Having worked as a publishing consultant for a Canadian-owned, Random House-affiliate publishing services providing company was the closest that I ever had to working for a call center. Because we catered to mostly North American clients, we had to speak, well, at least passable American English. Not having undergone any American accent training, I still felt that my English (and other Anglicized words)-speaking skills are somehow above average.
I never liked trying to sound American by talking nasally. I’d sound like someone with speech problems like some people I know. Hehe. So, I went into training and since I am not at all an idiot, I learned what I was supposed to learn within the period allotted for the process, far more quickly, I believe. Our trainers were a bunch of characters. But then again, trainees—and students for that matter—always make fun of their trainers and teachers.
The first month was a lot of fun. Our American department head gave us the permission to take 10-minute breaks in between 60-minute of straight serious work. Those were on top of our lunch breaks and two 15-minute breaks. That was pure heaven for smokers like us and for non-smokers who took the same breaks as we did to chat and talk about the “characters” in the office. Since we were told to speak English at all times then, we did. So breaks were a bunch of breaks indeed filled with funny anecdotes in English. There were 9 of us in our batch. We were supposed to be a part of the first batch of 12 but since the first three—who later became our supervisors—were taken in before the Christmas break and they needed hands on deck (not on the dick, you, you!) then, we were considered the 1 1/2 batch. Hehe.
So anyway, the main criterion for the beauty contest—er—for hiring us was our English speaking skills. Our American department head conducted one on one interviews and if you pass his standards—meaning he understands the way you speak and you get to deliver the answers to his questions the way he wants to hear them—then you’re hired. So we were super proud to have been hired into a position that promised at least a basic fee of twenty grand, well, not in dollars, but in pesos. We were also given the chance to earn commissions. It was a good deal! I will keep mum about what went on after that in terms of monetary concerns because I don’t want to rouse the sleeping monsters here and there.
The first day we went live—call potential clients—we got lost. One of the major problems? Pronunciation of last names. Pronouncing places wasn’t much of a problem because somehow, I already knew how to properly most of them, like Tucson/TOO-sahn/in Arizona, Cayce /KAY • see/ in South Carolina, Des Moines /dih-MOYN/ in Iowa, Leicester /LESS-tur/ in Massachusetts, Reading /RED-ing/ (not like READING from the base verb READ!) in Pennsylvannia and many others.
Nope, we were not given any help in that department. What I did was create my own pronunciation guide. Well, it all boils down to etymology for some. And if you really can’t pronounce it properly, it’s best to politely ask the owner of the name. I once looked for a Miss Augusta Something only to find out that he’s a HE. Some countries don’t go by the usual Filipino convention of names ending with (Mario) O or U for men and A (Maria) for women. By the way, my parents names are Gregorio and Gregoria. Talk about soulmates! LOL.
My research enabled me to learn some new things and to affirm those that I already knew. I thought it would be nice to share the fruits of my research here. How’s that? Most of them are from Inoglo, About.com and The Budget Fashionista.
I started with author’s names.
Paulo Coelho—paw-LU ko-wel-YU (my own version based on the IPA guide)
Chuck Palahniuk—chuhk PALL-uh-nik
Ayn Rand—ine rand
Roland Barthes—roll-AH(NG) bart
Ivan Illich—ih-VAHN IH-lich
Jodi Picoult—JOE-dee PEE-koe
Marcel Proust—mar-SELL proost
Kathy Reichs—KA-thee ryks
Jon Scieszka—jahn SHESS-kuh
Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky—FYOE-dur mih-HY-loe-vich dahs-tuh-YEF-skee
J K Rowling—“rolling“
Jan van Eyck—yahn fuhn ike
Eugene Delacroix—uu-ZHEHN deh-lah-krwah
Edgar Degas—ED-gar duh-GAH
Claude Monet—kload moe-nay
Paul Gauguin—pall go-GA
Jean-Auguste Ingres—zhahn-o-gust angg
And what last name pronunciation guide would be complete without fashion designers? So here’s a not-so-complete guide from The Budget Fashionista. They’re divided into A-G, H-M, and N-Z.
Giorgio Armani: Jor-ji-o Ar-ma-nee
Manolo Blahnik: Muh-no-low blah- nick
Andre Courreges: AN-Dre Courreges
Bottega Veneta: Bo-TAY-ga Ve-NE-tah
Roberto Cavalli: RO-ber-to Ka-VA-lee
Comme des Garcons: KUM de Gar-SOHN
Christian Dior: KRE-shtaan DEE-or
Dolce and Gabbana: DOL-chay and Gab-BAH-nah
Ellen Tracy: EL-lin TRAY-see
Salvatore Ferragamo: Sal- va- tor Ferr-A-ga-mo
Gianfranco Ferre: Gee-an-fran-ko Ferr-ay
John Galliano: Gall-lee-a-no
Hugo Boss: He-you-go Bo-s
Imitation of Christ: Em-ma-ta-shun of Cry-st
Marc Jacobs: Ma-rk Jay-kob-s
Betsey Johnson: BET-see JON-sun
Calvin Klein: CAL-vin KLYIN
Donna Karan (DKNY): Don-NAH KA-ran
Michael Kors: My-kal Ko-ors
Karl Lagerfeld: Ka-ral La-ger-fell-d
Helmut Lang: Hell- Mut Lay-ng
Jeanne Lanvin: John La- vin
Ralph Lauren: LORE-in
Nanette Lepore: Na-net LA-pour
Christian Louboutin: KRI-shtaan Lu-bu-TAHN
Louis Vuitton: Lu-wee Vee-tuhhh
Catherine Malandrino: KATH-er-in Mal-an-DREE-no
Alexander McQueen: Al-ex-AHN-der Mac-KWEEN
Isaac Mizrahi: Eye-zak Miz-ra-hee
Issey Miyake: E-say Me-ya-kay
Zac Posen: Zak Poo-zen
Proenza Schouler: pro-en-za skool-er
Emilio Pucci: E-MEE-lee-o POH-chee
Tracy Reese: TRAY- cee Ree-s
Elsa Schiaparelli: EL-sa She-a-pa-REHL-lee
Anna Sui: AN-na SOO-ee
Gianni Versace: Gee-a-nee Verr-sha-chie
Diane Von Furstenberg: DY-an Von FUR-sten-berg
Vera Wang: Veer- ra Way-ng
About.com also has an audio pronunciation guide on how designers’ names and brands are pronounced. Check it out here. It contains the correct pronunciation guides of Balmain, Byblos, Ermenegildo Zegna, Jean Paul Gaultier, Les Copains, Yves Saint Laurent and many more.
As a largely English-speaking country, I believe that pronouncing these foreign names and last names—English and Anglicized—are not merely about sounding good or whatever but it means giving respect to people from other countries whose names are not that easy for us Filipinos to pronounce. My name is constantly mispronounced and misspelled either and while I have gotten used to it, it still gets annoying sometimes. So, I think learning how to pronounce these names properly is a way of giving respect to others.