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How to say: Wimbledon names

17:31 UK time, Monday, 2 July 2007

An occasional guide to the words and names in the news from Eva Liina Asu-Garcia and Martha Figueroa-Clark of the BBC Pronunciation Unit

Every year, the BBC Pronunciation Unit compiles a Wimbledon guide – a pronunciation guide to the names of competing players - to aid our broadcasters.

We thought we would include some pronunciation pointers for Czech, Slovak and Russian names, since there are several competitors from these countries and their names are often tricky for non-native speakers to pronounce.

In Czech and Slovak (closely related West Slavic languages), primary stress is predictable: it falls almost invariably on the first syllable of a word. So, for instance, the Slovak tennis player Daniela Hantuchová’s name is pronounced DAN-yell-uh HAN-tuukh-ov-aa and the Czech player Iveta Benešová is IVV-ett-uh BEN-esh-ov-aa. The acute diacritic in Czech does not indicate stress; it actually indicates vowel length. Therefore, in the above surnames, the last vowel is a long but unstressed "a" sound (-aa as in "father"). It is important to retain the various diacritics in Czech and Slovak orthography as they represent a particular sound; loss of the appropriate diacritics results in incorrect pronunciations (e.g. Šafářová becomes Safarova, and is often incorrectly pronounced as saff-uh-ROH-vuh, instead of SHAFF-aar-zhov-aa, which is closer to the Czech pronunciation).

In Russian (an East Slavic language), on the other hand, stress is largely unpredictable, although there are some rules governing the stress of Russian surnames (such as following the stress of the source word, often a noun, from which the surname is derived. For example, the surname Shishkin, pronounced SHISH-kin, is derived from "shishka" (SHISH-kuh), the word for "cone").

Some of the trickier Russian names in the competition this year are Alla Kudryavtseva (AL-uh kuud-ri-AF-tsuh-vuh) and Svetlana Kuznetsova (svuht-LAA-nuh kuuz-nuht-SOH-vuh). Contrary to popular belief, Sharapova is pronounced sharr-AA-puh-vuh (-arr as in "marry"; -aa as in "father", stress on the second syllable) in Russian but since the pronunciation shuh-ruh-POH-vuh is so widespread, and Maria Sharapova herself accepts this pronunciation, it has become an established Anglicisation.

Our aim is to reflect the native pronunciation as closely as possible (eg retaining the native stress pattern) but, where an established Anglicisation has come about (as with Sharapova or Navratilova), BBC Pronunciation Unit policy is to recommend the Anglicised form.


  1. At 11:47 AM on 03 Jul 2007, Michael wrote:

    Nice article but with all the quality the BBC usually delivers, why do we have to make do *only* with this hair raising imitated pronunciation?

    Couldn't we have proper IPA alongside at least? More people can read it than you might think, especially in the non-English speaking world.

  2. At 11:49 AM on 03 Jul 2007, Kev Rymell wrote:

    Could not agree more I do find it annoying that so many names of sports stars in general are pronounced incorrectly. There is nothing worse than having someone say your name wrong, we all hate it personally, yet we do not make the effort to learn how to say it correctly.

    Shevchenko being my favourite pronounced here as Shev-chen-ko, when my girlfriend pronounces it Shev-chen-ka, but she is Ukrainian so she should know!!!

  3. At 11:51 AM on 03 Jul 2007, victoria miller wrote:

    Dear BBC,

    Your phonetics is totally wrong!

  4. At 11:53 AM on 03 Jul 2007, Alex Clarke wrote:

    This story implies that either the writer himself is particularly stupid in not being able to pronounce quite ordinary names - Daniela Hantuchova? Come on - or that the writer thinks that the average reader is particularly stupid in not being able to pronounce them. Either way, this is a lazy, insulting article and makes me wonder why on Earth the BBC is spending our licence fees on this kind of fluff?

  5. At 11:59 AM on 03 Jul 2007, Bedd Gelert wrote:

    Where have you pronunciation bunnies disappeared to ? I used to enjoy my daily fix from the Pronunciation Department, but they keep you well hidden these days. Can't they raise your profile, say, onto the Editors' Blog ?

    And can one of your number explain to those who are still mis-pronouncing Guto Harri's name how to pronounce it correctly. And have a word with Natasha Kaplinsky and Nick Robinson to agree on the correct pronunciation of Quentin Davies.

    And there is a news-reader on BBC R4, who I will not embarrass by naming, who fails to understand the difference in pronunciation of isles and owls !

  6. At 12:35 PM on 03 Jul 2007, Great Googly Moogly wrote:

    Great article BBC folk.

    Being of Slavic Eastern European descent it often drives me to distraction that people find it so difficult, or rather, just make no effort with such pronounciation.

    A few points however:
    1) re 'Daniela', 'Safarova' - endings would be more correctly pronounced with an 'a' sound, as opposed to an 'uh'. Not sure where that suggestion came from.
    2) re 'Sharr-AA-pov-ahh' - the stress on the second syllable also applies for Mr Roman Abram-OHH-vich, who has probably merely accepted the Anglicised variation of Abramovich. This is so widely accepted though that it is unlikely to be pronounced in the correct way, leaving us pedants to use both terms (the correct term, quickly followed by the widely accepted term shortly after, in order to deal with the blank looks).

    Don't get me started on Škoda...

    Otherwise, please keep up the good work - and make sure your presenters take heed!

  7. At 12:50 PM on 03 Jul 2007, Nicholas Shanks wrote:

    It would be much easier to read your pronunciations if you wrote them in IPA instead of using your own alphabet. For example what sound does your zh digraph represent exactly?

  8. At 04:54 PM on 03 Jul 2007, Andrew wrote:

    Love the article - and ignore the criticisms about not using technical phonetic symbols. What you've written is both clear and accessible to the broadest number of people.

    I must admit that I'm still struggling with "Daniella Hantuchova", even after being told the stresses are on the first syllable. Will keep practising until get it.

    What about Thomas Berdych? Is the accent on the first or second syllable of the surname?

  9. At 09:21 PM on 03 Jul 2007, anukexpat wrote:

    How about the pronunciation of "Wimbledon" itself? You would not believe the number of times that people here in the US pronounce it "Wimbleton", "Wimpledon" or "Wimpleton".

  10. At 12:08 AM on 04 Jul 2007, Martin Murray wrote:

    Nice article, and I particularly approve of the advice to not drop diacritical marks, though it's not always that easy. If people do drop them, they should at least transliterate properly, so you should write Miloshevich rather than Milosevic if you can't write Milošević.

    But I wish you wouldn't reinforce English-speaking people's prejudices by saying that these Czech, Slovak, and Russian names are tricky to pronounce. That just removes any incentive to even try. The examples you've given are in fact fairly easy to pronounce, even if the stress is sometimes a bit random. Telling people they're difficult is just an excuse for them not to try.

  11. At 12:36 PM on 05 Jul 2007, Claire wrote:

    I think I'll need a lesson first in pronouncing the authors names of this article let alone guidance for tennis players names !

  12. At 09:59 PM on 05 Jul 2007, Al Sosa wrote:

    I believe the BBC pronounciation unit uses IPA for their research. The anglicized versions are meant for media presenters to read them as an English speaker would. I find they are very good advice which would improve the delivery of presenters and they show the professionalism of the BBC.
    I remember that story of the polar bear Knut being pronounced correctly on the BBC, and mispronounced as 'Nut' on another channel.
    They posted a pointer on their phonetic pronounciations on a previous blog entry:

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