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Can anyone give me a brief list of Mathematicians whose names are prone to be mispronounced? I have a few:

  • Paul Erdős: I used to pronounce Erdos, when by friend corrected it and said it's not Erdos, its ("Air-dish").

  • René Descartes: I still don't know how his name is pronounced.

Finally, if one feels, that this question shouldn't be here, then please let me know. I shall delete it.

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closed as not constructive by t.b., Asaf Karagila, Aryabhata, Mike Spivey, Arturo Magidin May 9 '11 at 16:22

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It is not "Air-dish", and it is spelled Erdős. – Phira May 9 '11 at 8:52
The question doesn't make much sense to me as written. I would be very surprised if any mathematician hasn't had their name mispronounced by somebody. I would prefer it to be rephrased as something like "what are mathematicians' names that are easy to / commonly mispronounced?" – Qiaochu Yuan May 9 '11 at 8:57
I don't like that this question is English-centric (and even more Western-centric) without saying so. I doubt that you wanted to hear English names as examples of words that are commonly mispronounced in non-English countries. Descartes and Euler are surprisingly seldom mispronounced in France and Germany, respectively. – Phira May 9 '11 at 9:13
She's the sort of GAL One used to fight duels over. – Georges Elencwajg May 9 '11 at 9:29
I started a meta thread:… – Phira May 9 '11 at 15:14

14 Answers 14

  1. If you look at wikipedia, you find "French pronunciation: [ʁəne dekaʁt]"

    You can click on the hieroglyphs to get more information, and I strongly suggest that you do not assume that the sounds in the English language are sufficient to model the sounds in other languages.

  2. At Merriam-Webster, you can listen to a pronunciation, although it is not perfect (probably owing to the fact that they do not use the International Phonetic Alphabet and then have an automatic computer voice that is optimized for English)

  3. Spelling is also an issue, see the poem in

  4. I offer the examples of Dijkstra and Kirchhoff whose names are mispronounced in math courses.

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How is Kirchhoff pronounced? As in Kirk? – t.b. May 9 '11 at 9:04
Is "Dyke-stra" wrong? – J. M. May 9 '11 at 9:06
Thanks! German is my mother tongue, so I'm wondering how exactly Kirchhoff is mispronounced. Sorry for the implicit assumption you can't know about. – t.b. May 9 '11 at 9:13
@Theo Buehler: I thought that might be the reason for your question, but I did not want to assume it, so I just linked to the pronunciation for everybody. See my comment to the OP on the English-centric nature of this thread. My native language is also German. My favourite mathematician name story is the theorem that has been found simultaneously in the US and the USSR at the height of the cold war. The names of the mathematicians are Hartman and Grobman. – Phira May 9 '11 at 9:22
How ironic that Springer spells Riemann’s name wrong in their poem about wrong spelling. ;-) – Konrad Rudolph May 9 '11 at 14:50

Huygens. I still have no idea what his name should be pronounced like.

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Wikipedia gives the English IPA pronunciation /ˈhaɪɡənz/, with "aɪ" pronounced as in "price" and "ə" pronounced as the 'a' in "Rosa", fo ran approximate pronunciation of "Hi-ganz". – Chris Taylor May 9 '11 at 9:46
Actually, the Dutch pronunciation is nowhere near the English IPA. the "g" in Huygens is not hard. Actually, the rest is off as well. The bracketed phonetic is probably right though: [ˈɦœyɣə(n)s] . – Raskolnikov May 9 '11 at 10:32
Actually the hardness of the g in Huygens depends quite heavily on dialect. For Flemish speakers it might not be a hard one, for Groningers it definitely is. Also, you can't blame wikipedia for misrepresenting the ui sound. I don't think I've ever heard an Anglophone get that right. – gfes Jun 6 '11 at 5:20

Forvo is a website whose purpose is to contain native pronunciations of words in many languages. It already contains a lot of names of scientists. The speakers who pronounce them are native and you can see where they live (it can be useful for languages with a lot of pronunciation differences, like English or Arabic).

If you find the name of a mathematician in your native language which isn't in the database, please contribute!

The major drawback of forvo is that it's quite slow. Be patient...

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This is borderline but I'm not voting to close.

I was once shocked to discover that some folks (in the US) are saying "YOOler" for Euler.

EDIT: Dutch names can also be confusing to the uninitiated. Albert Nijenhuis ("Nayenhaus", roughly) and Alexander Schrijver ("Sxrayver" where x stands for the sound of ch in Loch Ness) are two examples.

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You´re 44 seconds earlier so I´ll delete my answer :) – Stijn May 9 '11 at 8:59
Ha! Plus your name reminded me of another instance... – Alon Amit May 9 '11 at 9:02
So, I'll confess to still being ignorant of how to pronounce "Stieltjes"... – J. M. May 9 '11 at 9:12
@J. M.: Wikipedia gives [ˈstiltʃəs] – Chris Eagle May 9 '11 at 9:15

A common one I hear mispronounced in first calculus courses is Leibniz. A lot of students first say Leeb-nizz instead of Laib-nits or Laip-nits.

And also Abraham De Moivre or Stefan Banach. There are surely more examples.

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I often hear people calling Kurt Gödel in various ways ranging from "Go-del" to the "Girdle".

Eventually I asked a friend from Germany to record his name and send me an audio file.

The result was "Gyu-del" kinda sounding which which sounded nothing like what I was used to before ("Gedel").

