Theresa

« previous post | next post »

Ian Preston writes:

Following on from your analysis of how `Brexit' ought to be pronounced, I thought I'd bring to your attention that there is a question as to how the new British Prime Minster's name is pronounced. I will admit to having been uncertain whether she was [təˈriː.zə] or [təˈreː.zə].

I am not alone:

I asked about [tə'rV.sə], i.e. with a voiceless fricative in the final syllable, whatever the preceding vowel is, and Ian responded

I have not heard that over here but Lynne Murphy was tweeting earlier about it being a BrE/AmE difference:



53 Comments

  1. AndrewD said,

    July 18, 2016 @ 9:37 am

    TThe polite way is to address the Prime Minister as Mrs./Ms. May until introduced and being told which version to use by the PM herself.

  2. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 18, 2016 @ 9:42 am

    Not sure Americans should try to follow Br preference on /z/ v. /s/ here then (if rhotic) they should try to pronounce an English person's given name the way its non-rhotic bearer does?

  3. bratschegirl said,

    July 18, 2016 @ 9:53 am

    On the West coast of the US, I'm accustomed to hearing either te-REE-sa, with a soft s, or te-RAY-za, with a z. I don't think I've ever encountered middle syllable REE preceding final -za; I think I may have heard RAY preceding -sa, but not often.

  4. Martyn Cornell said,

    July 18, 2016 @ 10:00 am

    Surely the way to address her is 'Prime Minister', never 'Mrs May'?

  5. Lane said,

    July 18, 2016 @ 10:12 am

    Braschegirl, if you're on the west coast, depending on where you are, you might have come across the Spanish "Teresa" quite a bit, which is pronounced the way you say you haven't heard often. But it's the only way to do it in Spanish.

    You can hear the PM say [təˈriː.zə] herself at :43 here:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xv7Jd94bnOI

  6. Lane said,

    July 18, 2016 @ 10:14 am

    (@Bratschegirl, Give or take the obvious differences between Spanish and English, I mean; no lax ə, no diphthongized RAY, of course.)

  7. Rachael said,

    July 18, 2016 @ 10:35 am

    How do you pronounce Mother Teresa? I've always said te-ree-za, but it seems recently (acknowledging the recency illusion) I've started hearing people say te-ray-za. (I'm in the UK.)

  8. Pflaumbaum said,

    July 18, 2016 @ 10:55 am

    @ J W Brewer

    I think for names outside your language or dialect, the best compromise is to mimic the native pronunciation within the constraints of your own native phonology. So for instance with regard to r-fulness, in ordinary conversation I wouldn't pronounce a consonantal /r/ in the French 'Pierre' unless followed by a vowel. For a rhotic speaker to drop her /r/ for an Englishman called 'Peter' would seem similarly affected.

    On the other hand, after an LL discussion I did go through a spell of trying to pronounce "Barack" with the correct AmE stress/vowel reduction. But I was told it sounded weird. That's an odd one because I'm not sure there's any particular reason why ['barək] has taken root in the UK, but it does seem to be the convention.

  9. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    July 18, 2016 @ 11:09 am

    To me, TeREEza is normal: TREEza is fairly common contraction (as in the joke about the girl called Theresa Green). TeRAYza surprises me: I understand why Americans, who would be familiar with it as a Spanish name, would say it like that, but that would not seem to apply to British speakers. It may just be a a case of 'it looks a bit foreign, so we should say it in a foreign way'.

    As to Mother Teresa: I have always said TeREEza. I think I would justify this by saying that it was not her birth name, but a saint's name she adopted on taking religious vows, and names of this kind are regularly treated as international, to be said in the manner customary in one's own country (just as we say Pope Francis, not Pope Francesco).

  10. Coby Lubliner said,

    July 18, 2016 @ 11:25 am

    It has long struck me that in AmE there has been a trend to devoice posttonic intervocalic s in words, especially proper nouns, of Latin (though often ultimately Greek or Hebrew) origin, except Caesar, Jesus, Moses, Methuselah and perhaps a few others that I can't think of at the moment. If I'm not mistaken, in the course of my American lifetime Jerusalem, and to a large extent Theresa, Croesus, Joseph and basal have been devoiced.

  11. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 18, 2016 @ 11:29 am

    Pflaumbaum: the additional wrinkle here is that "Theresa" is a perfectly normal girls' name among speakers of my variety of AmEng, so it doesn't have the exoticism of Pierre or Barack (even though both of those names are attested among speakers of my variety).

