Rachel's English

How to Pronounce Common Last Names (1/2)


Today I'm going to go over the 20 most common last names in America. The number one most common last name is Smith. Smith begins and ends with unvoiced consonants: ss and th. Inbetween: mm-ih, mm-oh. The M into the 'ih' as in 'sit' [ɪ]. Smith, Smith. I've noticed for people whose native language is Spanish, and probably for other languages as well, it's difficult to say any word that begins with an S without saying 'eh' vowel in front of it. For example, instead of Smith, I sometimes hear 'esmith'.

 Now, the S, ss, is unvoiced at the beginning of Smith, which means with the vocal cords, no sound is being made. So if you start with an 'es-', you're starting with a vowel, which means you're making sound with your vocal cords. So if you think of trying to start without making any sound whatsoever, ss-mm, then with that M sound letting your vocal cords work, that might help.

The second name: Johnson. Dj-dj, going into the 'ah' as in 'father', [α] even though it is spelled with an O-H. Johnson. Johnson. The last syllable, which is unaccented, sn, sn, is basically an S straight into the N: sn, sn. There is a little bit of a schwa [ə] thrown in there in the middle. Johnson, Johnson.

Number three: Williams. Williams starts with a W, which is difficult sometimes for people whose native language is not English, so your lips have to start in that really small position. Williams. So the first I is an 'ih' as in 'sit' [ɪ], and the second is an 'ee' as in 'she' [i]. Williams.

Jones. Jones, like Johnson, starts with this dj sound, Jones. It then has the 'oh' as in 'no' [oʊ] diphthong. And notice that the S at the end is voiced: Jones.

Number four: Brown. Brown has the 'ow' as in 'now' [aʊ] diphthong: Brown.

Number six: Davis. Davis has a second syllable, -vis, that beings with the V sound. Now when an unaccented syllable is starting with this sound in particular, it's difficult, I think, for non-native speakers to hear: Davis. Davis. Do you hear vv? There's not really a sharp vv sound in there. Davis. But if you watch my lip, you will see that it does come up to make that position: it's just a quick little flick. Davis. And my vocal cords are continuing to make sound: uh, uh, uh, but it's really more of that than a vv. Davis. That has the 'ay' as in 'say' [eɪ], Davis with a schwa in the second syllable. Davis.

Miller. The first syllable has an 'ih' as in 'sit' [ɪ]: Mil-, and it ends in an L. And when it end in an L, that is considered a dark L, which means we kind of slide through an uh sound before we finish it of with the L. Mil-, Mil-. And the second unaccented syllable is simply err. Rr. Miller, Miller.

Number eight, Wilson. Now again, the first syllable here ends with an L. So we start with the Wi-, but then we have to into a uh before we close it off to the L. Wil-, wil-, Wilson. And, the unaccented syllable: sn, sn. Again, almost without a vowel. Wilson.

Number nine, Moore. Now this is spelled M-O-O-R-E, but it has the same pronunciation as the word more, as in more and less. Moore. It has the 'oh' as in 'no' [oʊ] diphthong: Moore, Moore.

Number ten: Taylor. Taylor has the 'ay' as in 'say' [eɪ] diphthong, and the second syllable: lr, lr. Again, without a real pure vowel sound in there. Taylor. 

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