How I Hear It In My Head

Researching family names we have never heard pronounced can present challenges when those names originate in a language other than the one in which the records were kept.

It can be worse when we don’t speak that language either.

For any name, try and find out two things:

  • How it was likely spoken by your ancestor.
  • How it is likely said by people today.

Both ways matter. That “original” pronunciation will impact how the name is in early records and knowing how the name is pronounced today will impact how the name can be written in later records.

This issues are not usually an issue with people researching Jones and Smith. It is a concern when tracing any last name that’s “foreign” and is how Behrens gets written at “Barnes” and how Desmarais gets written as “Demarrah.” Sometimes names of families that have lived in the United States forever are pronounced in ways that we do not often expect. Taliaferro is one of the best examples as it is pronounced in such a way that it sounds like “Toliver.”

Contacting someone who knows the original language or who has the name today can be a good starting point for how the name was said and is said.

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