The Grammarphobia Blog

Throatwobbler Mangrove

Q: Why do so many Americans mispronounce last names that end in “stein,” including their own? There is only ONE correct pronunciation of “stein” in names like “Bernstein,” “Goldstein,” “Weinstein,” etc., and that is “stine.” The “steen” version is completely wrong and not accepted by any German-speaking people.

A: I’m no authority on German phonetics, but I’ve read that “stein” may indeed be pronounced “steen” in some local dialects of Swiss-German. Be that as it may, I don’t believe a name, especially your own, must be pronounced the same as in its country of origin. Once your family emigrates, all bets are off!

If you check Leonard Bernstein’s entry in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.), you’ll find two pronunciations for the last syllable of his surname, long “i” and long “e” (both “stine” AND “steen”).

Cesar Milstein, the Nobel Prize-winning immunologist, pronounced the last syllable of his name “steen,” but the violinist Nathan Milstein was a “stine.” I’ve heard different Weinsteins pronounce their names differently. (I’m leaving aside the “stain” pronunciations, and the ones in which “st” is pronounced as “sht.”)

These choices should be left up to immigrants and their descendants. Would you require a woman of Hispanic ancestry named Linda Martin to pronounce her name “LEEN-da mar-TEEN” because that’s how it’s pronounced in Latin America? Of course not. The choice of pronunciation is hers. And if she chooses an Anglicized version, we respect her choice.

All this talk about pronunciation reminds me of that bit from Monty Python: “Ah, no, no. My name is spelt ‘Luxury Yacht’ but it’s pronounced Throatwobbler Mangrove.”

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