What Are The Most Mispronounced Names of Cities Around the World?
Names of consumer brands and celebrity names are included, too.
At Los Angeles International Airport back in the spring of 1985, a passenger who was 22 years of age and heading home to Oakland in California wound up instead going approximately 12,000 miles out of his way because he boarded a flight which was heading to Auckland — in New Zealand — because he thought the person who was announcing the departure of the flight with a New Zealand accent pronounced the name Oakland instead of Auckland; and he did not realize what was happening until the name Tahiti was mentioned during the flight.
That scenario likely would not happen today primarily due to security protocols and technology…
What Are The Most Mispronounced Names of Cities Around the World?
…but what are the most mispronounced names and words in each country around the world?
To find out the answer to that question, Forvo — which is the largest pronunciation dictionary in the world and is found at Forvo.com — was used; and it uses sound clips in many different languages in an attempt to facilitate the learning of languages and correct pronunciation of words.
After drawing up a seed list of actors, brands, sports stars, musicians and cities, the data to discover how many times to which each name or place had been listened was thoroughly searched in order to learn the correct pronunciation.
Once the listen count for each term had been recorded, the top ten entries by the number of listens for each category were found.
To find the most mispronounced city in every country, cities with populations of greater than 100,000 people were searched. If no cities matched the criteria for a country, up to ten most populous cities were selected depending on availability. The city name with the highest listen count was then selected for each country.
This article from WordTips gives more details about the most mispronounced words and names in countries around the world; and I have been given express written permission to use the graphs and the verbatim text from the aforementioned article in this article. While WordTips has endeavored to ensure the information provided is accurate and current, it cannot guarantee it, as this information is general in nature only and does not constitute personal advice. Neither WordTips nor The Gate accept any liability — and assume no responsibility — for any and all information which is presented in this article.
With that disclaimer out of the way, here is the article.
The Most Mispronounced Names of Cities, Consumer Brands, and Celebrities in Each Country Worldwide
We all know the feeling. You’re deep in conversation and need to finally say that new word that has sneaked into society’s vocabulary. You may have seen it on a million memes or read it in every article that week, yet when you come to say it, you suddenly feel tongue-tied. After all, how do we know we are pronouncing words correctly if we’ve never heard nor said them aloud?
Be it the latest TikTok trend, holiday hotspot or even covid variant, we encounter new and often challenging terms every day. Many of which leave us fumbling around consonants and vowels or muttering it out and hoping nobody notices.
From city names to consumer brands, musicians to movie stars and a whole host of sports stars, too, we all struggle with mastering pronunciation from time to time. But what are the most commonly mispronounced words?
This sent WordTips on a mission to discover the most tongue-twisting terms. Using the online pronunciation dictionaryForvo.com, we delved into the listen count data of a range of words, names and places to see which terms people struggle with the most.
With 7,000,000 listens on Forvo — people struggle to pronounce Rio De Janeiro more than any other city in the world.
Saoirse Ronan has the most mispronounced actors name — with 95,000 listens.
Ed Sheeran might be a household name, but 154,000 listens prove the singer’s name is hard to pronounce for some.
MVP Players Jokic, Embiid and Antetokounmpo amongst most mispronouncedNBA Stars.
When it comes to consumer brands, Google racks up 1,300,000 listens for its pronunciation.
Holiday Hotspots Prove to be the Most Mispronounced City Names
Whether Buenos Aires (bweh·nos ai·ruhz) in Argentina or Baghdad (bag-dad) in Iraq, each country has at least one city that’s bound to leave your tongue in a twist. Take a trip around the globe on a pronunciation odyssey to see which cities trip up the most people.
With 195 countries speaking over 7000 languages and dialects, there’s bound to be some bemusement when it comes to nailing the correct pronunciation. With some of the most contested and confusing pronunciations resulting from city names.
Much like learning a language, the trick to mastering the correct pronunciation of city names is to decipher each syllable. Sarajevo is a place that catches plenty of English speakers out as the J is said softly ‘sa·ruh·yay·vow’ while Chicago (shuh·kaa·gow) may confuse some non-natives as ‘Ch’ is pronounced as ‘Sh.’
