20 German Names You’re Probably Mispronouncing

A German ‘j’ doesn’t sound like its English counterpart.
(Left to right) Angela Merkel, Marlene Dietrich, and Beethoven.
(Left to right) Angela Merkel, Marlene Dietrich, and Beethoven. / (Merkel) Jean Catuffe/Getty Images; (Dietrich) General Photographic Agency/Getty Images; (Beethoven) Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

You’ve nailed tricky Irish names, Welsh names, Spanish names, and Arabic names. Your favorite fun fact is that Roald Dahl’s first name is “ROO-all,” not “ROLLED,” as he’s named after Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. And when someone butchers the brand name Givenchy in your presence, it takes every ounce of self-control not to correct them before they can even finish their sentence.

So here’s a question: How many of these German names can you already pronounce perfectly, and how long will it take you to master the ones you can’t?

1. Angela

Former chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel’s first name is pronounced “AHNG-geh-lah” with a hard “g” sound like that in angle, not angel.

2. Anja

A German j sounds like an English y, so Anja is “AHN-yah.”

3. Arne

Arne is “AR-neh,” with a guttural “r” sound like those heard in French names (e.g. Arnaud).

4. Bastian

Don’t run the last couple vowels together like you would when saying “Sebastian” in English. Bastian in German is “BAH-stee-AHN.”

5. Birgit

Birgit is “BEER-git,” where the “r” is guttural and -git rhymes with it.

6. Cathrin

The German Cathrin doesn’t sound identical to the English Catherine. It’s “KAT-reen” (again with a guttural “r”).

7. Elke

Like Arne, the e in Elke isn’t silent—it’s “ELL-keh.”

8. Frauke

It’s not “FRAWK,” but “FROW-keh,” where the “r” is guttural and the first syllable rhymes with brow (not grow).

9. Gunther

If the Friends barista had ever abandoned his Central Perk post for a job in Germany, he would have gotten used to hearing his name pronounced “GOON-tah.”

10. Heike

Heike is simply “HIKE-eh.”

11. Ilse

The s in Ilse is typically pronounced like an English z: “ILL-zeh.”

12. Jonas

If the Jonas Brothers were German, we’d all be saying their surname as “YOH-nahss.”

13. Jürgen

The r all but disappears in Jürgen, so it’s something like “YUH-gehn.”

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14. Jutta

Jutta is “YUH-tah,” where the vowel sound in the first syllable is similar to that of hood and good.

15. Klaus

Young readers of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events may have assumed the middle Baudelaire sibling’s name sounded identical to claws and Claus. In German, though, Klaus is pronounced “KLOWSS,” like mouse and house.

16. Ludwig

Beethoven’s first name is pronounced “LUHD-vig,” where the first syllable rhymes with hood and good. To nail the whole name, remember that van is “FAHN” and Beethoven is “BEYT-hoh-fun,“ where the last syllable is spoken so fast it almost sounds like “fn.”

17. Marlene

English speakers often mispronounce Marlene Dietrich’s first name as “mar-LEEN,” but it should be “mar-LEH-neh” (with a guttural “r”).

18. Matthias

Ignore your English speaker’s instincts on this one, too: Matthias in German is “mah-TEE-ahss.”

19. Volker

The v in Volker sounds like an English f, so it’s “FOHL-kah.”

20. Wolfgang

Beethoven isn’t the only famous composer whose name has a w that trips up English speakers. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s first name is pronounced “VOLF-gahng.”