When In Doubt, Ask Clem Kadiddlehopper

Most Americans are total rubes when it comes to respecting pronunications of foreign last names. A year and a half ago I riffed about the yokel way to pronounce the last name of Melissa “Supergirl” Benoist. Semi-cultivated types pronounce this French-origin name as “Ben-whah” while dogpatch Americans pronounce it “Ben-oh-ist” with Benoist herself pronouncing it “Ben-OYST.”

Now a “new” mispronunication has surfaced — the last name of Marvel Films honcho Kevin Feige. New to me, that is. For the last ten-plus years I’ve been saying “fayge” or “feejzh” (like the first syllable in leisure), but yesterday a Cinemacon moderator pronounced it “Fay-gee.” I jumped in my seat…what?

Feige is a German term for fig, the purple-colored tree fruit. Germans would pronounce this “Fye-guh“, which is easily within the realm of American capability.

But it also resembles the medieval term “liege” (as in “my liege”, which is pronounced like the first syllable of “leisure” and which means “my superior”) as well as the Belgian city of Liege, which is pronounced “Lee-ayge.” So for a while there I was saying “fayge” or “feejzh” — a one-syllable, soft-g pronunication. Because Feige’s last name merely reverses the order of the first two vowels (e-i instead of i-e).

But throw Feige’s name into the American cultural meat-grinder and it becomes fay-gee, or almost the same as Weegee, the New York tabloid photographer. Nobody comes up with more dumbshit-sounding pronunciations than Americans…nobody.

The train has left the station, I realize, but the way to pronounce Kevin’s last name is either “fye-guh” or “fayge” but not fucking fay-gee, for Chrissake. The other American way to say it is “fye-gee.”

Listen to the two pronunication videos below — there’s no clear consensus.

  • Jeff

    In podcasts I had always understood it to be pronounced Fie (Hard)G on Gee

  • I like how you don’t even try not to be a hypocrite about this.

    • Buck Swope

      i know, right? “i can’t pronounce it, but neither can you fucking hillbillies”

  • PC Brownshirt Jackboot

    “Most Americans are total rubes when it comes to respecting pronunications of foreign last names.”

    I wonder what KUMAIL NANJIANI would have to say about this.

    • I never misspelled Nanjianai’s last name. I said it’s hard to remember, and that NO ONE except trade journalists will ever learn how to spell it.

      • PC Brownshirt Jackboot

        How very respectable and non-rube like of you.

  • JoeS

    Again, Meilissa “Dogpatch” Benoist is hardly the first actor or actress to Americanize the pronunciation of their name. At least she kept the family name and spelling intact and didn’t change it to something bland like “Bennett” as so many have done.

  • Mr. F.

    How do you pronounce someone’s last name? However they themselves pronounce it. End of story.

    Stephen Colbert is a perfect example. His extended family has always pronounced their family name “COL-bert.” He decided that he preferred “Col-BEAR,” as if he was from France. So what’s the correct pronunciation? Easy: Col-bear for him and his wife and kids; Col-bert for his siblings and parents.

    • Dean

      Yeah, but what if you’ve never heard them pronounce it? This is the problem journalists face. Until I HEARD Mahershala Ali or Chewitel Ejiofor Or Saioise Ronan THEMSELVES pronounce their names, I had no idea how to talk about these actors on the podcast.

      • Mr. F.

        Give it your best shot, and caveat it before or after with something like “I may be mispronouncing this…” or “I don’t know how this is pronounced, but I think it’s…” or anything similar. Most people can’t pronounce their names either. But once you hear how they pronounce it: use that pronunciation. That’s all.

        • Dean

          That’s generally my practice, although sometimes, being a pretty deft pronouncer of non-English names, I make an informed approximation of the names, and I always correct myself when I’m wrong (though I still wonder if I’m saying Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s name incorrectly, and that’s after briefly meeting the man).

          • Patrick Murtha

            Cholmondeley Featherstonehaugh = Chumley Fenshaw

            This might be from an old Avengers episode.

          • Mr. F.

            Exactly — there’s no shame in mispronouncing an unusual name you’ve never heard before. But it’s a different situation when you know how the person says it… but refuse to accept it, because you think you pronounce it better.

      • Patrick Murtha

        Ioan Gruffud!

        People even stumble over Gyllenhaal.

  • Marty McKee

    Only Wells would maintain that somebody was pronouncing his own name incorrectly.

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  • adam____l

    Pronouncing Benoist as oh-ist isn’t unreasonable, unless you’ve been told it’s wrong. There are plenty of words that end in oist that would be pronounced that way: tattooist, soloist, taoist… If it was -oit I would have assumed it was french, and not sounded the t but the -oist doesn’t exactly make me think of a french pronunciation. Maybe my french is just too rudimentary.

  • Dave Billet

    I’ve had this problem all my life. and only in Paris do I pronounce it Be- yay.

  • Patrick Murtha

    I’ve always been fond of the fact that Goethe Street in Chicago is pronounce GO-EE-THEE Street.

    • That’s what I mean — nobody tops Americans for rube mispronunciations.

      • Grampappy Amos

        New Yorkers tend to think HouseTon Texas is larger than they imagined when visiting there.

  • Grampappy Amos

    only film buffs will feign interest in this whole boondoggle.