The perils of pronouncing Irish names

I love Irish names with their soft Gaelic sounds. I’m half Irish so when my first daughter was born I wanted to reflect her heritage by giving her an Irish name. We chose Siobhán – a name that wikipedia tells me is derived from Anglo-Norman, Latin, Greek and ultimately Hebrew.  Siobhán is the equivalent of Joan – a feminine version of John.

My daughter loves her name now but got more than a little tired of having to explain how to pronounce it when she was at school. It isn’t ‘See-o-ban’ as most people wrongly guess when first confronted with it. It’s pronounced ‘shiv’ + ‘awn’.

It was therefore with some amusement that I heard about how, when announcing the nominations for Best Actress at the 2016 Golden Globe Awards, actor Denis Quaid famously mispronounced Irish actress Saoirse Ronan’s name as ‘Shee-sha’. It’s actually pronounced ‘sear + sha’ and means freedom, or liberty.

On The Late Show in the US, she spent some time talking about the Irish accent with host Steven Colbert – and he then challenged her to tell him how to pronounce a sequence of Irish names. Siobhán was included, as well as Tadhg, Niamh, and Oisin. But the prize for the  most difficult Irish name to pronounce has to be Caoimhe – watch the clip to find out…

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