One of the most common baby naming dilemmas is pronunciation. On one hand, nobody will mispronounce Emma or Noah… but Emma and Noah will run into a bazillion other Emmas and Noahs. Then there are the more unique baby names: those that are unquestionably unique but will definitely require a lifetime of corrections (or just a grudging acceptance of mispronunciations).
Some of the most beautiful names are, unfortunately, the ones that the general public will butcher over and over while trying to pronounce — and for good reason.
Like nearly every other name (except for those like Raddix that are just completely made up — we’re looking at you, Cameron Diaz), these are rooted in a language other than English, but haven’t been Americanized to the point of easy pronunciation … at least not in their traditional spellings. Just to be clear, these are only hard to pronounce for Americans, and not to the native speakers of their original language. But they are incredibly beautiful and often melodic sounding. In other words, perfect for your little sweetness.
We’ve got perfect examples right here.
It doesn’t look long enough to be a three-syllable name, but this French/Catalan form of Anna is pronounced ah-nah-EES. It’s sometimes spelled with a diacritical mark over the “I” (as in Anaïs), but this probably won’t help clarify pronunciation to most people, and such marks can sometimes cause confusion when it comes to legal documents.
You’d never guess this one included a “V” sound and not an “M,” but that’s exactly why this Irish name makes the list: it’s pronounced nee-ev, two syllables.
The name of the Greek goddess of the dawn, this one’s pronounced AE-ohs. It may be short and simple, but people will invariably say it with a long “EE” sound at the beginning.
In this Spanish name, the “X” is bound to throw everyone but native Spanish speakers for a loop. It’s pronounced see-oh-MAR-uh, or sometimes the “see” part is replaced by a “she” sound: she-oh-MAR-uh.
This lyrical French beauty, meaning “to admire,” is pronounced meer-RAY. Miri would be an option for an adorable — and easy to pronounce — nickname.
Say-oh-eers? Sa-oy-irse? Sow-ears? This is a super cool Irish name with an equally awesome meaning (“freedom”), but also among the hardest to pronounce. (It’s SER-sha, by the way.)
Of Hebrew origin, this name is sometimes spelled Ya’el… which may help the general public with pronunciation, since you say it ya-el, in two syllables — not like Yale, the university.
You’ve definitely seen this name before, just maybe not in its original Dutch form, Schuyler. In fact, it’s a popular unisex name that at last count was #47 for girls and #808 for boys on the popularity charts: that is, with its Americanized spelling, Skylar (the similarly spelled Skyler was #466 for boys and #383 for girls).
People may guess “sy-en” or even “Shawn”… but this Irish name is pronounced like Ian with a hard “C” like KEE-an. To make pronunciation easier, you could spell it with a “K” (although folks may still pronounce it like Ryan), but if you wanna keep with Irish tradition, “C” it is.
This one is the Spanish version of a Hebrew name, Joachim. And since there’s no hard “J” sound in the Spanish language, the correct pronunciation is wah-KEEN.
This adorable Sanskrit name means “enlightened,” but everyone will pronounce it like “body” — so enlighten them by telling them it’s actually pronounced BO-dee.
It looks obvious, like Joe Sue. But this name actually has several different pronunciations (and none of them are Joe or Sue). In Spanish, it’s ho-SWAY; in French, it’s zho-SWEE. It’s also been pronounced as a sort of mashup of the two, zho-SWAY. Basically, pronounce it however you’d like, because everyone’s going to get it wrong the first time.
This Welsh name meaning “enthusiasm” is another one you know — in the Americanized forms of Reese or Reece. But while the American versions are definitely unisex names, the original Welsh spelling seems more masculine.
Yes, there’s a “J” in it, but that doesn’t mean you pronounce it with the hard “J” sound: it’s be-YORN. Luckily, anyone who’s a parent will probably recognize this Swedish name from the Baby Bjorn brand of baby carriers, so the odds of correct first-try pronunciation are a little better.
This, that, those, these, thanks… following those lines, we’d pronounce both the “T” and the “H” in this name, like thee-ago. But ditch the “H.” It’s actually tee-AH-go, like Santiago but without the “San.” Unless you’re going for the Portuguese pronunciation, which is chee-AH-go.
This Sanskrit girl’s name means moonlight or river and is a classic Indian name for women. It’s actually not that hard to pronounce and reads like chaAnd-nee.
The first recorded use of this name was by none other than William Shakespeare but, other than that, it’s of unknown etymology. It is thought to be a play on the word innogen, a Celtic word meaning “maiden” or “girl.”
This may not be the most popular name floating around out there, but it does hold a special place in the Disney canon of female names. Die-hard Little Mermaid fans will recognize it as the name of one of Ariel’s sisters. Anyone with a working knowledge of Latin will recognize the root of the name (aqua) comes from the word for water.
The French version of Margaret, this classic French girl’s name is pronounced mar-goh. This classic name means pearl, and that’s just what your little Margaux is: a precious little gem.
This name is not pronounced at all how it reads. This classic Irish name has a silent “H” at the beginning of it. Bet you didn’t see that coming. It’s pronounced Shin-AID. Go figure.
Calling all Outlander stans, we already know you know how to pronounce this. Looking at the name, it seems pretty easy to figure out the enunciation, but check this out. It’s actually pronounced Cat-REE-nah.
Here’s a clue. The “sia” part is not said the way your brain thinks it is. And guess what? Neither is the “O.” The name is pronounced Zah-shah.
For starters, let us just say that this name has a beautiful meaning. Like, literally, it means “beautiful.” And it comes from the bravest female warrior in the world, which is oh-so fierce. But none of that helps you pronounce it, right? OK, here goes: It is actually pronounced EEE-fa. Mind-boggling, we know.
This name has become increasingly more popular since actress Isla Fisher burst onto the scene. However, if you’ve never heard her name spoken out loud (or if you aren’t familiar with her), you probably have no idea where to start with this short and sweet moniker. The easiest way to remember its pronunciation is to think of it like the word “island” with the end cut off. So, it’s pronounced EYE-la.
Quotes About Names
It goes without saying that choosing the perfect moniker for your little one is a big deal. For added inspiration, check out the following quotes about the gravitas of naming (along with a few reminders not to put too much pressure on yourself, as a name does not define a person).
“Names have power.” — Rick Riordan, The Lightning Thief
“If I’m gonna tell a real story, I’m gonna start with my name.” — Kendrick Lamar
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” — William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
“I’m not my name. My name is something I wear, like a shirt. It gets worn.” — Jerry Spinelli
“It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to.” ― W.C. Fields
“Call him Voldemort, Harry. Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.” ― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
“I confused things with their names: that is belief.” ― Jean-Paul Sartre, The Words
“Just because you didn’t put a name to something did not mean it wasn’t there.” ― Jodi Picoult, Handle with Care
Looking for naming options, easy-to-pronounce or otherwise? Check out the thousands of names and inspirational lists in the Scary Mommy Baby Name Database!
This article was originally published on