Non-English names can be tricky for English speakers to pronounce for a number of reasons. Maybe a certain name contains a sound that the English language doesn’t have—like the Arabic “kh.” Or maybe a familiar letter combination sounds different than you’d typically pronounce it in English. In Welsh, for instance, the letter f makes a “v” sound; and in Irish, the letters aoi sound like “ee.”
With Spanish names, there’s often an English version spelled the same as (or very similar to) the Spanish version—so English speakers jump to the English pronunciation, which isn’t always correct. Lionel Richie, for example, doesn’t say his first name the same way Lionel Messi says his.
The difference in many cases comes down to emphasis and vowel sounds. Here’s a handy chart of how to pronounce vowels in Spanish:
That said, exceptions in vowel pronunciation do exist—and so do diphthongs, in which two vowels are pronounced as a single syllable. Spanish diphthongs occur when a strong vowel (a, e, or o) is paired with a weak one (i or u), or when i and u are paired up. Recognizing them can help you avoid over-enunciating vowels that Spanish speakers wouldn’t. Being able to roll your r’s is a valuable skill, too, as all r’s are rolled in Spanish.
It’s also important to mention that the Spanish language encompasses various Spanish dialects and countless regional accents within them, so there’s really no one “correct” way to pronounce any of the monikers below. The phonetic keys are simply meant to help you steer clear of some of the common mistakes that English speakers make when saying Spanish names.
Argentine footballer Ángel Di María’s first name doesn’t match the English word angel. It’s “AHNG-hell.”
The Spanish z is pronounced like the English s, or, (typically) in Spain, like the th in thank. So Beatriz is “beh-ah-TREESE,” where the last syllable rhymes with geese; or “beh-ah-TREETH,” like teeth.
Pop star Camila Cabello’s first name is “kah-MEE-lah,” not “kah-MILL-ah.” (Her surname is “kah-BEH-yo,” not “kah-BELL-oh.”)
The name César doesn’t match the Caesar in Julius Caesar or Caesar salad. It’s “SEH-sahr.”
Dulce, which literally means “sweet,” is pronounced “DOOL-seh.”
Ei is a dipthong, so the first name of Mexican actor Eiza González is pronounced “EY-sah,” rather than “eh-EE-sah.”
If you fully break down each sound in Eugenio, it’s “eh-oo-HEN-ee-oh.” But because eu and io are both diphthongs, “eh-oo” and “ee-oh” are each pronounced as a single syllable—so it’s more like “ehw-HEN-yo.”
Actor Gael García Bernal’s first name doesn’t match gale. It’s “gah-ELL.”
The first name of Pan’s Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro is “gee-YEHR-moh.” (His surname means “of the bull.”)
You’d say “JAY-mee,” like Jamie, in English. But in Spanish it’s “HI-meh.”
Josefina is “hoh-seh-FEE-nah,” like José.
If you’re talking about Lionel Messi, you give “lee-oh-NELL” the diphthong treatment to get “lyo-NELL.”
The Italian version of this name is pronounced “loo-CHEE-ah.” In Spanish, it’s “loo-SEE-ah.”
When Oscar Isaac is speaking Spanish, he pronounces his first name as “OH-scar,” rather than the English “AH-skur.”
Quinta, which literally means “fifth,” is pronounced “KEEN-tah.” (Unless you’re talking about Abbott Elementary creator Quinta Brunson, so named because she was the fifth kid in her family: She pronounces it “KWIN-tuh,” like quintuplet. You can read other actor names you’re probably mispronouncing here.)
The Spanish pronunciation of Selena is “seh-LEH-nah,” rather than “suh-LEE-nuh.”
Sergio is “SEHR-hee-oh,” but since the io is a diphthong, it’s more like “SEHR-hyoh.”
Similar to Selena, the Spanish pronunciation of Teresa is “teh-REH-sah.”
If you’ve already nailed the io in Eugenio and Sergio, Xiomara should be a breeze: “syoh-MAH-rah.”
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