How to pronounce the surname "Mair" and other Doggie talk

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People pronounce my surname all sorts of different ways — Myer, Mare, Meer, Mire, as in Golda Meir, etc., etc., with the number of syllables (one or two), accent, and vowel quality varying almost limitlessly  — but I've never once in my life "corrected" anyone, because I think they're all legitimate.  Think of the different ways to pronounce Sun Yat-sen's and Chiang Kai-shek's names, and how to pronounce 陈 (Chen, Chin, Chan, Tan).

After all, people in the same family may pronounce their own surname differently, e.g., Boucher ("Butcher, Boochez"), Naquin ("Na-can, Næ-kwin"), and the famous Penn Sinologist Derk Bodde (1909-2003) introduced himself as "Derek Bod", whereas most other people called him "Durk Bod-de").

My basketball coach at Dartmouth was a very colorful character known as "Doggie Julian" (1901-1967).  Doggie was born in Reading, Pennsylvania and, in his 66 years of life, held an incredible number of positions as professional athlete and coach (football, basketball, and baseball) at one high school, many colleges, and one professional sports team.  He coached the legendary Bob Cousy (b. 1928) at Holy Cross and with the Boston Celtics.  It's difficult for me to imagine how he could arrange and sign for so many jobs, let alone move to such a large number of locations and coach thousands of games, but he had a steel will and dogged tenacity.

My teammates at Dartmouth knew that I was "Vic Mair" (pronounced like "hair"), but Doggie always called me "Mire", hence the nickname "Quags", which was instantly figured out by Jerry Friedman in the comments to this post.

Here are some more Doggieisms:

"You're a bunch of fut cows!"

"Move out of Missouri!" — never fully understood that one.

"Stay off the kundeements" — first thing he'd tell us when we went in a restaurant.

Such gnomic wisdom flowed forth from Doggie in a constant stream.  The monumental spirit behind it is undoubtedly what enabled him to forge such a fabled career despite his small physical stature (I don't know exactly how tall he was, but he only came up to the chest of many of his players).

As Doggie was fond of saying, it's all a matter of AT-TEE-TOOD. (source)


Selected readings


  1. Andreas Johansson said,

    February 17, 2022 @ 10:12 am

    So how do you pronounce it yourself?

  2. tony in san diego said,

    February 17, 2022 @ 10:16 am

    Yean, my family name is an old Alsatian name, German with a French pronunciation. The younger generation has given up on it and pronounce it as spelled. And the first thing I learned in the Navy was, Master Chief doesn't give a fuck how you say your name.

  3. Timothy Rowe said,

    February 17, 2022 @ 10:23 am

    My favourite reply to how to pronounce someone's name was about the computer scientist Niklaus Wirth. Someone introduced him at a conference by saying "Whereas Europeans generally pronounce his name the right way ('Nick-louse Veert'), Americans invariably mangle it into 'Nickel's Worth.' This is to say that Europeans call him by name, but Americans call him by value."

    Computer programmers will understand!

  4. Victor Mair said,

    February 17, 2022 @ 10:48 am

    "My teammates at Dartmouth knew that I was 'Vic Mair' (pronounced like 'hair')." That's how I introduce myself to others.

  5. Ben Zimmer said,

    February 17, 2022 @ 11:04 am

    When you introduce yourself to wrestling fans, you could say your name rhymes with Ric Flair.

  6. Victor Mair said,

    February 17, 2022 @ 11:15 am

    Ric Flair
    Vic Mair

    Very cooooool!!!

  7. M. Paul Shore said,

    February 17, 2022 @ 12:36 pm

    The slight strangeness of “Move out of Missouri!” reminds me of a passage from Boston Symphony/Boston Pops violinist Harry Ellis Dickson’s 1981 book Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, in which he describes conductor Fiedler’s occasional struggles to enforce his preferred tempos, which were typically on the brisk side, on the Boston Pops musicians, especially the players of the lower-pitched instruments. Dickson recounts: “‘Come along!’ was [Fiedler’s] admonishment. ‘Don’t drag!’ We knew he was really angry when he screamed, ‘Take off your overshoes!’”

  8. Michael said,

    February 17, 2022 @ 2:56 pm

    "Move out of Missouri."

    Without context, it's hard to say, but since Missouri is the "show-me" State, I would expect that a coach might say this to players who want something demonstrated repeatedly when what they really need is to get out there and try it for themselves.

