A Travellerspoint blog

How Is Your Name Pronounced Abroad?

The many ways to say Lehane

sunny 35 °C

As everyone quickly discovers when they go abroad for the first time, the pronunciation of names is a minefield completely separate from language skills. Even if your hotel receptionist speaks perfect English, chances are he or she will get your name completely wrong. Depending on how many times this has happened to you before, the usual reactions include smiling, grimacing or groaning.

What's interesting about this phenomenon is that it varies depending on the culture that you find yourself in. This quick rundown shows the different ways people have said my name, at least in places I've been around in long enough to commit the pronunciations to memory.

1. USA
Pronunciation: Le-hane, as in window pane.

Embracing this very literal interpretation of the spelling of my last name has made things much quicker when interfacing with strangers, especially over the phone. Although I have had much more trouble with my bilingual birth certificate than with my name: a clerk at the motor vehicle division asked more than once if it was translated - the English letters are twice as large as the Irish ones, incidentally. People that know me well do know the right pronunciation!

2. France
Pronunciation: Luh-Ann, with my first name as 'Beel' for good measure.

Probably the only nation in the world that insists on mispronouncing my first name as well, the French do things their own way in all ways at all times, both good and bad! The 'le' opening (the masculine form of 'the' in French) definitely doesn't help in this regard. As an aside, my Dad once signed a whole series of salary checks in Belgium made out to a 'Brian Le Hane'. Better than not getting paid!

3. Cork, Ireland
Pronunciation: Lee-Hann, with lots of emphasis on the 'e's and 'n's

The spiritual home of all Lehanes, Cork has more of this clan in its phone book than any other place in the world. I suppose this pronunciation is the most official one, but that doesn't mean you'll ever catch me using it! Incidentally, the anglicized name Lehane derives from the Irish Gaelic surname Ó Liatháin, pronounced somewhat differently as oh-lee-aah-hawn.

4. China
Pronunciation: No data

In the course of six full months in China, no Chinese person ever even attempted to say my last name, not once. I unsuccessfully experimented with the Chinese equivalent of my first name, pronounced 'bee-arr'. There was no need for this though because they seemed to have Bill more or less down, except they said it twice as slowly as normal, and with added intensity!

4. Dublin, Ireland
Pronunciation: Le-hann, a bit like the French one but more 'le' than 'luh'

Evidently, this is what I consider to be the actual pronunciation of my name. Where the disparity between it and its southern Irish counterpart came from I have no idea, but it's too late to change now haha! The few non-related Lehanes I have come across in Dublin also use the above pronunciation, so it does have some legitimacy to it.

Ultimately, dear readers, I suppose you could say that an unusual last name can cause as many problems in your home country as it does abroad, where at least the locals sometimes have a language barrier as an excuse. Feel free to add your own comments or funny experiences with your last name below.

Until next time, consider that the worst ever pronunciation of my name was right in Dublin. A local security company employee was perhaps the victim of a very bad telephone line when he repeated my name back to me as 'Phil Mahon' :-)

Posted by BillLehane 09:05 Archived in USA Tagged living_abroad

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUpon

Table of contents


I went to a French school growing up, where they rendered my name (Katherine) as Kat-rrreen with that nice rolled 'r' they have.
I have discovered in later life that if someone uses that pronunciation of my name, I will automatically answer in French. Practically pavlovian. It's very odd.

When I travel I mostly hear kat-rin, but I can live with that.

by kithica

Hi, I speah Hebrew, our names have a lot of k. h, ch....
it is very funny when people are trying to pronounce names like: Kochavah... Yocheved...Naavah...

by touristrav

We are flying next week to Amsterdam, me and my 10 years old daughter.We will not have any problems there, they have a lot of kkkk, ch...in dutch!

by touristrav

That's funny, touristrav! I must admit I don't think I could pronounce your name either if you did not tell me first!

by BillLehane

hey I am from China, I guess most Chinese would pronounce your name as "lay han"

by yalesg

That's true about China! My experience however was that most people simply called me by my first name there. Some Chinese names are hard to say too, haha!

by BillLehane

In Korea, where I lived for 2 years, they add 'uh' to the end of everything, and change Ls to Rs, so your name would be "Re Han Uh". They called me "Suh Caw Tuh" (Scott)

by madpoet

That's funny, Scott - I can hear the accent in your phonetic description! Makes me think of 'Lost in Translation' too, where the ad director keeps saying 'cut-uh, cut-uh, cut-uh'!

by BillLehane

My mine is Jessinta and am Australian. I found anyone who is from the UK, South Africa has no problems with my name, North America on the other hand has a terrible time (Canada and the US). I get C's, M's, D's K's anything really added to my name. I tell them Jess-in-ta say it as it is written yet apparently that is still too hard to do!
I feel the true test of your name is go to a starbucks and see what is written on your cup!!

by jkbrown85

Haha, this is quite insightful. I have never thought about it, probably because my name is relatively easy to pronounce (or at least I think so)... and usually when people mispronounce my name, I would only need to correct them once or twice.


by shahoney

Comments on this blog entry are now closed to non-Travellerspoint members. You can still leave a comment if you are a member of Travellerspoint.