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Gyu??? yu seems to be a very strange way of representing ö... – t.b. May 9 '11 at 9:21
Well, it is sort of "girdle" without pronouncing the "r". – Phira May 9 '11 at 9:25
@J. M. Probably the BBC is better at describing that than I am: see here. – t.b. May 9 '11 at 15:02
For ö here is what I learned long ago. Instructions for English speaker. Hold your lips as you would to say OOOO but then try to say EEEE which makes your tongue do something. Lips OOOO tongue EEEE . – GEdgar May 9 '11 at 15:02
"Girdle" would sound the closest if you're British ;) – Phonon May 9 '11 at 15:32

I've heard people misinterpret the first letter Łoś and Łukasiewicz as an "L" and pronounce it accordingly. Wikipedia says it's [ˈwɔɕ] and [wukaˈɕɛvʲitʂ] respectively.

Of course I don't know if it's a common mistake or not.

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"Reverse Polish Notation" is called Polish to avoid saying Łukasiewicz's name. – Henry May 9 '11 at 15:12
pronunciation of Łoś – Rasmus May 9 '11 at 16:46

I'd be very interested in learning the correct pronunciation of Claude L. Schochet's last name.

In particular, which of the syllables should be stressed?

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Given that the name comes from Hebrew שחט (šacḥaṭ) I think you could fare worse than to pronounce the name as you would read it in German with a thick Swiss accent :) – t.b. May 9 '11 at 13:39
@Theo: So stress the first syllable and pronounce the ch like chrr? – Rasmus May 9 '11 at 14:14
Good idea. (extra) – Rasmus May 9 '11 at 14:34
I believe it is pronounced to rhyme with the English word "socket", and has the same initial sound as the English word "shock". (I once asked my Ph.D. advisor, who knew him. If I'm wrong, I accept full responsibility.) But maybe Sean Tilson will weigh in; he's a math.stackexchange user who's also a graduate student in the same department as Schochet. – Jonas Meyer May 9 '11 at 18:40
@Jonas: That would imply that the first syllable is stressed, right? – Rasmus May 9 '11 at 18:59

Knot theorist Jozef Przytycki's name is often mispronounced by those who are unfamiliar with Polish. A rough approximation to the correct pronunciation is "shuh-titskee."

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Dirichlet. In the US, at least, it is commonly pronounced as French. But someone once told me that (because of where the man lived, or maybe his parents, I forget) it actually would have been pronounced as German. Does anyone have information on this?

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According to the Meyers grosses Konversationslexikon of 1905 it was pronounced as in French. That's also the way I always heard it in Germany and Switzerland. – t.b. May 9 '11 at 15:22
Wikipedia has [ləˈʒœn diʁiˈkleː] so the T is silent, but the CH is pronounced as K in that version. – GEdgar May 9 '11 at 16:10
A hsitorian here at the university claims it should be pronounced as in French but with a hard $t$ at the end. This is still hard for me to make myself do, since nobody else really does it.... – Glen Wheeler May 10 '11 at 9:04
At least some advocate for "Di-ri-khlet" as well, no French at all. See e.g and that thread (actually on sci.math but easier to view there). Ultimately, one needs a historical sociolinguist to tell how someone with his Sitz im Leben might have pronounced it; perhaps it's better to just have a list of how it is actually pronounced in different countries than to try to solve this conclusively. – kcrisman Apr 28 at 13:21

Gerald Reisner, for whom Stanley-Reisner rings are named, is pronounced REES-ner, not RISE-ner. I have confirmed this with Richard Stanley (Reisner's collaborator) and Mel Hochster (his advisor).

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I thought i would receive familiar names. Not only am I knowing their correct pronunciation, but as well as many new Mathematicians. – user9413 May 9 '11 at 15:40

Fourier (ˈfʊəriˌeɪ [fuʁˈje]) and Poisson ([pwaˈsɔ̃]) are mispronounced nearly all the time.

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How do you pronounce Fourier? – Ben Lerner May 9 '11 at 14:19
I edited my response – Phonon May 9 '11 at 14:25
Surely it's /fuʁje/? I don't think /ʊ/ is a phoneme in French. – Zhen Lin May 9 '11 at 14:53
You are most likely correct (I am not a French speaker myself, neither am I great at phonetics). I found the above here, so I copied it. I will correct my response now. – Phonon May 9 '11 at 15:16
@Zhen Lin: you're absolutely right. And the stress is on the last syllable, of course. – PseudoNeo May 9 '11 at 15:28

Name of Jacques Hadamard has different pronunciation in some guides (a-da-mar, 'had uh ,mahr) and Wikipedia even does not try to provide an example.

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In French, it's [a.da.'mar]. The 'h' is absolutely never pronounced in French (that explains that pronouncing it in English or German isn't easy for us francophones). – PseudoNeo May 9 '11 at 15:35
Drat. Of course, the 'r' is a French one, so [a.da.'maʁ] – PseudoNeo May 9 '11 at 16:37
@PseudoNeo sometimes you get a nice [ʔ] with a leading h, but yes, it's certainly never aspirated – costrom Nov 12 at 18:06

Sylow's name is also constantly mispronounced. Apparently it's [ˈsyːlɔv] or something similar.

Many people are confused by Hungarian spelling and pronounce Lovász as if the final consonant was "sh". Maybe they are confused by Polish spelling rules?

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