  9. John Rohsenow said,

    February 17, 2022 @ 5:01 pm

    Re: "Move out of Missouri"; "since Missouri is the "show-me" State"
    Despite the fact that "The Show Me State" is on Missouri state auto license plates, many Americans, espec. non-Midwesterners, are not familiar with this phrase: "I'm from Missouri — Show me,… WHICH I refer to as a rare example of a 'xiehouyu' in English in the introduction to my dictionary thereof.

  10. Josh R. said,

    February 17, 2022 @ 7:22 pm

    My last name, Reyer, is German in origin, and despite a number of analogs that you'd think would help (Meyer, Breyer), invariably people say "Ray-er" upon seeing it for the first time. Even when people do know how to pronounce, there's a sense like it doesn't feel comfortable in their mouth. I felt a positive thrill and dare I say even a sense of belonging when I visited Zurich, and at the airport the ticket agent said, "You are flying back to Nagoya, Mr. Reyer?" saying it perfectly like I have my entire life.

  11. Philip Taylor said,

    February 17, 2022 @ 7:31 pm

    Well, let me be the first to confess my ignorance — I would rhyme "Reyer", "Meyer" and "Breyer" with what I think you mean by "Ray-er" (i.e., /ˈreɪ ər/). Since presumably this is not how any of them sound in German, I for one would find it very helpful (and interesting) if you could explain how they should be pronounced.

  12. Josh R. said,

    February 17, 2022 @ 8:38 pm

    "Reyer" is an old spelling for "Reiher" (meaning "heron") and is pronounced /ˈrai ər/.

    In the US, at least, "Meyer" and "Breyer" are generally pronounced likewise.

  13. V said,

    February 17, 2022 @ 10:39 pm

    I have only had to pronounce your name once, and I don't remember how I did it, but it was understood. I was talking to someone from Stanford. /me:r/ ?

  14. Keith said,

    February 18, 2022 @ 2:30 am

    WRT pronunciation of the name "Mair": I suppose anything is better that "meh".

  15. Philip Taylor said,

    February 18, 2022 @ 3:58 am

    [re "Reyer"] — Ah, interesting : I would not have thought of a "rey" cluster as producing a /ai/ sound. But I realise that I have a tendency to prefer the /eɪ/ variant of words that are more commonly pronounced /iː/ — words such as "beta" (/ˈbeɪt̬ ə/), "theta" (/ˈθeɪt̬ ə/), "vegan" (/ˈveɪɡ ən/) and so on.

  16. Andreas Johansson said,

    February 18, 2022 @ 3:59 am

    Victor Mair wrote;
    That's how I introduce myself to others.

    Thanks. I'd been mentally rendering it as a rander un-English [majr].

  17. Andreas Johansson said,

    February 18, 2022 @ 4:01 am


  18. Philip Taylor said,

    February 18, 2022 @ 4:18 am

    John Rohsenhow — xiehouyu — fascinating. I have just read the full paper at and am intrigued that I have never knowingly encountered an instance of xiehouyubefore. I am still no wiser as to what is implied by "X — the 'show me' state" but at least I now know of what it is an instance !

  19. J.W. Brewer said,

    February 18, 2022 @ 7:59 am

    @Philip Taylor: German-surnamed persons are much more common in the U.S. than U.K. so Americans are perhaps more likely to have confident guesses in how to pronounce such names from their spelling. Admittedly those pronunciations are often Anglicized and different from what would have been found in Germany, but for Reyer/Meyer/Breyer that is not the case. "Breyer" is homophonous with the good old Saxon word "briar," if that helps.

    Separately, I was intrigued to learn that Ric Flair's legal pre-showbiz last name is Fliehr. Which seems a perfectly cromulent-looking German-American surname but appears in practice to be vanishingly rare (e.g. it doesn't turn up in the 1990 Census' statistical sample of surnames used to calculate relative frequencies). I would guess it is pronounced to with "here" and "mere," just as Flair is pronounced to rhyme with "hair" and "mare" and "Mair." But I could be wrong.

  20. Andrew Usher said,

    February 18, 2022 @ 7:59 am

    I may be getting it wrong, but I sense that the coach knew (or thought: is it?) that it's the same name etymologically as the German Mayer/Meyer/Maier/Meier, and wanted to pronounce it accordingly.

    But with that spelling, regardless of origin, I would never have dreamed of guessing anything but 'mare'.

    k_over_hbarc at

  21. Philip Taylor said,

    February 18, 2022 @ 8:13 am

    JWB — yes, "briar" conveys the sound perfectly. But searching my brain for (English) words containing a non-initial "ey" cluster, I find that those that come immediately to mind (fey, ley, whey, …) all have the /eɪ/ sound rather than the /aɪ/. Whence my surprise on learning that "Reyer" (etc.) should have the /aɪ/ sound.

