How Do I Pronounce Latin Names
For American English Speakers With No Interest in Learning Latin
This set of instructions (written for people not studying Latin) is based on Henry J. Richmond's The Pronunciation of Greek and Roman Proper Names in English (1905) which he wrote as the result of his hearing a wide range of pronunciations of a single Latin name by Americans. Such sound differences come from a variety of sources, different theories on Latin pronunciation, not learning specific sounds in Latin, and regional native pronunciation differences, among others. The issue is compounded by ecclesiastical, British and continental pronunciations of Latin names.
The Richmond book is available on Google e-books and is worth your while if you're interested in practice exercises and more details. I have tried both to compress and to expand his material for a specific audience: Anglophones and particularly American-English-speaking people who are serious about reading about ancient Romans, but don't plan to do so in Latin and who don't want to read more than absolutely necessary about grammar or linguistics. Note that the book treats Greek names, as well. These have a number of differences from Latin and so I have not included them, even though many Greek names are used in the context of Roman history. Richmond's book appears written for students who will study Latin, which I am assuming you're not.
Note also that I'm describing names, not general Latin nouns. Applicability is, therefore, limited, but this -- proper names -- is what people reading about Roman history most often ask about.
Richmond says there are 4 steps in determining the English pronunciation of a Latin proper name:
Read what he says or my interpretation below:
If there isn't an Anglicized version of the name, the Nominative Case (name case) is what we use in English to refer to ancient Romans and Roman places.
Marcus, Lucius, Quintus, Publius, Titus, Gaius, and Aulus are all common personal names for Roman males and they appear here in the "name case."
Marcus and Lucius appear in English (Anglicized) as Mark and Luke.
If you have the Anglicized name, it's an English word, so you should already know the pronunciation.... Stop! You're done. If you don't know, consult an ENGLISH dictionary, or, if you're not sure, read on....
Not the Nominative - The Oblique Cases
This section is based on a correspondence with an English-speaking reader who wanted to know why he couldn't find a dictionary that listed every case of each Latin word, just as he would for English. I didn't satisfy him, so I have given it more thought and realize that his premiss was wrong: he can't do that even with English.
English has a Nominative, like Latin, but it has fewer of the other cases, collectively referred to as oblique. One case that has a visually distinct English identity is the Genitive Case. We often mark it 's. Harry's is the name Harry in the Genitive Case. If you were struggling to figure out the English language, and wanted to know how to pronounce the person's name, you would strip off the 's to reveal simply "Harry" before hunting in the dictionary.
If you tried to find the form Harry's alphabetically in a standard English dictionary, you would fail, just as you'd fail to find an oblique Latin form in the comparable spot of a Latin-to-English dictionary.
To use the English/Latin dictionary (as also for pronunciation guidelines), you need to know the Anglicized form/Nominative Case.
Fortunately, many popular Classical names do have Anglicized forms. If you see a "y" at the end of a Roman's name, think Anglicized and use your English dictionary of choice.
~Livius is the Latin Nominative Case for the English name Livy.Remember: If you have the Anglicized form, you consult an English dictionary for the pronunciation.
~Mercurius is the Latin Nominative Case for the god Mercury.
~Pompey is the Anglicized form of the Latin Pompēius often seen without the long mark (macron) as Pompeius. Pompeius (or Pompēius) is in the Nominative Case.
Singular vs. Plural in the Nominative Case
Since Pompey is a single individual, the Latin form Pompeius is singular (and it is also in the Nominative Case). Pompeii is his name in the singular of the Genitive Case.
Pompeii is also the Anglicized name of a famous city Mt. Vesuvius buried. The name of the city is a plural Nominative, Pompēii. This isn't uncommon. English also has plural names for geographic locations -- e.g., the Falklands or the United States.
Now, you have seen that in Latin a plural Nominative and a singular Genitive Case both end in i, but not all genitives end in i. There is not an equal sign between the English 's and the Latin i. The name Caesaris is in the Genitive Case. It ends not with i, but is. The -is is the Genitive Case ending for some names. Without the Genitive Case ending, and instead, in the Nominative Case, the name is Caesar. It is Caesar in both Latin and in English, so it is not really Anglicized, but close enough that you can look it up in an English dictionary.
1. Is Garumni the Nominative Case? If not, what is?
2. Is Novioduni the Nominative Case? If not, what is?
3. Is Ciceronis the Nominative Case? If not, what is?
4. Pliny is an Anglicized version of a Latin name. Can you guess what its Nominative Case form is?
By accent in Latin names, Richmond means stress accent (to show emphasis and for clarity) and macrons (to indicate length). If you read the Roman's name in an English novel or general history book, it probably won't show these. To find the macrons, you can look up the words in the online Latin dictionary (Perseus).
A macron only falls on a vowel.
- Garumni has no macrons.
