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Say How? A Pronunciation Guide to Names of Public Figures


By Stephanie Ciccarelli

October 11, 2007

Comments (13)

Alphabetical Index CardsEver run into a name in a script that you didn't know how to say?

Nancy Wolfson from Braintracks Audio pointed out a dynamite list of over 9,000 entries of names in the media and grace the history pages that may be of some help to you.

Discover how to say some of these famous names correctly BEFORE you need to record them now!

Pure pronunciation power!

Nancy sent me a resource that will make your life a whole lot easier and contains precisely 9,032 entries of sheer phonetic goodness hosted on the Library of Congress website, compiled by Ray Hagen.

Ray Hagen is a voice actor who started collecting the proper pronunciations of names in the 1970s written on index cards he kept in a shoe box. No doubt these pronunciations came in handy when recording over 400 audio books!

I was very impressed with this resource and decided to contact Ray personally, and upon doing so, was delighted to learn that there is a companion guide called The ABC Book, A Pronunciation Guide that features acronyms, brand names, corporations and obscure words, a resource which is hosted online as well.

What inspired "Say How? A Pronunciation Guide to Names of Public Figures"?

Say How? was born at the Library of Congress Talking Books for the Blind Recording Studio, where pronunciation of words and names borders on obsession. We found that one area was conspicuously missing from all of our many dictionaries and pronunciation guides: names of lesser known and contemporary public figures. Reference works tend to favor the famous and the dead. So at our Studio we began compiling a file of 3 x 5 cards with names of people prominent and obscure, past and present, in the fields of entertainment, politics, sports, literature, science, crime, fashion, medicine, law - anyone, in short, who's name could possibly turn up in a book. (Even relatives got included - David Niven's wife, Beverly Sills's husband, Fred Astaire's daughter, etc. - because they get written about, too.) After filling up five shoeboxes with index cards, we were finally able to computerize the list and distribute it in print form to other Library of Congress Talking Book Studios throughout the country, updating it every six months with additions and corrections.

As briefly outlined above, here is the background for this guide and how to use it.

Say How? is meant to be an ongoing project, with errors corrected and new names added regularly. In fact, Ray eagerly solicits any and all contributions and corrections. Ray encourages you to send all such information to: hagenray (at) earthlink.net.

You can view the online version of "Say How?" here.

This version at the Library of Congress was last updated in May of 2006, however, Ray has been updating the guides on his own.

We are working with Ray to acquire the newest versions for you at present.



P.S. After you've reviewed the list, come back to VOX Daily and leave a comment with your fave names to pronounce!

©©©iStockphoto.com/elianet ortiz

Related Topics: how to


    Thanks Nancy for sharing this great resource, it was very generous. Thanks Steph for publishing it.

    Best always,
    - Peter

    Posted by:

      I looked for my favorite public figure / Canadian celebrity with a hard-to-pronounce name, and he's not on the list!

      Where's my boyfriend George Stroumboulopoulos? ;)

      Posted by:

        Kudos to VoxDaily for providing this terrific resource.

        Posted by:

          Hey Erica,

          Just sound that one out by syllables:)

          Didn't see Snuffalupogus on the list but I'm sure you will enjoy George and his "Sesame Street" interview here:


          Ben Affleck makes the list - but not the Sabres' Maxim Afinagenov?

          Cheers from,
          Ralph www.HasTheVoice.com
          MSG-TV imaging voice for the NHL's Buffalo Sabres

          Posted by:

            Hi, Stephanie! In addition to Say How?, I can recommend these resources for assistance with pronunciation:

            Google - Google is my first point of research for almost anything I want to know, including pronunciation. Enter the word as your search, and click on the definition link to the far right. You also can enter the query "online pronunciation" with any other term (German, medical, etc.) to find a vast array of specialized dictionaries. For instance, through a Google search of "online pronunciation medical" and instantly found the Merck medical dictionary and could hear the pronunciation for agammaglobulinemia. Don't ask me what it means, but I can now say it! :)

            Merriam-Webster Online

            Voice of America Pronunciation Guide

            I hope this info helps! Thanks for yet another terrific post!

            Karen Commins

            Posted by:

              A wonderful guide - thanks for publishing it.

              Does anyone have any pronunciation guides for medical, technical, (Computer) and legal terms?

              Posted by:
              • Dave Menashe
              • October 15, 2007 6:06 PM

                Edward AL-bee or ALL-bee (AWL-bee)???

                Posted by:
                • Bennett
                • October 24, 2007 6:56 PM

                  I'm pretty sure I recall hearing a director who knew him call him AL-bee

                  Posted by:


                    Posted by:
                    • Courtney Lynne Bickerman
                    • December 14, 2011 10:38 AM

                      Some newscasters pronounce "deaths" as "dez."

                      Posted by:
                      • Vinnie Vinson
                      • December 14, 2011 10:39 AM

                        Polish Sausage Sandwich.

                        Posted by:
                        • Dennis McAtee
                        • December 14, 2011 10:39 AM

                          Try native words like Puyallup, Sequim, Issaquah...

                          Posted by:
                          • Deborah E. Pennington
                          • December 14, 2011 10:40 AM

                            Today I had to say, "The event is free, and open to students from sixth through twelfth grade."

                            I couldn't get it, and we ended up just going with "The event is free!" :)

                            Posted by:
                            • Brian McGovern
                            • December 14, 2011 10:40 AM

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