Heart of Football

The Trouble with Pronunciation George Hamilton Diogo Jota Caoimhín Kelleher

The trouble with pronunciation

The trouble with the pronunciation of a person’s name is that it is not up for discussion. There are of course many ways to pronounce a person’s name, but sadly the majority of those fall into two categories; wrong, and just plain insulting. Only one of them is correct. 

Not all football commentators fall foul of mispronunciation, but a recent uttering by BBC legend Gary Lineker stirred up deep set feelings about the ignorance of many. Adam Idah scored his first Premier League goal which helped Norwich secure a 2-1 win vs Everton. During the highlights on Match of the Day, Gary claimed of the player’s name “I’m not sure [if] it’s Idah (ee-dah) or Idah (eye-dah) but it’s definitely either (ee-ther) or either (eye-ther). We’ll go with Idah (ee-dah).” The Sun (for all their faults) reported that RTE’s legendary commentator, George Hamilton had criticised Lineker for the joke which he labelled ‘the height of rudeness.’ (The correct pronunciation is ee-dah by the way.)

Anyone who has had the fortune of watching Hamilton’s commentary over the years will note how seriously the 71-year-old takes the pronunciation of players’ names. He spends days making sure he gets it as accurate as he possibly can. He isn’t alone. BT supremo Ian Darke has stated on Twitter that: “Players sit down every year and say their names to camera.  Most commentators use those pronunciations. Yet still there are people on here who think they know better and insist we are getting the names wrong. Example – it is “Kon-tay” and “Mow-pie”.”

So what and whom fall foul of this mispronunciation, and dare we understand why it occurs? 

As an Irishman, who supports Liverpool, the first name I have to clear up is Caoimhín Kelleher. Caoimhín, is the Irish for young Kevin. It is pronounced Kwee-veen. The reason for the mix-up is very clear and understandable, it is not an English name, or indeed an English word. So it doesn’t cooperate with how the English understanding of letters works. Caoi is pronounced Kwee, the ‘mh’ is a ‘v’ sound in Irish as the letter ‘v’ doesn’t exist, and the accent over the ‘í’ signifies a lengthening of the vowel sound. It is called a fada, meaning long. So the last part is veen. The misunderstanding is understandable, the continued mispronunciation is not. He has now been interviewed post and pre-game a number of times and has undoubtedly introduced himself on each occasion, but how he says his name is ignored. Because, as Darke says, there are still those that know better.

RTE commentator George Hamilton player name pronunciation
RTE’s legendary commentator George Hamilton is a passionate defender of faithful player name pronunciation.

It also isn’t just an Irish issue, of course, far from it. The Portuguese also suffer from a raft of mispronunciation. Diogo Jota. As the Liverpool fans have recently advised –  “He’s a lad from Portugal, Better than Figo don’t you know, Oh, his name is Diogo”. His name is Diogo, he is from Portugal, therefore his surname is Jota, with a J sound similar to the J in Juice. Watching Liverpool take on Arsenal recently in the League Cup Semi-Final on Sky Sports, you would be forgiven for thinking there were 3 different players on the pitch with similar names, but from different parts of Europe. Jamie Redknapp insisted it was pronounced with a Germanic soft J, a lá Yota. His colleague was less sure and went with the Spanish style J and declared him Hota. 

He again isn’t the only Portuguese to suffer from such ignorance. Man Utd star, Bruno Fernandes. In Portuguese it is pronounced Fur-nandsh. Not Fer-nan-dez, nor even Fer-nan-deth as it should be pronounced in Spanish, but Fur-nandsh. The same goes for Renato Sanches, it should be pronounced San-sh. Italians fall foul of poor pronunciation too, Gianluigi is often pronounced as “Jeeanluigi” when actually it’s a harsher “Jan” sound. The same rule applies to Giovanni Di Lorenzo; it’s “Jov” rather than “Jeeov”.

But why the difficulty and why do so many commentators get it wrong, when so many strive to get it right? 

Derek Rae claims “This is an Anglo thing. I don’t mean an English thing. I mean an English language thing. If somebody’s first language is English – whether they’re in the UK, the US or Australia – there seems to be a God-given right to say a name in whatever way is easiest for a person to say.” That may be so, but I believe it is also now a self-fulfilling prophecy. While watching the Euros with a person from Portugal, he was appalled at the attempts at getting his countrymens’ names right. But what became apparent very quickly was that there was a line that the more skilled commentators wouldn’t cross when trying to pronounce names correctly – has the player played in England? Jose Fonte was “Font” rather than “Font-eh” due to his time at Reading, Bruno Ferndandez was of course called “Fer-nan-dez”, but Raphaël Guerreiro was pronounced perfectly as “Guh-Raer-Ro” and Rafael Leão was pronounced “Lee-aung”. So where there was an expectation as to how certain names should be said despite the commentator knowing what they were saying was incorrect.

So what is the solution? As Ian Darke has stated; players sit down every year and say their names to the camera, let’s listen better and take the players’ word for it. Any Liverpool, Chelsea or Middlesborough fan can attest that when Boudewijn Zenden joined their club, they weren’t sure how to pronounce his name, but as he said it to the camera “boo-de-vine” it wasn’t that difficult anymore. If everyone listened to each other and didn’t assume they know better, we might live in a better world. 

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2 responses to “The trouble with pronunciation”
  1. barry avatar

    If and when Kelleher plays in Europe more often, how will the Spanish or Italian or French commentators pronounce it? There are lots of examples of Spanish commentators mispronouncing English stadiums or players etc.


    1. heartoffootballvma avatar

      Some foreign leagues do make a decent effort at providing media and commentators with player name pronunciation guides – I believe the Bundesliga do this. Fingers crossed it happens for Kelleher if he moves


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