27 Actor Names You're Probably Mispronouncing

From left: Idris Elba, Michelle Yeoh, Brendan Fraser, and Lupita Nyongo’o.
From left: Idris Elba, Michelle Yeoh, Brendan Fraser, and Lupita Nyongo’o. / Dimitrios Kambouris/MG18/Getty Images for Met Museum/Vogue (Elba); Irvin Rivera/Contour by Getty Images for IMDb (Yeoh); Arturo Ho/Getty Images (Fraser); Lia Toby/Getty Images (Nyongo’o)

When John Travolta attended rehearsals for the 2014 Academy Awards, he had no trouble pronouncing the name Idina Menzel, the actress and singer who was set to perform the nominated “Let it Go” from Frozen. Come the live telecast, though, Travolta invited the audience to welcome “Adele Dazeem.”

Menzel found it funny. And in fairness to Travolta, he’s not alone. Plenty of people have trouble getting their tongues around the names of some notable entertainers, including musicians. (Irish and Welsh names can be particularly challenging, too.) Take a look at 25 actors from film and television that have to endure mispronunciations.

1. Idris Elba

The Luther star’s name should be pronounced “IH-driss ELLE-ba,” not “EE-driss.” (The actor’s birth name is Idrissa; he changed it after enduring some childhood taunts.)

2. Joaquin Phoenix

Phoenix had the biggest commercial hit of his career with 2019’s Joker, a revisionist take on Batman’s notorious villain. His name is pronounced “wah-KEEN.”

3. Florence Pugh

The Midsommar and Black Widow star isn’t “Pug” like in the dog or “poo” like ... you know. It’s “Pew,” which Pugh herself described on Twitter as the noise you make when you’re “pretending to have a shoot out and you make all the noises yourself … pew pew pew pew.”

4. Matthew McConaughey

The actor broke out following a turn as a stoner in 1993’s Dazed and Confused. Both the spelling and pronunciation of his last name has proven challenging for people. It’s not “MIC-CON-ah-hee,” but “muh-KAH-nuh-HAY.” McConaughey says his name rhymes with “What did Madonna say?” And no, he’s never considered changing it.

5. Brendan Fraser

The star of The Mummy franchise had an excellent 2022 and 2023 thanks to his Oscar win for Best Actor in The Whale. It’s not “FRAY-sher,” though. It’s “FRAY-zer,” which rhymes with razor.

6. Lupita Nyong’o

The co-star of Black Panther has endured many maimings of her name over the years. It’s “NYONG-oh.”

7. Rami Malek

Malek, who starred on Mr. Robot and inhabited Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, sometimes gets “RAY-me.” According to the actor, it’s “RAH-me MAL-ek.”

8. Margot Robbie

The Australian actress and Barbie star will typically see her first name given its due—it’s “MAR-go”—but back home it’s “MA-go.” Her last name is “RAW-bee,” not “ROBE-ee.”

9. Keanu Reeves

Keanu Reeves considered going by the stage name “Chuck Spadina” (among others) because his agents thought his first name, which is Hawaiian, was “too ethnic.” It’s pronounced “key-AH-noo.”

10. Domhnall Gleeson

The Irish actor has said his first name rhymes with tonal, just with a d—so you’d say “DOH-nal.”

11. Thandiwe Newton

Thandiwe Newton is pictured
Thandiwe Newton. / Sylvain Lefevre/GettyImages

The actress admitted in 2021 that her first name has been misspelled as “Thandie” for most of her career. While correcting that, she also said it’s pronounced “tan-DEE-way.”

12. Claes Bang

Claes Bang is pictured
Claes Bang. / David M. Benett/GettyImages

The Denmark native was recently in The Northman and has also played Dracula for the BBC. It’s “Clayze” (rhymes with maze). Bang is—well, “bang.” Like bang, bang.

13. Simu Liu

The star of Kim’s Convenience and Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings tweeted that his name is pronounced “SEE-moo LEE-ew.” He also corrected the common mistake made with his Marvel character’s name: It’s “SHONG-chee,” not “SHANG-chee.”

14. Michelle Yeoh

The name of the 2023 Best Actress Oscar winner for Everything Everywhere All At Once is pronounced “Yo,” not “Yow” or “YEE-oh.”

Read More Articles About Commonly Mispronounced Names:


15. Xolo Maridueña

The star of Cobra Kai and the upcoming DC film Blue Beetle says his name is “SHOH-loh mah-ree-DWEN-yah.”

16. Andre Braugher

Andre Braugher is pictured
Andre Braugher. / Michael Loccisano/GettyImages

The star of Brooklyn Nine-Nine pronounces his name “AHN-dray BROW-er,” where Braugher rhymes with power.

17. Chiwetel Ejiofor

A very imposing name, but it’s not that difficult. It’s “CHEW-it-tell EDGE-ee-oh-four.”

18. Lea Seydoux

The James Bond actress’s name is French. It’s pronounced “LAY-uh say-DOO.” The x is silent.

19. Letitia Wright

The Black Panther star pronounces her first name “luh-TEE-shuh.”

20. Mads Mikkelsen

The Danish actor (Casino Royale, Hannibal) is often cast in villain roles, but he’s typically polite in the face of people mangling his first name. While it’s easy to assume it’s “Mads,” it’s actually “Mass.”

21. Mahershala Ali

The Moonlight and Green Book actor will soon be stepping into the shoes of Marvel’s vampire hunter Blade. Maybe that will prompt people to say his name correctly: It’s “muh-HER-shuh-luh.” He shortened it in 2012 from his full birth name, Mahershalalhashbaz (which you can see him pronounce in the video above).

22. Saoirse Ronan

The Little Women and Lady Bird star’s Irish name can give people trouble. It’s “SUR-shuh.”

23. Daniel Kaluuya

Jordan Peele collaborator Daniel Kaluuya’s last name is pronounced “kuh-LOO-yuh.” He’s said people started pronouncing it correctly following the success of 2017’s Get Out.

24. Giancarlo Esposito

Esposito’s turns on Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, and The Mandalorian are just the most recent hits in a long career, dating back to a breakthrough role in 1989’s Do the Right Thing. His name is pronounced “jon-carlo” (make sure to roll the r) “ess-POH-zee-toh,” not “espos-SITO.”

25. Steve Buscemi

The character actor (Boardwalk Empire) might have the most maligned name in show business. It’s so difficult that even Buscemi himself has managed to mispronounce it. The actor has said he uses “boo-SEM-ee” while many others use “boo-SHEM-ee,” but neither is actually correct. In Italy, where Buscemi’s family is from, it’s pronounced “boo-SHAY-me.”

26. Jake Gyllenhaal

“The only two places that [my last name] is pronounced correctly ... is in Sweden and in IKEA,” the actor told Conan O’Brien. So while Americans might pronounce it “JILL-in-hall,” go with “YEEL-en-HAUL” for that authentic Swedish feel.

27. Timothée Chalamet

Sure, “Timothy” will work, but Chalamet’s father is French, so technically, it’s “TEE-moh-tay.” His last name is “SHAL-uh-may.”

Are you a logophile? Do you want to learn unusual words and old-timey slang to make conversation more interesting, or discover fascinating tidbits about the origins of everyday phrases? Then pick up our new book, The Curious Compendium of Wonderful Words: A Miscellany of Obscure Terms, Bizarre Phrases, & Surprising Etymologies, out June 6! You can pre-order your copy on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, or Bookshop.org.