27 Actor Names You're Probably Mispronouncing
By Jake Rossen
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
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
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.”
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
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.”
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