A-List Actress Saoirse Ronan Has the Most Mispronounced Name
Despite being nominated for multiple Academy, Bafta and Screen Actors Guild awards, not to mention winning a Golden Globe, Saoirse Ronan(Ser-Scha Row·Nuhn) tops our list as the actor with the most commonly mispronounced name. Gaelic names like Saoirse’s can certainly be trickier to pronounce, thanks to the prevalence of double or triple vowels that leave many of us scratching our heads.
Saoirse’s Ladybird and Little Women co-star Timothée Chalamet also features in our Top 10 most mispronounced actors’ names. Commonly mistaken as Timothy(ti·muh·thee), the correct pronunciation hails from his French heritage, where the double ee and accent make it ‘Timo-tay Shala-may.’ However, both stars of the big screen seem to be fairly laid back about others mispronouncing their tongue-tying names.
City Names Dominate Most Commonly Mispronounced Words
Cities have some of the hardest names to master, according to our study. With eight of the top ten hardest city names racking up over a million listens, this category eclipsed any other. Taking the top spot with a whopping 7,000,000 listens was Rio de Janeiro (Ree-oh dey zhuh-nair-oh). As Portuguese is a notoriously tricky language to get right, especially as pronunciation varies throughout the different regions in Brazil, it’s no wonder so many people have needed help along the way.
One theory as to why we might struggle with the correct pronunciation of city names is down to the fact they are sometimes translated to simplify or better suit the syllables used in different vernaculars. While London is simply London (luhn·dn) to an English speaker, London becomes Londres in French, causing some confusion when it comes to pronunciation.
On the other hand, some cities are just downright difficult to decipher. Scotland’s capital Edinburgh is a prime example, often mistakenly pronounced as ‘ed-in-borough’ or with an overemphasis on the gh, similar to Pittsburgh. The correct pronunciation is ‘ed-in-bruh,’ with advice from locals being not to dwell on the vowels and say the last ‘bruh’ section faster and softer.
German Car Brands Drive the Most People to Practice Pronunciation
Brand names are some of the most common terms that confuse and confound us. As new companies emerge and grow, we are often left trying to figure out once and for all how their name should be pronounced. We found that some of the biggest brands in the world still stump the most people, with search engine supremo Google (Goo-guhl) taking the top spot with 1.3 million listens.
Although German cars are renowned for their high performance and luxurious ride, plenty of people seem to struggle when it comes to correctly pronouncing their names. So much so, a quartet of German car manufacturers, including Porsche (Por-shuh), BMW (bee em double yoo), Mercedes Benz (mer-say-deez benz) and Audi (Ow-dee), all appear in our top 10 mispronounced brand names.
While BMW is, in fact, an acronym, standing for Bayerische Motoren Werke or Bavarian Motor Works, the initials themselves are still pronounced very differently in various dialects. While in English we know it as ‘bee em double yoo,’ being a German brand, the original pronunciation is more akin to ‘bee em vee.’
Sergio Agüero Tops the Table as the Most Mispronounced Footballer Player
As a truly global sport, it’s no wonder we frequently come across football players whose names prove trickier to pronounce than scoring the perfect panenka penalty. Whether a legend of the game like Lionel Messi (Lee-oh-nell mess-i) or a star of tomorrow in Kylian Mbappe (Kee-lee-an M-bap-pay), getting the pronunciation spot-on in soccer is no easy task.
During last summer’s EURO 2020 tournament, organizers Uefa even released a cheat sheet ahead of the quarter-finals to help fans gain a better grasp on some of the harder pronunciations. With the World Cup occurring in Qatar later this year, now is the perfect time to brush up on your delivery before cheering your favorite players on. With 8 of our top 10 footballers likely to feature at the tournament, including Polish trio Wojciech Szczęsny (Voy-chekh Sh-chen-sni), Jakub Błaszczykowski (Yak-oob bla-wa- ko-sk-i) and Krzysztof Piątek (Kshish-tof Pee-yon-tek).
