I Now Pronounce You…Whatever Pops Into My Head

Unless you’re reading out loud, the words scrolling through your head are spoken in your own unique, idiosyncratic voice. Pronunciation is at your discretion, an unregulated free-for-all. Any given word can sound exactly as you damn-well please.

Such individual variances can make such things as the pronunciation guides many fantasy authors place in their novels rather superfluous. Sure, sometimes you’ll try, going to the effort of mentally molding some invented name with two hyphens and an umlaut for the first few times you read it. But eventually you lapse into whatever pronunciation seems fitting to your internal editor. I mean really, how many of us go to the trouble of figuring out how Robert E. Howard intended us to say Bêlit? How does a circumflex (that little upward pointing diacritical mark) modify a word? I think it is supposed to make the “e” somewhat elongated, going up in inflection then down, sort of like “Bay-ih-lit.” But I’m not entirely sure.

Perhaps REH didn’t care. I wouldn’t be surprised if many fantasy writers were more concerned with how a name looks on the page than on how it sounds spoken aloud. (I recall sending more than one email describing to the narrator of The Falchion Company novels how I wanted certain names pronounced. Why does it matter? Perhaps it only mattered to me.)

Some writers can have a certain amount of fun with it. Take the demon Melbrinionsadazzersteldregandshfelstsior from Roger Zelazny’s Dilvish the Damned book The Changing Land. If he wrote that pre-word processor era, imagine the poor guy having to peck that word out on a typewriter correctly multiple times. And pity the proof reader. 

How many different ways do you think readers pronounce Fafhrd?

What about Tolkien? How many of us read through the Lord of the Rings pronouncing all the C names with a soft “S” rather than a hard “K”? I probably did at least the first four or five times through. (In fairness to my poor, naive self, my first read through was eleven. I should be granted a bit of leeway, don’t you think?) Consider the Finnish and Welsh influences on his Elven languages. How many of us have a background in speaking either?

Non-English speakers probably don’t see the use of cedillas, breves, umlauts, tildes, etc. as a big deal, but we’ve long since stripped out the diacritics from most borrowed words. We just sort of learn how they are supposed to sound, and the marks intended to provide us a guide as to what the vowels are supposed to be doing merely confuse us.

Does it really matter? Unless you’re a professional narrator, probably not. But sometimes we like to have names pronounced properly. Our own, for example. Foolish, probably. Selfish most likely. But there you have it.

Howard Andrew Jones and Joseph Goodman recently chatted on a Twitch stream, launching a Kickstarter for the next several issues of Tales From the Magician’s Skull. (Check it out, back it if you enjoy quality Swords-and-Sorcery.) At some point in the stream, while discussing the writers contributing to a special issue, the esteemed Mr. Jones provides a capsule description of my story and mentions my name. Now, I ought to be used to mispronunciation of my surname by now, being a man of mature years and having listened to people take a wild stab at it countless times. America has a long (though perhaps not distinguished) history of altering the pronunciation of foreign names. Mine happens to be Italian. How many last names came through from the Old Country unscathed? So I shouldn’t really care and largely don’t. But I won’t lie to you: I do care to an extent.

(And, Howard, if you’re reading this, your pronunciation was no worse than most and better than many attempts I’ve heard. It’s fine, I’m just taking advantage of it in order to write this post.)

Some writers truly do care. James Branch Cabell did not wish to be known as Cabéll but as Càbell. Hence, “tell the rabble my name is Cabell.” I stop for a moment every time I’m mentioning the great Fritz Leiber to assure I’m rhyming it with “cyber” rather than “Bieber.”

So, for those who are remotely interested, my family pronounces Lizzi with a hard ZZ, as in “pizza” rather than a soft sound as in ‘busy.” Thus, something like “Lit-zee.” Now, that isn’t precisely pristine Italian, as we’ve gotten lazy with the first ‘i”, speaking it as a short rather than a long vowel. But, outside of trips to Italy (where it is “Leet-zee”), I don’t let that bother me.

While on the subject of names and my upcoming story in Magician’s Skull, the main character’s name, Cesar, is pronounced “Chay-zar.” Again, does it matter? What is your opinion?

I don’t know if there is a release date yet for the special issue of Tales From the Magician’s Skull. But if you’re curious about my writing and would like to take a gander without having to wait, no problem; the Magician’s Skull yarn is far from my first published work. This Amazon Author Page has a decent selection of my stuff. Or if you drop me a note and ask, I’ll try to compile a complete list of my credits. 

Or how about a suggestion? I’m still rather proud of Thick As Thieves, my take on Elmore Leonard writing Swords-and-Sorcery. It’s available in Kindle, Nook, print from Amazon, print from Barnes and Noble, and probably in print from anyplace else you like to buy books on-line. Some people seem to think the book isn’t too bad; if you’d like a couple of opinions less biased than mine, try here or here.

You may be wondering why the different covers for TAT. Let me explain. The original publisher went out of business. Rather than shopping the book around again, I put it out myself with a new cover. The publisher sent out emails releasing the rights, but I’ve not been able to locate mine. Probably I deleted it. But another of the authors graciously showed me his, so I know the intent. Anyway, the point is that Amazon won’t take the original version down. So anyone who purchases the red-and-yellow cover edition is sending money to Amazon only. Not a penny will ever reach me, since the publisher is defunct. So, please, if supporting authors matters to you and you’re interested in the book, pick up the brown cover.