    There are a handful of common-in-the-UK boys' given names that are so rare in the U.S. as to seem markedly foreign: Nigel, Clive, Trevor, and a few variant spellings (like Martyn for Martin) would be examples. I'm not sure if there's anything comparable on the girls' name side of the ledger. Nicknames would be different of course — if Sharon can be Shazza in England, what are the possibilities for Theresa? (I have known American Theresas who went by "Terry," fwiw.)

  12. Mara K said,

    July 18, 2016 @ 11:59 am

    In English (AmE), I say te.ri.sa. In Spanish, I was taught to say te.re.sa. Where do all these Zs come from?

  13. Roscoe said,

    July 18, 2016 @ 12:29 pm

    "There are a handful of common-in-the-UK boys' given names that are so rare in the U.S. as to seem markedly foreign: Nigel, Clive, Trevor, and a few variant spellings (like Martyn for Martin) would be examples. I'm not sure if there's anything comparable on the girls' name side of the ledger."

    How about "Gemma"?

  14. Ralph Hickok said,

    July 18, 2016 @ 1:11 pm

    I live just a few blocks from Mother Teresa's Missions of Charity home, a refuge for battered women, which she visited about 20 years ago. The nuns there seem to be unanimous in pronouncing it "TeREEsa."

  15. Idran said,

    July 18, 2016 @ 2:32 pm

    @Martyn Cornell: From what I understand, "Prime Minister" isn't technically supposed to be used as a form of address or rank, even though it's done all the time in common speech. It's officially a position, not a title, and in official reference you're supposed to use it as such. "The Rt. Hon. Theresa May, Prime Minister of…" rather than "Prime Minister Theresa May". Same for MPs; "Theresa May MP" rather than "MP Theresa May".

    So it's more akin to, say, CEO, for the first example to pop to mind; you wouldn't usually or officially say "CEO Jeff Bezos" for the same reason.

  16. Ralph Hickok said,

    July 18, 2016 @ 3:02 pm

    "So it's more akin to, say, CEO, for the first example to pop to mind; you wouldn't usually or officially say "CEO Jeff Bezos" for the same reason."

    Just as you wouldn't usually or officially say (or write) "Renowned curator Jacques Saunière … "

    (Kind of an LL in joke.)

  17. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 18, 2016 @ 3:33 pm

    Coby Lubliner: It has long struck me that in AmE there has been a trend to devoice posttonic intervocalic s in words, especially proper nouns, of Latin (though often ultimately Greek or Hebrew) origin, except Caesar, Jesus, Moses, Methuselah and perhaps a few others that I can't think of at the moment. If I'm not mistaken, in the course of my American lifetime Jerusalem, and to a large extent Theresa, Croesus, Joseph and basal have been devoiced.

    Mara K.: In English (AmE), I say te.ri.sa. In Spanish, I was taught to say te.re.sa. Where do all these Zs come from?

    I'm with Mara. "Teresa" and "Theresa" always have /s/, in my American experience. Other varieties of English tend to voice those sibilants. Australian English goes the farthest. I'm not sure I've ever heard anyone say "Croesus", but I was sure when I first read the word in childhood that the first <s> was an /s/.

    I'd even pronounce "Therese" with an /s/, rhyming with "peace". I'll admit that's devoicing.

  18. RP said,

    July 18, 2016 @ 3:43 pm

    I agree that "Prime Minister May" or "Prime Minister Theresa May" isn't really correct, and you'd probably find that such usages are far commoner in US sources than British.

    But "Prime Minister" on its own (without a name) strikes me as a perfectly correct form of address and is what i would probably expect to hear in a broadcast interview with the PM. There was also a TV series in the 80s, "Yes Prime Minister".

    Similarly "Secretary of State" (for a Cabinet member). Not "Secretary" on its own and never "Mr Secretary", nor preceding the name of the person of concerned.

  19. Ralph Hickok said,

    July 18, 2016 @ 5:34 pm

    @RP:
    Hillary Clinton is very commonly referred to as "Secretary Clinton" in reference to her most recent governmental role as secretary of state.

  20. Bloix said,

    July 18, 2016 @ 5:42 pm

    Martyn Cornell – I happen to be in London as I write this and I have been struck by how the TV newspeople call her "Mrs. May." She seems to be either "the Prime Minister" or "Mrs. May" but not "Prime Minister May." I have a copy of the Evening Standard at hand and their initial reference is "Theresa May" and either "the Prime Minister" or "Mrs. May" thereafter.

