12 Comments

  1. Rdr James Morgan, Olympia WA

    what about the word in the Sanctus: Sabaoth. I’ve heard it pronounced Sa-bay-oth and Sa-bah-oth, sometimes both at the same time! by choirs.

    1. Hieromonk Herman (Majkrzak)

      The traditional pronunciation in English is “Sa- (as in ‘sad’) bay-oth.” Since the vowel combination “ah-o” is not native to English, often when this is sung with a foreign pronunciation it morphs into “Sah-bye-oth.” You can sometimes hear the same thing in “Is-rye-el.” If you do insist on a foreign pronunciation for these two words, then try to avoid that long i sound.

  2. New horizons of potential argumentation with my fellow chanters have now broadened within me, together with the potential to win in every disagreement. Thank you for writing this article!

    A few thoughts. First, it seems that a governing rule book for the pronunciation of saint names presupposes uniform translations of their names into English. For example, if my service notes printed from the internet say “Photius” but my service book says “Photios” there is likely to continue to be difficulty.

    Second, I hope the goal of efforts to codify rules for pronunciation keep in mind the goal of pronunciation happening easily and naturally. Language like life is complex and fluid, and rules are only helpful sometimes. I would say for example that there needs to be room for local deviations from the rules. If a particular parish is well acquainted with a person who pronounces their name a certain way, then when the choir/chanters encounter the name it would not be a tragedy to pronounce the name accordingly. For example, if our assigned clergyman is Fr. Macarios and we pronounce his name in the Greek fashion (but probably not rolling the R) then on St. Macarios’ feast day we’re probably going to say Mah-CAR-ee-ohs, rather than saying the name as if it rhymed with “hilarious.” There are many such anomalies that arise and must not be endeavored to be stamped out for the sake of uniformity, which is not very Christian. The standards are humility, clarity, peace. But not uniformity.

    1. Hieromonk Herman (Majkrzak)

      You make two sound points. Regarding the first, the Introduction to the HTM Menaion is worth quoting, as I think their approach is exactly right and also reflects the house style of St. Tikhon’s Monastery Press:

      «The Synaxarion is filled with proper nouns and place names, which have been rendered according to standard English usage wherever there seemed to be one, rather than the somewhat pedantic forms now in fashion, which reflect how they are pronounced in the original language rather than how English has always treated them. Thus, Cordova not Córdoba, Peking (which has been in English use for over two centuries) not Beijing, and so forth. Similarly, a few renderings that are etymologically indefensible, but are now established beyond any possibility of correction, have been respected, such as Herman for the great Saint of Alaska, which ought rather to be Germanus, since Herman is an Old English name having nothing to do in any way with the Latin name Germanus that the Saint bore.»

      And I agree with your second point too. Well put! But the question remains: all other things being equal, what will our default practice be? And further: I’d hope to see English-speaking Orthodox more frequently using English forms and pronunciations not only for the saints but for themselves as well.

  3. Elizabeth

    We named our son Cyril. We pronounce it “SI-ril” in the English manner, because we are native English speakers, and it makes sense to us. But we also knew that all the babushkas and yia-yias at church would call him “ki-RIL” or “kirilos”… and they do. And we consider all those pronunciations correct, and have told the kids so.

    Just so, in Vietnam, they render “Jesus Christ” as “zay-soo-kee-toh” and Peter and Paul become “Fe-roh” and “Fow-loh” having entered Viet by way of Portugese. *Of course* those are authentic Viet renderings. Nobody in his right mind would suggest that Cha Nguyen in Khanh Hoa should try to use the original Greek (or Latin, or Hebrew, or Aramaic, or…), and he probably couldn’t pronounce it if his life depended on it, anyway. I see no reason one shouldn’t apply the same reasoning to English transliterations.

  4. Fr Lucas

    This was a hard read in places. As one who liturgizes in Greek and in English, many of the proposed anglicizations are jarring.
    It seems the answer to much of this is “it depends on context.” For us, Ευστάθιος (to give one example) will always be pronounced «ev-STAH-thee-ohs» even in English, and never «you-STAY-thee-us» because the name is one we regularly use in its original pronunciation. The only way around this would be if our translation rendered the name Eustace.

  5. When reading or celebrating in English, we should use English forms of names. If there are no English equivalents, then use the Slavonic/Greek/whatever form – but with an « Englishness » to it. The point of speaking is to be understood, not completely confused.

    I’ve worked in churches with a variety of linguistic/cultural backgrounds that were transitioning to more English. Everyone collapses into confusion over things like this – and forgets the real business at hand.

  6. Jacob

    Is it true that Onuphrius comes into English as Humphrey? I would very much like to see that rendered in calligraphy on an icon.

    1. Hieromonk Herman (Majkrzak)

      That does not seem to be accurate: «Onuphrius and Onofrio are sometimes Anglicized as Humphrey, an unrelated name that is usually given a Germanic etymology.» See Wikipedia So, this seems like a parallel case of the Germanus/Herman confusion. While that one is at this point intractable, I wouldn’t want to introduce new examples.

  7. David Adrian

    As a reader and a singer, I refer to “The Harper Collins Bible Pronunciation Guide”.

    1. Hieromonk Herman (Majkrzak)

      I’m more familiar with Webb’s, but from the Google Books preview of the HarperCollins book, it appears reliable on the whole.

  8. Hieromonk Herman (Majkrzak)

    For names encountered in the Great Canon, read this each evening this week, see Pronouncing Menelogium on Facebook. Lots of other good stuff on that page too, plus resources available at their YouTube channel.

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