Famous Authors, Difficult Names

When someone says Ondaatje – do you say Gesundeheit?

Many authors have names which are tricky to pronounce, and Sri Lankan-born Canadian novelist and poet Michael Ondaatje is just one of them.  Ondaatje’s most famous novel is the hauntingly beautiful The English Patient.  It won the Booker Prize, and was adapted into a major motion picture (1996) which garnered nine Oscars.

The English Patient , by Michael Ondaatje (First American Edition, Knopf, 1992)

The English Patient , by Michael Ondaatje (First American Edition, Knopf, 1992)

Here is the Canadian edition…

20140217_173654_resizedAnd below is his  signature scrawled on the half-title page:

Michael Ondaatje's signature

Michael Ondaatje’s signature

          When you say Ondaatje, say:  awn-DAHT-chee

It’s one thing to be familiar with an author’s name in print, and quite another to recognize it as a spoken word.  I had a friend who was talking to me one evening about “kamoo” and it was awhile before I realized it was the philosopher Albert Camus of whom he spoke.  He was indeed pronouncing the French name as it should be pronounced…I had seen the name in print, but had never thought about its correct pronunciation.  Silly me — in my mind,  it was “came-us.”  Took us awhile to get on the same page.

The Stranger, by Albert Camus (First American Edition, Knopf, 1946)

The Stranger, by Albert Camus (First American Edition, Knopf, 1946)

Albert Camus –  phonetic pronunciation: al-BAIR ka-MOO was an Algerian-French Novel Prize winning author, journalist, and philosopher (November 1913- January 1960).

When you run a book shop, this pronunciation business becomes quite important.  Mispronunciation or failed recognition can lead to embarrassing lapses in communication.  If a customer comes in and asks if you have anything by SHAY-bun, it’s helpful to know you should be looking in the “C” area of fiction for Michael Chabon…not the Sh’s.

Below are some other stickler names:

John Le Carre, British author and one of the great spy novelists of our time, his works include The Constant Gardener and The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.  Le Carre is pronounced luh kah-RAY. (Funny, I always thought it was Le Car, like the little vehicle!!).   By the way, John Le Carre is actually the pseudonym of David John Moore Cornwell, who taught at Eton from 1956 to 1958 and was a member of the British Foreign Service from 1959 to 1964.

P. G. Wodehouse (say “woodhouse”) – It’s taken me a long time to take the “whoa!” out of Wodehouse, my favorite British humorist of all time, prolific writer and creator of the incomparable “Jeeves.”

Annie Proulx (pronounced PROO) – Born August 22, 1935, American journalist and author.  Her second novel, The Shipping News (1993), won both the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction and was adapted as a 2001 film of the same name.  Her short story “Brokeback Mountain” (appearing in her 1999 collection of short stories, Close Range: Wyoming Stories) was adapted to film in 2005 and won an Academy Award, BAFTA and Golden Globe Award.  She won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for her first novel, Postcards. 

Close Range - Wyoming Stories, by Annie E. Proulx (First Edition, Scribner, 1999)

Close Range – Wyoming Stories, by Annie E. Proulx (First Edition, Scribner, 1999)

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe (YO-hahn VULF-gahng GUH-tuh) pronounced “GOO-tuh” not “GARE-tuh” as some Americans sometimes pronounce it.  German writer (1749 –1832) A literary celebrity by the age of 25, whose body of work includes epic and lyric poetry,  prose, memoirs, literary and aesthetic criticism, novels, and treatises on botany and anatomy and more.

Jack Kerouac (say “care uh wack”) – (1922-1969) American author most famous for On The Road, he was a pioneer of the “Beat Generation.” All of his books are still in print today, including:  On The Road, Doctor Sax, The Dharma Bums, Mexico City Blues, The Subterraneans, Desolation Angels, Visions of Cody, The Sea is My Brother, and Big Sur. 

John Donne (say:  dun) – (1572-1631) English poet and satirist, lawyer and a cleric in the Church of England; considered the pre-eminent representative of the metaphysical poets.

Ayn Rand (Ayn rhymes with “MINE”) – Russian-born American novelist, philosopher, playwright, and screenwriter.  Best known for her novels The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957).  Also famous for her philosophy of Objectivism, She has been a significant influence among libertarians and American conservatives. 

Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand (First American Edition, Random House, 1957)

Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand (First American Edition, Random House, 1957)

Samuel Pepys (say:  peeps – like those little marshmallow chickens!)  English naval administrator and Member of Parliament who became most famous for the diary he kept from 1660 until 1669.  It was first published in the 19th century, and is one of the most important sources for the English Restoration period, providing a combination of personal revelation and eyewitness accounts of great events in history, such as the Great Plague of London, the Second Dutch War and the Great Fire of London.

John Buchan (BUH-kun, or if you’re Scottish, BUH-khhun) – John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir (1875-1940).  Scottish novelist, historian and Unionist politician who served as Governor General of Canada.  He was a prolific writer of both fiction and non-fiction, but is perhaps best known for his espionage thriller The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915) which has been adapted into motion pictures at least three times, once by Alfred Hitchcock.

THIS WAS FUN!  Let’s do it again sometime soon.  I can think of so many more…If YOU have contributions, please add in comments.


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