    J.W. Brewer – Philippa, Phyllida, Maisy, Jemima, Minnie, Nicola, Jo.

  21. David Morris said,

    July 18, 2016 @ 5:58 pm

    In standard Australian English, as far as I know, Teresa is usually te-REE-za, with TREE-za as an informal, reduced version. Pronouncing it with an /s/ means that the 'Trees are green' pun doesn't work. (I have a vague feeling I've met a Terissa, though.)

    I'm not aware that Teresa has an Aussie hypocoristic version. Tezza????

  22. cameron said,

    July 18, 2016 @ 6:56 pm

    Tezza is plausible as a nickname form of Theresa, though I don't think I've heard it used.

    As for female names that are common in the UK but barely known in the US, I think the prime example would be Fiona.

  23. Roscoe said,

    July 18, 2016 @ 7:09 pm

    Flora, Flossie.

  24. Coby Lubliner said,

    July 18, 2016 @ 7:15 pm

    Jerry Friedman: I remember Theresa with voiced s because I had a high-school teacher with that forename (early 1950s).

  25. Garrett Wollman said,

    July 18, 2016 @ 9:43 pm

    I suspect many Americans may be familiar with Teresa Heinz Kerry, present wife of current US Secretary of State John Forbes Kerry. When Kerry was running for the White House twelve years ago, her name (Portuguese by origin) was frequently in the news. In Massachusetts we still hear about her fairly regularly, since John Kerry is from here.

  26. Levantine said,

    July 18, 2016 @ 11:54 pm

    Ralph Hickok and Bloix, "Prime Minister May" is untenable in British English. Locutions such as "President Obama", "Secretary Clinton", and "Senator Sanders" sound distinctly American to me; we only use noble titles in this manner.

  27. Brett said,

    July 19, 2016 @ 12:10 am

    @J.W. Brewer, Roscoe, Bloix: I am struck by how different the characteristically British boys' and girls' names seem. To me, Clive and Trevor sound like perfectly ordinary American names, which just happen to be less popular here than in Britain. Nigel certainly stands out as more British, but I have met at least one American Nigel. On the other hand, most of the distinctly British female names that have been listed off so far would seem exceedingly strange on an American. I am pretty confident I will make it my entire life without crossing paths with an American named Phyllida. (Then again, I didn't think I would ever mean an American Tamsin—until I did.)

  28. Levantine said,

    July 19, 2016 @ 1:05 am

    Brett, for what it's worth, I'm British, and Phyllida is news to me.

    Lorna sounds a very un-American name to me, but then one of the characters in Orange Is the New Black is called this.

  29. Bloix said,

    July 19, 2016 @ 1:36 am

    There are a number of famous Phyllidas, including Phyllida Law and Phyllida Barlow, but my favorite is (the fictional) Phyllida Erskin-Browne.

  30. RP said,

    July 19, 2016 @ 3:02 am

    @Ralph Hickok,
    Sorry to have been unclear. I was expounding upon British usage. My point was the contrast with American practice.

  31. RP said,

    July 19, 2016 @ 3:23 am

    The former British foreign secretary David Miliband has described being addressed by Americans, even after leaving his post, as "Mr Secretary" and "Secretary Miliband". I don't think he was complaining; I think he enjoys it.

    In Britain, the way to refer to him is "Mr Miliband" or "David Miliband". If he is described as "foreign secretary" then it must be preceded with the word "former".

  32. mollymooly said,

    July 19, 2016 @ 5:06 am

    It may be a recency illusion, but I think "Minster Murphy" has become common in Ireland in the last ten years or so. I suspect this trend was started by Murphy's party colleagues trying to make him or her sound important, but broadcast journalists have used "Minister Murphy" both when referring to the minister and when addressing him/her. "President Murphy" and "Councillor Murphy" have long been standard, whereas I've never heard "Taoiseach Murphy". Nor "(Lord) Mayor Murphy", though that's an annual ceremonial title rather than a substantive office; on which note, there is some slight evidence of "Mayor Khan" in UK press referring to the London mayor; I can envisage contexts where the conciseness of the formula overrides concerns about its non-idiomaticity. Maybe it depends not just on the British v American dialect, but also on the office; are some offices seen as more British and others more American?

  33. Jen said,

    July 19, 2016 @ 5:39 am

    'Mayor Khan' in headlines might not be so much a title as a description – more like 'Hibs boss Lennon' than 'President Obama'. Hard to tell, though.

