W—Pronounced like a V in the Germanic and Scandinavian languages, and Polish.

Xh—This Albanian letter is pronounced like the J in Jupiter.

Ý—Found in Czech, Icelandic, Faroese, Old Norse, Slovak, Early Modern Spanish (used from late 15th century to the late 17th century), transliterated Kazakh, and Vietnamese. It’s like the “ee” in “bee.”

Ÿ—Occasionally seen in Dutch, representing the ij (ee) sound.

Z—Pronounced TS in many European languages.

Ź—Unique to Polish and transliterated Montenegrin, and pronounced ZH.

Ż—Pronounced as above, with a slight difference. Also found in Maltese.

Ž—Found in Lithuanian, Czech, Slovakian, Bosnian, Croatian, and transliterated Serbian, Montenegrin, and Macedonian, and also pronounced ZH. In Latvian, this is an S sound.

Zs—Pronounced ZH in Hungarian.

2 thoughts on “Pronunciation Guide to Foreign Names

  1. This is great, thanks for sharing! 🙂
    Here are some things I can add about the languages I know a bit about, though I am not a linguist, only a linguophile and a language learner, hope that helps a little bit.
    Č does not exist in Polish, only cz, unless it was used in the past or functions in some dialects but I’ve never ever heard about it.
    Ch is pronounced the same in Welsh as in Dutch.
    There is a Welsh digraph dd occurring for example in the name Dafydd, which is pronounced as th in “the”. Meanwhile Welsh th as in Delyth is voiceless and pronounced like the th in “Thursday”.
    There are three Polish digraphs using the letter D – dz, dż and dź. – Dz sounds a bit like D and Z pronounced together, or a voiced C, dż is like English j in Jessica and Jennifer, and dź is just slightly softer than Dż, a bit like the j in juice. Additionally, if dz is followed by I, it sounds like dź, similarly ci typically sounds like ć, ni like ń, si like ś and zi like ź, there are some rare exceptions to that for example Dżesika is pronounced with separate s and i sounds.
    F in Welsh is pronounced like v, while ff is pronounced like f.
    Welsh ll sound – as in Llywelyn – is a voiceless L, sounds a bit like hl, and a bit like sh, sometimes it may resemble German ch in words like ich, but I think the most accurate way to explain it is that it sounds like a lateral lisp, like a lispy S.
    The Polish Ń doesn’t really sound the same as N. It’s softer, more like the Spanish relative.
    Ó in Polish is a bit of an exception and is pronounced identically as Polish U.
    Welsh rh as in Rhys is an aspirative. I’d say it sounds like hr with exhaling slightly before saying the r. To some people it sounds like the Czech Ř and while they are different, I guess there indeed is some similarity.

  2. This is a great overview! It shows that language is a lot about small details, and sometimes small differences in pronounciation can change the meaning, or make a word difficult to understand.

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