15 Historical Figures’ Names You’re Probably Mispronouncing

There’s a silent letter in ‘Guevara,’ but not in ‘Du Bois.’
(From left to right) W.E.B. Du Bois, Che Guevara, and Empress Dowager Cixi.
(From left to right) W.E.B. Du Bois, Che Guevara, and Empress Dowager Cixi. / (Du Bois) Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images; (Guevara) Alberto Korda, Museo Che GuevaraWikimedia Commons // Public Domain; (Cixi) © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

English speakers don’t always nail the pronunciation of famous names, especially when they’re in another language (be it Irish, Welsh, or Arabic). Here’s how to say the oft-botched monikers of 15 historical figures.

1. Edvard Munch

The Scream painter Edvard Munch’s surname doesn’t sound like its English homograph. It’s “MOONK.”

2. Andrew Carnegie

Many Americans pronounce Carnegie as “KAR-nuh-gee.” But the steel magnate and philanthropist was born in Scotland, so it’s best to say his name the way the Scots do: “kar-NAY-gee.”

3. Shirley Chisholm

The surname of the first Black woman in Congress—and the first woman to run for president as a Democrat or Republican—is pronounced “CHIZ-m,” rhyming with prism.

4. Che Guevara

The u in this Argentine revolutionary’s surname is silent, just like the one in guerrilla. It’s “geh-VAH-rah” (and roll the r if you can).

5. Héloïse

Héloïse was a 12th-century French scholar and nun best known for her tragic romance with fellow scholar Peter Abélard. In French, the h is silent, so her name is pronounced “ELL-oo-eez,” just like the English Eloise.

6. Julius Caesar

Based on what we know about Classical Latin pronunciation, the name of ancient Rome’s ill-fated emperor should technically sound like this: “YOO-lee-oos KYE-sahr,” where “KYE” rhymes with hi, “sar” rhymes with far, and “oos” rhymes with moose [PDF].

7. Elie Wiesel

Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel’s name is pronounced “ELL-ee vee-ZELL.” He’s hardly the only author with a commonly mispronounced moniker.

8. Empress Dowager Cixi

Empress Dowager Cixi, pronounced “tsuh-SHEE,” was hugely powerful as China’s on-and-off regent from the 1860s through the early 1900s.

9. W.E.B. Du Bois

Civil rights leader W.E.B. Du Bois clarified how to say his name in a 1939 note to the Chicago Sunday Evening Club: “My name is pronounced in the clear English fashion: Du, with u as in Sue; Bois, as oi in voice. The accent is on the second syllable.”

10. Elsa Schiaparelli

The surname of 20th-century Italian clothing designer Elsa Schiaparelli is pronounced “skya-pah-RELL-ee.”

Read More Articles About Commonly Mispronounced Names:


11. Leonhard Euler

This 18th-century mathematician was from Basel, Switzerland, where German is spoken, which explains why Euler is pronounced “OY-ler,” not “YOO-ler.” (The German pronunciation of Leonhard is something like “LEE-ohn-haht.”)

12. Queen Lili‘uokalani

The name of Hawaii’s last sovereign monarch is pronounced “LEE-LEE-oo-oh-kah-LAH-nee.”

13. Aeschylus

Aeschylus is generally pronounced “ESS-kuh-luss.” The ancient Greek playwright, sometimes known as the Father of Tragedy, reportedly suffered a tragic death of his own.

14. Boudica

This 1st-century warrior queen’s mononym has a few different spellings, so pronunciation varies, too. You can’t go wrong with “BOO-dih-kuh,” which is what most people say for Boudica and Boudicca. For Boadicea, though, you might be more likely to hear “boh-dih-SEE-uh,” or “boh-uh-dih-SEE-uh.”

15. Joseph Pulitzer

It’s not uncommon for people to pronounce Pulitzer as “PYOO-lit-zer.” But in 2016, Emily Rauh Pulitzer, widow of Joseph Pulitzer III—grandson of Gilded Age newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer—told Poynter that her late husband “said that his father told people to say ‘Pull it sir.’”