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How to say: Chiwetel Ejiofor

16:28 UK time, Thursday, 13 March 2008

An occasional guide to the words and names in the news from Catherine Sangster of the BBC Pronunciation Unit.

British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor recently won Best Actor at the Olivier Awards for playing Othello. Finding the best pronunciation recommendation for his name has proved exceptionally complicated for us, and the story behind this illustrates our various research sources and methods.

Chiwetel EjioforOur policy for personal names is, where possible, to recommend the pronunciation that the individual concerned prefers to be used by the BBC. If we can't speak to them directly (as has so far proved the case with Mr Ejiofor) and can't find any instances of them saying their own name, (perhaps in an interview or speech available online or in the BBC’s archives), we consult people who represent them or who know them very well. We rely on such people's goodwill in sparing their time to advise us, but we find they are usually happy to co-operate.

With foreign names, we also consider the opinion of speakers of the relevant language, asking them how the name is pronounced in that language and also how they might expect it to be anglicised. This was our first source in the case of Chiwetel Ejiofor. His is a name of Nigerian Ibo origin, so we consulted an Ibo speaker in the BBC World Service Hausa section, who proposed the pronunciation chi-WAY-tell ejj-i-OH-for.

Unsure whether this would be his own preference, especially as we had noticed different stress patterns when his name was used in English language contexts, we then spoke to two other sources; his theatrical agents and a press officer at the Donmar Warehouse where he has performed for many years. Both these sources know the actor well, and both have given us confident assurances that they are certain of the correct pronunciation.

Unfortunately for us, they do not agree with one another – the former eventually recommended CHOO-wuh-tuhl IJJ-i-uh-for, the latter CHOO-wet-uhl EJJ-i-oh-for. Although they agree on stress placement, the differences that persist in vowel reduction and the vowel in the first syllable of the surname are not negligible. Attempts to reconcile these two pronunciations have so far proved unsuccessful, and so – very exceptionally for us – we must currently recommend both of them to our broadcasters.

The ideal way to settle this once and for all would simply be to speak to the actor - so, if you’re reading this Mr Ejiofor, we would love to hear from you!

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