  22. John Swindle said,

    February 18, 2022 @ 8:53 am

    In the science fiction/romance novels of American author Cassandra Chandler, persons who do not use animal products are /ˈvɪ:ɡ ən/ and persons from a planet orbiting the star Vega are /ˈveɪɡ ən/.

    As an American I have never heard "beta" as /ˈbɪt̬ ə/ or "theta" as /ˈθɪt̬ ə/.

    I agree with J.W. Brewer that German surnames are common enough in the US that we tend to give them German-ish pronunciations. But we seem to mangle Greek and Latin words a little less too. Is there some broader pattern here, apart from my assumption that my pronunciations are right and everyone else's are wrong?

  23. Philip Anderson said,

    February 18, 2022 @ 8:53 am

    Names are not always consistent – I once knew a ‘Naomi and a Na’omi in the same group.

    Sir Anthony Wagner, the English Garter King of Arms, did not pronounce his name like the German composer Richard Wagner. Maybe names are more likely to get anglicised in the UK, or at least England?

    Although I’m used to the Welsh first name Mair (mire), I instinctively rhymed Victor’s surname with hair.

  24. Philip Taylor said,

    February 18, 2022 @ 9:05 am

    " Maybe names are more likely to get anglicised in the UK, or at least England ?" — well, I am reasonably confident that the (American) conductor Leonard Bernstein is on record as saying that his name is /ˈlen ərd ˈbɝːn staɪn/, although in my head his surname, at least, retains the quasi-Germanic /beərn ʃtaɪn/.

  25. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 18, 2022 @ 10:19 am

    Philip Taylor: I am still no wiser as to what is implied by "X — the 'show me' state" but at least I now know of what it is an instance !

    Missouri is "the Show Me state", from a stereotype that Missourians are skeptical and fond of that phrase. The watchamacallit—OK, xiehouyu—is "I'm from Missouri. (You'll have to) show me." You can leave out the second sentence. Well, I don't know how current this is.

    We can say "When in Rome" or "Too many cooks" or "Birds of a feather", implying the rest of the proverb. I don't understand xiehouyu well enough to know whether that's the same thing.

  26. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 18, 2022 @ 10:34 am

    I wouldn't try to generalize about whether the British or Americans mangle German, Greek, or Latin more, since there are a lot of examples on both sides and there are disagreements about what the foreign sound "really" is, as in "beta". I can say that Americans with the name Wagner almost certainly pronounce it /ˈwæg nər/.

    Leonard Bernstein's name seems to have been a special case, maybe because he was a classical musician. I doubt British people hear many American or British -stein names with /ʃ/.

  27. Robert Coren said,

    February 18, 2022 @ 11:00 am

    For that matter, many Americans pronounce the final syllable of names ending in "-stein" (whether their own or somebody else's) as /stin/. (And don't get me started on "Wiener/Weiner".)

    I'd be very surprised to find a native English-speaker named Wagner, in any of the various Anglophone countries, pronouncing it in the German fashion.

  28. Coby said,

    February 18, 2022 @ 5:05 pm

    I wonder if the /stin/ pronunciation of -stein names is influenced by that of Dutch -steen names (e.g. Sptingsteen).
    The same names when borne by relatively recent arrivals from the former USSR are usually written -shteyn or -shtein (a transcription from the Russian) and are pronounced accordingly (/ʃteɪn/).

  29. Bessel Dekker said,

    February 18, 2022 @ 9:44 pm

    Did "Move out of Missouri" mean something like 'Grow up?'

    It seems that you can move out of Missouri at 17, which does not go for all states, but apparently for some others as well. Missouri might have been chosen because it alliterates and creates a catching rhythm?

    Highly speculative of course.

  30. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    February 19, 2022 @ 1:14 am

    @tony in San Diego…

    Some sergeants can be corrected in some cases, if a story from the town I grew up in is true — and I have no reason to believe it is not.

    During World War II, a man whose surname was Crapser was drafted. His drill sergeant consistently mispronounced his name as “Crasper.” Exasperated, one day the soldier responded, “The name is CRAP, sir.”

    The sergeant got the message.