- Noviodūnum has a macron.
- Cicero has no macrons.
- Plīnius has a macron.
Ictus: An ictus may be used to mark stress in poetry, which we're not discussing here. See: Quick Tips on Latin Syllabification (for scanning Latin verse).
To determine the placement of stress, you must know the rudiments of syllabification (section 3 here). If you already do know them, skip to the last (fourth) section. Don't know whether you know them? See if this preliminary summary of the stress rules makes sense (if it sounds like gibberish, read section 3):
- Primary stress goes on the penult if long and the antepenult if the penult is short.
- Secondary stress
- may go on the ultima in the three syllable case with the antepenult stressed or
- it may go two syllables back from the primarily stressed syllable if that syllable is long, or one more back otherwise.
If you are not familiar with syllabification of Latin, please continue on, since the next (third) section is on syllables.
This is both very basic and very involved. How deep you go depends on your commitment to pronouncing Latin names similarly to the way someone who has studied Latin might do. It may mean you have to consult another book or three.
Latin and English Syllables Only Need Vowels
Syllables are the units of pronounced words, and vowels are the essential components of syllables. You can have Latin words made of all vowels, but not words composed only of consonants. The vowel is called the nucleus of a syllable.
Liquids and Stops are terms referring to consonants. They are used in phonetics and can be found on an IPA chart.
The consonants are the onset if at the start of a syllable or the coda (from the Latin cauda 'tail'), if they follow the vowel in a syllable.
A Latin syllable must have a vowel sound.
If there are two vowels together, they may be pronounced as one sound or two. If two, they form two syllables. If there is a long or short mark on one vowel, it is a separate syllable.
A diphthong is counted as a single sound=syllabic peak=the nucleus of a single syllable. Incidentally, the English word I is actually pronounced as a diphthong, but we don't normally notice the second vowel sound.
Tip: To determine number of syllables, the first step is to count vowels/diphthongs.
How many syllables in each of these names?
Long and Short Syllables
The length of a syllable may be determined by the length of its vowel.
- If the vowel is long, so is the syllable. A diphthong counts as a long vowel.
Long Vowel = Long Syllable
If the vowel is short, the syllable is not necessarily short.
A. Two consonants or the double consonantal sound of X/Z following a short vowel render the syllable long...
Short Vowel + 2 Consonants = Long Syllable
... unless the two consonants are a stop (plosive) consonant followed by a liquid.
- The stops in question correspond with the letters p, b, t, d, k, c, g, and q. (Extra info: Roughly half of these are called voiced and the other half voiceless.)
- The liquids correspond with the letters l and r.
B. Combinations that don't render a preceding short vowel's syllable long include pl, bl, and tr. There are other exceptions; for instance, some combinations with s don't make the syllable long.
NB: A short vowel followed by lp, lb, or rt would be part of a long syllable.
C. A terminal s lengthens the last syllable, usually.
Short Vowel + Stop + Liquid = Short Syllable
Short Vowel + Liquid + Stop = Long Syllable
On the basis of this much information, if you are provided a series of names with long marks (macrons) shown, you should be able to determine which syllables are long and which are short. If you don't have the macrons, you need to use a dictionary.
Determine the length of the vowels in this name:
Learn the 3 Names For Types of Syllables
Why? Because it makes it much easier if you don't have to keep saying things like "the syllable two before the second to last."
Look at your Latin name. Labienus is as good as any.
Look to the end to find the ultimate or last syllable. First, find the final vowel. It is a u. Attached to it is a consonant, s, the coda. It has to be attached because consonants require vowels and there is no further vowel to which it can attach itself as an onset. One of the many special rules is that even if it looks like the preceding syllable could use a consonant, the final vowel of the word draws to itself a preceding consonant. Thus, the final syllable is "nus". This last syllable is the ultima.
Labienus: Ultimate syllable =nus
The syllable before is the almost ultimate. This syllable has its own term, penultimate, coming from Latin for almost + ultimate. (To help you remember, "peninsula" is formed from the Latin for "almost" and "island".)
Labienus: Penultimate syllable =e
The syllable before the penultimate is antepenultimate, for the one before the almost ultimate.
Labienus: Antepenultimate syllable =bi (or i)
Don't worry about the names for other syllables.
Stress Goes According to Syllable
A. Primary stress is on either the penult or the antepenult. Primary stress is here shown by the mark ' after the syllable that has it.
It is the penult if the penult is long.
It is the antepenult if the penult is short.
You may have to consult a Latin dictionary to determine which syllable is stressed, although, for Cicero, you can consult an English dictionary, since his is one of the names that is part of the English language.
In a two-syllable word, stress falls on the first syllable.
B. Secondary stress depends on the position of the primary stress. Secondary stress is shown here by the mark " following the syllable that has it.
- It falls on the final syllable (ultima) in a trisyllabic word with a short penult.
