The 20 Most Commonly Mispronounced Names in the World

Imagine encountering the name ‘Michael’ for the first time.
You can skip a couple vowels here ... but which ones?
You can skip a couple vowels here ... but which ones? / (Background) Justin Dodd/Mental Floss; (Name tag) belterz/E+/Getty Images

You might be so familiar with the name Sean that you don’t often think about the disconnect between its spelling and pronunciation—but anyone encountering it for the first time is liable to say it exactly like the word seen. In fact, as the Irish Star reports via MSN, one study has dubbed it the most commonly mispronounced name in the world.

The data comes from WordFinderX, whose researchers compiled a list of nearly 12,800 names from Nameberry, filtered out alternate spellings, and then ranked them based on how many times people listened to the pronunciations via the crowdsourced pronunciation site Forvo. Sean took the top spot with 1 million listens (as of August 2023), nearly 200,000 listens ahead of runner-up Xuxa (“SHOO-shuh”).

The study has its shortcomings. For one thing, listens don’t necessarily equate to mispronunciations—you could even make the argument that a high number of listens could mean fewer mispronunciations. 

world map of commonly mispronounced names
Click to open a larger version of the image in a new window. / WordFinderX

And while researchers omitted names that are also words, like Rose and Satchel, they evidently only did so with English entries. Sean, for example, is also a conjugation of the Spanish verb ser, meaning “to be.” (It’s pronounced “SEH-ahn.”) Plato, in fifth place with more than 600,000 listens, means “plate” in Spanish (“PLAH-toh”); and seventh-place finisher Estrella means “star.” (“ess-TREY-ah”). Anne, in 14th place, means “mother” in Turkish (“AH-neh”). It’s unclear how much of a traffic boost those names actually got from their dual purposes, but it stands to reason that it wasn’t nothing.

Still, though, the list is a fun way to recontextualize common names with phonetic twists that English speakers are largely desensitized to—like Michael and Thomas. It’s also a reminder that one language’s pronunciation of a name isn’t the only pronunciation: Benjamin, for instance, sounds completely different in French than it does in English. (You pretty much drop both n’s: “BEH-zhah-mah.”) Spanish, Hebrew, and German are just a few other languages that have their own takes on Benjamin. And then there are names like Saoirse, which non-Irish speakers can all agree is just plain tough.

See the top 20 below—click on the image to open a larger version—and explore WordFinderX’s whole study here.

graphic showing 20 mispronounced names from WordFinderX
Number 11 is all the beautiful sounds of the world in a single word. / WordFinderX

Explore More Commonly Mispronounced Names:


[h/t Irish Star via MSN]