Foreign names can be difficult to pronounce for English speakers, but the names of aliens and monsters are often worse still.
In the mildest version, the character's name is simply unusually long, set up with a phonetic maze like a Tongue Twister, or merely linguistically bizarre even given where it originates; Romanadvoratrelundar, Nahasapeemapetilon, Vijayaraghavensatyanaryanamurthy, Tatopoulos, Abalamahalamatandra, Scheherazade, Witwicky. Pronouncing names like these correctly is a sign of linguistic skill. Mispronouncing them is allegedly funny.
In practice, most languages contain at least one sound, or sound combination, not allowed in English. Names containing such sounds will always be unpronounceable, though spelling may obscure this. Naturally, this works both ways. English has more sounds than most other major languages, and its speakers pile up consonants in ways which the rest of the world wouldn't dream of, so it is rich in unpronounceable names. Some languages even have linguistic variables that don't affect meaning at all in English — most famously, changing voice-pitch of a Chinese word changes its meaning*
in some variants of the language, there are up to nine words that could be pronounced from a single character
Policeman (Liesl Karlstadt in drag): What's your name? Bicyclist (Valentin): Wrdlbrmpfd. Policeman: What? Bicyclist: Wrdlbrmpfd. Policeman:Wadlstrumpf◊? Bicyclist: Wr-dl-brmpfd! Policeman: Talk understandably, don't mumble into your beard! Bicyclist: (pulls down fake beard) Wrdlbrmpfd. Policeman:What a stupid name! Get away! Bicyclist: (while leaving) Oh, by the way, officer — my sister wants me to tell you some greetings! Policeman: Your sister? But I don't know your sister at all! Bicyclist: You don't? She's such a short, stumpy one... Policeman: No, I don't know your sister — what's her name? Bicyclist: Her name is also Wrdlbrmpfd...
Phantom Girl's home planet is named Bgztl. During the 2005 reboot, Karate Kid remarked that he wasn't sure if that was the planet's name or if she just sneezed.
Also technically, Mr. Mxyzptlk would be on this page, if it weren't for the fact that we're given a good pronunciation for his name (and, as a result, a good way to tell how to pronounce any name that's all consonants.) The pronunciations usually given are "Mix-pih-tulk" or "Mixxie-plik". (Note that "y" is a vowel in some languages such as french.)
In post-1986 continuity, "Mxyzptlk" is no longer his actual name. His real name is literally unpronounceable by humans (or, apparently, Kryptonians) so when he made his debut, he came up with a more human-friendly handle by conjuring up a giant typewriter and hitting the keys at random.
And to make things worse, in order to make him go away, you have to say his name BACKWARDS.
Oddly enough, there was a second version of his name — the original spelling was "Mxyztplk," which was eventually Ret Conned into a second entity entirely.
Detective Chimp's real name is in chimpanzee language, and is best transcribed as "mostly three grunts and an incoherent shriek". It translation is much more understandable, meaning "Magnificent Finder of Tasty Grubs".
Superhero Sleepwalker's actual name cannot be pronounced by humans. Since he's part of a race of Sleepwalkers, he simply has humans call him by his race's name when manifesting in the human world.
Starjammers character Hepzibah's real name is a complex combination of pheromones, not only unpronounceable but unreproducable by humans who lack scent glands of that complexity. Corsair got the name "Hepzibah" after the character in Pogo. She doesn't like the nickname, but it stuck.
On the subject of Starjammers, the team doctor is called Sikorsky due to his resemblance to a helicopter. But as he's insectoid, his real name is unpronounceable by humanoid tongues.
In The Badger, the full name of the Badger's ally Ham the Weather Wizard is Hammaglystwythkbrngxxaxolotl. This name is intended as, not alien, but fourth-century Welsh.
In Fall Of Cthulhu, one of the gods speaks his name to a human, and this is represented with a jet-black speech bubble and "wind" coming from behind the god. (As for the human who heard it, he goes into the fetal position and cries.)
In Halo and Sprocket, Katie and Sprocket convince Halo (an angel) to tell them his real name. Cue a page of kaleidoscopic images followed by the two of them unconscious on the floor "..but you can continue to call me 'Halo' if you wish."
Elbonian: Hello, how may I help you? My name is Kruphnehdahpheweundikaniswalyniaphorganopop... I mean, Carl.
In Doonesbury, the country of Berzerkistan is led by Trff Bmzklfrpz. As explained in one comic, "Bmzklfrpz" is actually pronounced "Ptklm."
In For Better Or For Worse, "Mtigwaki" is the First Nations village Liz once lived and taught in. The actual pronunciation (m-tigwak-eh) appears nowhere in the strip itself, leaving most not to even attempt spelling it, let alone saying it. People would refer to it as "Liz's village". The snarkier commenters would simply run with the unpronounceable nature ("Mtitikitavi", "Mtimtibangbang", etc.)
In Splash, Daryl Hannah's mermaid character, Madison, is prompted to give her real name, despite stating that it's hard to say "in your language." When she finally says it, it sounds like highly amplified porpoise squeals and shatters the televisions in a nearby display.
The real name of Draco from Dragonheart "can't be uttered in your tongue" and is presumably a mighty roar. He was named Draco by his friend as it is the name of a constellation that is the shape of a dragon.
A running gag in The Man With Two Brains. Steve Martin's character Dr. Hfuhruhurr calmly insists that his name is pronounced exactly as it's spelled. Various characters find many different ways to attempt it. Martin pronounces it like "Huff-haaaahhhhrrrrr." One of his bonding moments with Anne Uumellmahaye is that they're both say each other's name correctly on the first try.