In multisyllabic words, if two syllables precede the primary accent, the first syllable of the word receives secondary stress.
When more than two syllables precede the primary stress,
the second syllable before the primarily stressed syllable receives the secondary stress if it is long;
otherwise, the secondary stress goes back a syllable.
Octavianus (Octāviānus) divides into the following 5 syllables:
The penult is long, so the syllable receives primary stress. Two syllables back from, the long syllable receives secondary stress.
- It falls on the final syllable (ultima) in a trisyllabic word with a short penult.
Which syllable receives primary/secondary stress?
penult, penult/1st, 1st, 1st
Rules for Latin Syllabification
This is a pretty complicated section of Richmond's book because there are many rules and exceptions. I'm not convinced you need to know special rules of Latin syllabification in order to pronounce names in English, after all, you speak English and have a native intuition about it.
Use the best English rules you can.
Keep the stop + liquid clusters together.
Keep stop + h clusters together. The h acts like aspiration (when you make a noise like "huh" you're mostly breathing out or aspirating) rather than a full-fledged consonant.
Pay attention to vowel pairs to determine whether they count as separate syllables or diphthongs. You also need to know if one of the vowels is long. You find this out by consulting a dictionary.
Latin didn't note the distinction between J and I or W and U, but that may not matter. You may see a consonantal I written as a J and pronounced like a Y by people with knowledge of Latin. You may see a capital w or u written as a V and pronounced as a W if a consonant. In English, we often pronounce the V like a V and the J like a J. In English, the name Iulius Caesar definitely begins with a J and the name Livy or Livius has a v. If you were reading a Latin text, you would pronounce the first syllable of Julius as YOO.
There are other useful terms like "closed syllable" and "open syllable" that might help, but I tried to reduce jargon. In the process, I also failed to list many of the exceptions. Please consult Richmond's book for specifics and exceptions.
- If the vowel is long, so is the syllable. A diphthong counts as a long vowel.
You don't need to worry too much about the pronunciation of the consonants since most of the consonants are like English ones. There are a few areas of disagreement, especially between ecclesiastical and secular Latin. If you're in a choir, the choir master will direct you how to pronounce not just names, but the other words using Church Latin. For secular matters, ch is generally pronounced like a K; sometimes C and G sound like K; V, if a consonant, is pronounced as a W. Some people nasalize the vowel instead of pronouncing nasal consonants. You're speaking English, so use English, especially for common names.
Vowels are different, although for our purposes, not so much, at least for the short vowels. You're speaking English, though, so it's all right to use English vowel sounds, especially for more familiar words. To keep the exotic quality of the Latin, imitate the Latin vowels.
Final "es" is pronounced like the English word ease, as in Achātes (stressed on the penult -- remember which syllable that is?), the faithful companion of Aeneas.
William Harris discusses the pronunciation of Latin well, but since you are looking for an English pronunciation of the Latin words, you might as well use the conventional pronunciations.
The following comes from The Restored Pronunciation of Greek and Latin, by Edward Vernon Arnold, Robert Seymour Conway:
|Vowel||Long English Equivalent||Short English Equivalent|
(The difference is a question of how long you hold the sound.)
While you can use the notes above to determine how to pronounce strange and new names, below you will find my attempt to show the English pronunciation of the Latin names used in examples. Since several of these are common names, they have developed a life of their own irrespective of pronunciation so-called rules.
|Name||Attempted Phonetic Spelling||Notes and Exceptions|
|The unstressed o is short. Pronounce the v as an English v.|
The primary stress is capitalized and marked with'. Secondary stress is just capitalized.
|Cicero:||SIS-uh-roh||Latin pronunciation would normally pronounce the C as K, but in English, we pronounce it as s: /ˈsɪsəˌroʊ/|
|If you call him PLIN-ee-yus, it should be just fine. The iu is not a diphthong, but the i is pronounced as a glide.|
|Since we have the perfectly good Anglicized form, why not just call him Pliny (PLIN-ee
/ˈplɪni/ )? It gets at the normally pronounced short i in the initial syllable.
|It's English and American at that. We pronounce the H and don't turn V into a W. A ti in English is sometimes pronounced sh as in nation, as it is here, so the first i should be, but is not part of the sh sound. A long I in English is not pronounced the same as a Latin one. Latin would be ee; English, aye.|
The two vowels at the end are pronounced separately. /hɛlˈviʃiˌaɪ/
|Caesar:||SEE-zer||See note on Cicero. /ˈsizər/|
|Last syllable condensed; don't pronounce the u distinctly.|
Since we have the perfectly good English form, why not just say Augustus or Augustus Caesar, the first emperor?
Also see: "Diphthongs in the Syllable Structure of Latin," by András Cser; Glotta, 75. Bd., 3./4. H. (1999), pp. 172-193.