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Throatwobbler Mangrove

Q: Why do so many Americans insist on mispronouncing 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: We’re not authorities on German phonetics, but it’s our understanding that “-stein” may indeed be pronounced as “-steen” in some local dialects of Swiss-German. Be that as it may, we 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, 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.” We’ve known of different Weinsteins who pronounce their name differently. (We’re leaving aside the “-stain” pronunciations, and the ones in which “st” is pronounced as in German: “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 us 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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