  34. Ginger Yellow said,

    July 19, 2016 @ 7:05 am

    But "Prime Minister" on its own (without a name) strikes me as a perfectly correct form of address and is what i would probably expect to hear in a broadcast interview with the PM. There was also a TV series in the 80s, "Yes Prime Minister".

    In the case of the TV show, of course, the address was coming from the PM's subordinate, not a journalist or colleague. Famously, Blair told everyone to call him Tony when he took office – even Mr Blair was too formal (or at least that was the image he wanted to convey at the time). Even leaving him out of the picture, It's standard to call prime ministers Mr/Mrs/Ms Whatever these days, at least outside of the context of parliamentary language.

  35. RP said,

    July 19, 2016 @ 7:48 am

    The point is that "Prime Minister" is a correct and standard way to address prime ministers.

    Andrew Marr (BBC interviewer): "And I'm joined now by the Prime Minister. Prime Minister, I'm told that your private pollsters are telling you that it is now very difficult for you to win a majority. Is that true?"
    … "Alright Prime Minister thank you very much indeed."
    (The Andrew Marr Show, 19/4/2015 – http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/19041503.pdf )

  36. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 19, 2016 @ 8:57 am

    I will grant Phillipa and Phylidda, but none of the other female names mentioned seemed strikingly un-American. There is e.g. a federal judge in Manhattan with the first name Lorna. I think maybe in the U.S. Fiona is still (or at least was until quite recently) largely marked as an ethnic-Irish name in a way it might not be in England these days. (E.g. I have met an Englishwoman named Fiona whose ethnic background was Ashkenazic, and I would find an Ashkenazic Fiona somewhat noteworthy in a U.S. context.) Of course there is a lot of generational churn for female names in the U.S. The SSA's baby name database indicates that Peak Lorna was 1941 whereas Peak Fiona was 2013.

  37. Shad said,

    July 19, 2016 @ 9:25 am

    I don't think of Minnie as a "British-sounding" name, and don't think I ever will as long as we have Minnie Mouse.

    Likewise, Maisy just seems old-fashioned and rural to me, not British. That may be entirely because I knew an old woman named Maisy when I was a child.

  38. Ellen K. said,

    July 19, 2016 @ 9:27 am

    @Jerry Friedman
    I'd even pronounce "Therese" with an /s/, rhyming with "peace". I'll admit that's devoicing.

    Therese is my middle name (I'm American) and that's how I pronounce it. So you aren't totally wrong. Yes, definitely a case of devoicing. Though I think devoiced due to pronouncing it like the name Teresa/Theresa (in American English) rather than as any sort of a systematic phonetic thing.

  39. Coby Lubliner said,

    July 19, 2016 @ 10:26 am

    Voiced or unvoiced s aside, there are a good many names that are often pronounced differently in Britain and America: Bernard, Maurice, Basil, Gillian… Also surnames like Davies, Cottrell, Burrell, and especially Scottish ones like Buchan, Milne, Dalziel and Menzies.

  40. lynneguist said,

    July 19, 2016 @ 10:44 am

    For what it's worth, I've just blogged on the s/z issue.
    http://separatedbyacommonlanguage.blogspot.co.uk/2016/07/theresa-and-other-sibilant-names.html

  41. RP said,

    July 19, 2016 @ 11:10 am

    I'm British and I've never come across as Phylidda, either, and the only place I've come across Minnie is in Minnie Mouse's name, so – like Shad – I don't think of it as British.

    Although Levantine says that 'Locutions such as "President Obama", "Secretary Clinton", and "Senator Sanders" sound distinctly American to me', I don't think there would be anything surprising about a British journalist saying or writing "President Obama" or "Senator Sanders" in the context of reporting news from the US (but it is probably true that they are not used as much as in the US, and that "Mr Obama" and "Mr Sanders" are widely used as well). "Secretary Clinton", on the other hand, I would be very surprised to hear from a British person.

  42. Levantine said,

    July 19, 2016 @ 11:45 am

    RP, I didn't mean to suggest that Brits don't talk of "President Obama", etc.; you're absolutely right that we do (and I believe this applies to non-American cases, too: e.g., "President Putin"). All I meant is that we don't use analogous locutions for our own politicians.

  43. Narmitaj said,

    July 19, 2016 @ 2:32 pm

    @ RP – Brit Phyllida Law, despite her long acting career, is possibly more famous as the mother of Emma Thompson from her marriage to Eric "Magic Roundabout" Thompson. ("Brit" is not a title).