  31. Robert Coren said,

    February 19, 2022 @ 10:58 am

    @Coby: Indeed. The last place I worked at had a large contingent of Russian Jewish émigrés. One of them had the surname Vaynshtayn, which I recognized as re-transliteration of the Russian transliteration of "Weinstein", and thought it both amusing and a bit strange to use that spelling instead of the original one. (Although if one wanted to avoid having your name pronounced as if it were a mug of wine in English, I suppose you'd have to do something like this.)

  32. Terry Hunt said,

    February 19, 2022 @ 11:39 am

    @ Philip Anderson — "Maybe names are more likely to get anglicised in the UK, or at least England?"

    In the UK a great many Germanic surnames were anglicised or completely changed during the Great War, and probably some also during World War 2, because of illogical but widespread hostility: shops bearing obviously German surnames were liable to get bricks through their windows, etc.

    My own family was, supposedly, originally named Huntz and is said to have immigrated from Denmark some time before 1850. My suspicion was that they may actually have been German (though the relevant border has been historically fluid), possibly also Jewish*, and may have 'rebranded' during WW1.

    (* They were long resident in Leyton/Leytonstone, with many Jewish friends, colleages, employers, and at least one in-law.)

  33. David L. Gold said,

    February 20, 2022 @ 7:19 am

    @ Terry Hunt.

    At least in the United States, most of the bearers of the family name Huntz have been Christians and at least one, David Huntz, was a Jew (

    A spelling variant of the name is Hunz, for which Find a Grave lists only Christian bearers, at least as far as the United States is concerned (

    Change of family name in the United Kingdom in the early-twentieth century should not be hard to trace. A genealogical society in Leyton or nearby might be able to give you guidance on tracing your ancestry.

  34. Bloix said,

    February 20, 2022 @ 6:15 pm

    German-language names in the US were often Anglicized. The process accelerated during WWI but was much older. So, Schmidt/Smith, Krämer/Creamer, Wagner/Waggnoner, Baumann/Bowman, Zimmerman/Timberman, and of course Drumpf/Trump. Sometimes just a letter or two were changed so that the name is still recognizably more-or-less German – Eisenhower (Eisenhauer), Bontrager (Bornträger). There are some such names from the American South that almost demand to be pronounced with a southern accent – e.g., Mizelle (Meisel).

  35. Andrew Usher said,

    February 21, 2022 @ 8:52 am

    German names may sometimes have been Anglicised but more often are not (in spelling at least). I observe that 'Wagner' (English pronunciation) is already transparently connected to 'wagon', and its English equivalent is not 'Wag(g)oner' (I've never actually seen this as a name) but 'Wainwright'!

    As for 'Trump', that's already a legitimate variant _in German_. The standard is 'Trumpf' for the trump in card games, from which all other uses originate, but 'Trump' would be the traditional form in northern Germany.

  36. Rodger C said,

    February 21, 2022 @ 10:30 am

    Then there's the theologian, and my fellow West Virginian, Thomas Altizer. I had a professor who pronounced it "Altitzer," but it's really, of course, Althaeuser.

  37. Robert Coren said,

    February 21, 2022 @ 11:02 am

    @Andrew Usher: I believe I have seen the surname Waggoner, but I couldn't tell you when or where. (Well, actually, I recall it as the name of a character in the first volume of James Blish's Cities in Flight, but I'm not sure fictional instances should count.)

  38. Jim Shapiro said,

    February 21, 2022 @ 3:45 pm

    Showing up late with two names that (I apparently believe) shouldn't be left out of a discussion along these lines: the brothers Carmine and Vinnie Appice, both prominent heavy rock/metal drummers. Carmine, the elder, pronounces their last name as an iamb (with the final E silent); Vinnie pronounces it as a dactyl.

  39. Jim Shapiro said,

    February 21, 2022 @ 3:48 pm

    (should note that both pronounce the C as /s/)

  40. nbmandel said,

    February 22, 2022 @ 12:55 am

    Well, there's Porter Wagoner of the Grand Old Opry. From, as it happens, Missouri.

  41. Terry Hunt said,

    February 22, 2022 @ 7:45 am

    David L. Gold — I'm not immediately interested in tracing my ancestry (I was using my own case merely for illustration), and if I was, I happen to be a friend of a former Enquiries Officer of Britain's Jewish Genealogical Society, but thanks for the thought. I suspect that my family' name change happened in the Victorian era.

  42. Robert Coren said,

    February 23, 2022 @ 10:55 am

    An article in today's Boston Globe about a lawsuit in Colorado mentioned that one of the lawyers involved is named Kristen Waggoner.

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