Fighting for the Diaeresis

            Punctuation with balls.

           Punctuation with balls.

For all you fellow lovers of spelling and punctuation....

Ever since moving from the U.S. to the UK last year, I've noticed a remarkable improvement in the number of people pronouncing my name, Joëlle, correctly. Living in the U.S. for a total of about 16 years, I was often astounded at how complicated people would try and make a name, which, really, is pronounced exactly as it is spelled: 'Jo Elle'.

That's it. Not 'Jolie' (as in Angelina, the most frequent pronunciation I would get), nor 'Joe Elle Eee' (second most common), and definitely not 'Joel' (which is a BOY's name, people!) I even had a couple instances when someone tried out 'Jewel' or 'Joe Lay.' (Stop it. Please.)

Lacking any sort of celebrity who shared my name as a reference, I generally would explain it as, "It rhymes with noël. You know, like Christmas," or, "It's like Christmas, but with a J." (To which one guy at a bar once responded, "My name's Scott. Like Easter, but with an S." Touché.) In fact, there was rarely a Christmas season that went by without someone suggesting the always-hilarious 'The First Joëlle' as a carol to sing. Oh, how I laughed. Every. Single. Year.

I suppose in the UK people are more used to foreign names, and since there are French speakers on every corner here, they've heard it all before, unusually-spelled names be damned. These, after all, are the proud people who gave us 'doughnuts,' 'gaol,' and 'liquorice,' and who smile innocently whenever some American tourist asks for directions to 'Lie-sess-ter Square.' (It's spelled 'Leicester,' but pronounced 'Lester.' Ditto for 'Gloucester' being pronounced 'Gloster.' I know, I don't get it either. Don't even get me started on Marylebone.)

Nevertheless, I do still occasionally get asked, "what do the two dots on your name mean? Is that an umlaut?"

"Aha!" I will then exclaim, eager to impart knowledge. "It is not!" 

An umlaut is a German thing that changes the pronunciation of a vowel. For example, in German, "schon" means "already," while "schön" means "pretty".

A diaeresis, on the other hand (it's pronounced like "die, heiresses!"), goes over the second of two vowels when they are in a row (like in Joëlle), indicating that they are to be pronounced separately. While it's essentially inexistent in English (other than perhaps in 'naïve,' which isn't pronounced like 'knave'), I originally come from French-speaking Switzerland, and in French it's relatively common. And that explains why it's pronounced 'Jo Elle' rather than 'Joll.'

I don't ever expect anyone else to add the dots when spelling my name, though I certainly always notice when they do! For inquiring minds, on a Mac, you can type it by hitting Option+u and then hitting the e. On a PC, hit Alt+0235 (in the number keypad). Maybe give it a try sometime and ädd sömë dëcörätïöns tö ÿöür nëxt ëmäïl! (#sorrynotsorry)

Until then, please remember me over your next glass of Moët Hennessy.