    The only Brit Minnie I have heard of is Minnie Driver, but her real forenames are Amelia Fiona; she apparently got Minnie not from a pun on "Mini driver" but because her sister couldn't say "Amelia" properly. Similarly, my first name is Nicholas but I mangled it in early days and every now and then still get called the resulting "Lillius" or "Lil" by my aged mother.

    Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin got his name from his brother being unable to say brother ("Buzzer") and now Buzz is his official name. I wonder how many names and versions thereof have been generated from mishearings or pismronunciations of some Uther name.

  44. Not a naive speaker said,

    July 19, 2016 @ 3:19 pm

    @Roscoe

    In Saki's short story "The Secret Sin of Septimus Brope" Teresa and Florrie have an appearance.

  45. Martha said,

    July 19, 2016 @ 7:49 pm

    Jemima was mentioned as an English woman's name. Although the only actual people I've heard of named Jemima were English, Aunt Jemima prevents me from considering that an English name. It seems old-fashioned and rural to me, just like Maisy, as Shad mentions. But though "reckon" is the only thing that comes to mind at the moment, I think there are a few words that seem old-fashioned and rural to Americans, but which are also more common in UK English.

    Isn't "Anthony" another one that's pronounced differently between Britain and America? (Or the U.S.? I'm assuming Canadians pronounce these things the way Americans do, but I could be wrong.)

    As far as I know, I've never encountered T(h)eresa pronounced with a /z/ (with either vowel in the middle).

  46. ryan said,

    July 19, 2016 @ 10:04 pm

    >Voiced or unvoiced s aside, there are a good many names that are often pronounced differently in Britain and America: Bernard, Maurice, Basil, Gillian…

    I believe you that that's true, on the rare occasions when any of them are pronounced in the US. Bernard perhaps in a generation now passing. Maurice not even a name any more, but a concept indivisible at this point from the pompetus of love. The others, almost never passing anyone's lips.

  47. Rod Johnson said,

    July 19, 2016 @ 11:01 pm

    The polite way is to address the Prime Minister as Mrs./Ms. May until introduced and being told which version to use by the PM herself.

    Not to diminish your moment of triumph, but the question was about how to pronounce her name, not how to address her.

  48. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    July 20, 2016 @ 8:05 am

    Coby Lubliner: The American pronunciation of 'Maurice' is now making inroads here. I have frequently heard the theologian F.D. Maurice referred to as MoREESE, and assumed for a while that this must have been how he said it, until I found a poem by Tennyson, addressed to him, which only scans if you say 'Morris'.

    Another puzzling one is 'Cecil'. The character in Welcome to Night Vale pronounces his name SEEsil: so, I think, does that actor who plays him, who by a strange coincidence is also called Cecil (Baldwin). In Britain this would certainly be odd – the aristocratic family of that name says SISSel, while most other people say SESSil – but I'm not sure how normal it is in America either.

  49. Brett said,

    July 20, 2016 @ 1:50 pm

    I went to middle and high school with a girl named "Gillian," and she changed the pronunciation from a hard to soft G over the six years I knew her.

  50. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 20, 2016 @ 6:18 pm

    To the extent American Aunt Jemima is deadlocked with British Jemima Puddle-Duck, the tiebreaker for me confirming the (yes possibly rural/rustic) Americanness of the name is the song "Jemima Surrender", which was not even just written by Canadian Robbie Robertson in his usual imagined version of Southern-American diction but has a writing co-credit for Arkansas-bred Levon Helm, the only actual non-Canadian performing on the track.

  51. Joyce Melton said,

    July 21, 2016 @ 1:52 am

    I have a cousin named Teresa. She, and the rest of the family, pronounce it "chree-zuh".

    Just for another meaningless datapoint from transplanted Arkansawyers.

  52. BZ said,

    July 21, 2016 @ 10:57 am

    @ryan,
    I personally know a Bernard. I also live in a state that has a "Maurice Township", "Maurice River", and "Bernardsville", so I need to pronounce them quite a lot.

  53. Grhm said,

    July 25, 2016 @ 2:47 am

    Oddly, although it is very unusual in Britain for a politician to be addressed as 'Minister Bloggs', 'Mayor Bloggs' or 'Secretary Bloggs', nevertheless 'Councillor Bloggs' is entirely normal, and often expected.
    It's never struck me before that this is odd, but I see now that it is.

RSS feed for comments on this post