When it comes to Polish phonology, many people struggle to get their heads around pronunciation, thanks to an abundance of complex consonant clusters. This is where we encounter a series of successive consonants without any vowels. Although this occurs in many languages, including English, we see it much more frequently in Polish words, sometimes finding as many as six consonants in a row, just as in Jakub Blaszczykowski’s name.
MVP Players Jokic, Embiid and Antetokounmpo Amongst Most Mispronounced NBA Stars
Much like their fellow professional footballers, basketballers often face the same perils when it comes to mispronunciation. With the NBA drawing the world’s best players to the US to practice their trade, we see names from around the globe appearing on jerseys, ready to boggle the mind of unsuspecting fans.
In fact, throughout the last couple of years, we have seen prominent basketballers challenge announcers, match officials and broadcasters for consistently getting names wrong. WNBA stars Natalie Achonwa(Na-ta-lee uh-chon-wuh)and Aari McDonald (Air-e Muk-don-uhld) recently made a stand, claiming these mistakes are disrespectful and discriminatory, with there being no excuse for such errors, given that pronunciation guides are provided to prevent such gaffes.
Ed Sheeran Takes the Top Spot in Most Mispronounced Musicians Chart
Ed Sheeran (Ed- Sheer-an), Shakira (Shuh-keeuh-ruh) and Justin Bieber (juh·stuhn bee·buh) are perhaps some of the most popular musicians on the planet today. Their catchy songs are known word for word by millions of people; however, their names don’t seem to roll off the tongue quite as easily.
Billie Eilish (Bi-Lee Eye-lish) is another musician at the top of their game, boasting the biggest vocabulary of any modern-day pop star, along with two best-selling albums to boot. Billie finds herself at the top of a very different chart here, though, as she lays claim to the fourth most mispronounced musician name in our top 10 and her name being one of the most difficult words to come out of 2021.
The Most Mispronounced Words
Millions of people turn to online pronunciation dictionaries such as Forvo.com when faced with a particularly devilish word. By delving into the data and totting up the listen counts for an array of terms, names and places, we’ve found the most commonly mispronounced words around the world.
The average American is said to know, understand and utilize 20,000 words in their vocabulary, plus another 22,000 words that are known passively. Considering there are over 170,000 words in the English lexicon, that means we have a grasp on less than 25% of our own language.
Perhaps it’s not so surprising that so many words, names and places prove difficult to pronounce. Remember the next time you stumble on a tricky word, try to break it down into syllables, look for letter combinations you know or utilize online pronunciation databases to hear it expertly spoken by a range of different speakers.
Bonus Section: The Most Mispronounced Names of Cities Worldwide
Not appearing in the original article are enlarged maps of each continent or major region around the world for a closer look at the most mispronounced names of cities in the world.
First comes North America…
…followed by South America — can you properly pronounce Buenos Aires, Medellin, and Rio de Janiero?
Next comes Europe…
…with the Middle East coming in next…
…and then comes the rest of Asia and Oceania…
…and last but not least is Africa.
Final Boarding Call
Many of the pronunciations in this article are actually Anglicized. For example, Jerusalem is actually pronounced YE-roo-shuh-LY-eem in Hebrew.
Also, what about the names of states in the United States? Illinois, Arkansas, and Missouri — which are all clumped together in the central part of the United States — are pronounced as either ILL-in-NOY-is, ar-CAN-zass, and miz-ZUR-ruh; or ILL-in-NOY, ARK-uhn-saw, and miz-ZUR-ree…
…and even more bizarre is that the Arkansas River is pronounced ARK-uhn-saw in Arkansas — but pronounced as ar-CAN-zass in Kansas.
I can conjure dozens — perhaps hundreds — of nicknames and flukey pronunciations of geographical names and words around the world; and I discussed some of them in this article here at The Gate from Wednesday, December 20, 2017…
…but I would like to know of some of your favorites; or ones which stand out in your mind. Please list them in the Comments section below.