The Poleepkwa/Prawns' language in District 9 is literally unpronounceable by human tongues, so when some of them landed in South Africa, they were given human names such as Christopher Johnson, Oliver and Paul. Given the nature of the movie, this is also meant to recall the practice of giving slaves European names as to erase their identity.
In-Universe the reason for Bilingual Dialogue with Chewbacca and other Wookiees is because they're physically incapable of speaking Basic, though they can understand it perfectly well. The converse is true of humans, who can't reproduce Shyriiwook.
In Attack of the Clones the Geonosian language was created by recording a voice actor saying the lines in English, then randomly speeding it up and slowing it down in the computer and interspersing foley effects such as a guy wrapping tissue paper over a comb, then sputtering against it.
J. H. Brennan, of GrailQuest fame, also wrote a series of gamebooks starring a barbarian named Fire*Wolf.
"I am called Fire*Wolf," Fire*Wolf said, enunciating the central guttural in the manner of the Wilderness tribes.
In The Lord of the Rings, the Ents' real names would take hours to say, if humans could even vocalize some of the sounds. In a few cases, Treebeard used Elvish words and strung them together as he would in his own language, like Lorien = laurelindórenan lindelorendor malinornélion ornemalin, "singing-gold-land-valley singing-dream-land of yellow-trees with yellow-flowers". Another example: Fangorn (transliterated into Elvish) = Taurelilómëa-tumbalemorna Tumbaletaurëa Lëmeanor, "Forestmanyshadowed — deepvalleyblack Deepvalleyforested Gloomyland". Actual Entish was probably impossible to render into any human language.
Every single representative of the Q refers to himself as Q — the 17th letter of the alphabet apparently being the closest approximation of their names that the English language is capable of rendering. In one of the Spock vs. Q audiobooks, Q further states that his true name is about two light years long, which is a measure of distance, not time. Whether he meant distance or time, both font size and speech tempo vary considerably, but even so, it's clearly still a long name.
Diane Duane's Rihannsu novels feature Romulan names that are not only really long but also apparently unpronounceable. Vulcans' real names are also impossible for humans to pronounce.
H. P. Lovecraft's elder gods have such names. For example, "Cthulhu" is only an approximation of the correct pronunciation, leading to several variant spellings (although "Cthulhu" is the most widespread). In fact, one of the fictional books mentioned in the Lovecraft Mythos is Unaussprechlichen Kulten, which is translated by its creator as Nameless Cults. The phrase translates more literally as Unspeakable (in the sense of Unpronounceable) Cults, which commentators are wont to comment on.
Fred the white hole's real name, which he's still not finished pronouncing when someone cuts him off after a full line of text in Diane Duane's So You Want to Be a Wizard. This joke is done again with Ed the Master Shark in the sequel, Deep Wizardry. Technically, everyone has a name like this, since the true names are basically complete descriptions of the person in The Speech.
Diane Duane loves this trope like life itself. One Star Trek novel of hers features a dolphin Starfleet officer named "Hwiii ie'ee u-Ulak! ha'". For more fun, google "Rihannsu"...
The Tnuctipun are an entire race of Precursors with an unpronounceable name. When humans discover a Thrint in stasis (the species that enslaved the Tnuctipun and who caused all sentient life to commit suicide a billion years ago) he is dubbed "Kzanol." When Kzanol-Greenberg believes himself to be a Kzanol and tries speaking, he nearly chokes himself trying to speak their language. Since they were incredibly powerful telepaths, you wonder why the Thrintun had a spoken language at all.
Pierson's Puppeteers have unpronounceable names, which is why they tend to take names from mythical centaurs. Nessus, the insane Puppeteer from the Ringworld sub-series, has a real name that sounds like a car crash set to music.
There are several different reference to the Puppeteer's orchestral/cacophonous native language in the Known Space stories. One was along the lines of "bagpipes being burned alive".
The reason given for this in the books is that the Puppeteers have two sets of vocal chords (three pairs of vocal cords per throat), and since they use their mouths as hands, their lips and tongues are more mobile and coordinated than a human's. They are also much more intelligent than other species and have been civilized for considerably longer, so their language has had much more opportunity to develop significant complexity.
The central figure of the novel Protector is named Phssthpok. Say it with me, everybody! "Phssthpok."
More specifically it's pronounced "Nasal-hiss-that-sounds-like-"phsssth"-followed-by-sound-of-hardened-lips-and-gums-snapping-together." Brennan can pronounce it just fine after his own transformation into a Protector, but other humans have to approximate it.
Subverted by some of the names used for humanoid Ringworld inhabitants (e.g. "Halrloprillalar" — at first glance, it looks unpronounceable, but it's flows perfectly well if you just give it a chance).
Niven likes giving multi-syllabic names to his characters, within the Known Space universe and outside of it.
Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next novels feature a handful of unpronounceable names, one of the many ways in which it plays with text versus the "real world."
David Brin's Startide Rising features aliens called the Karrank%, with the % pronounced as a "double glottal stop", which is allegedly impossible for humans to make.
In "Heaven's Reach", a later book in the same universe, a pair of humans are trapped in a ship of aliens called the the Jophur, who often use scent semantically. Signs to certain sectors of the ship are labeled by odour not by script. One of the humans is able to figure out the meanings of the signs based on his experience with the species.
In Richard Adams' Watership Down, while buck rabbits do have easily pronounceable English names, there are names in lapine [the language of rabbits], such as "Hyzenthlay" and "Thethuthinnang".
The easily pronounceable English names are translations of lapine names. For instance, Fiver's real name is Hrairoo. Hyzenthlay, translated into English, means "Shine-Fur-Dew" (literally, fur shining like dew).
In Animorphs, the Andalite Sixth Ranger has his alien name, Aximili-Esgarrouth-Isthil, shortened to 'Ax'.
Ironically, Andalites communicate through telepathy.
Beaked Hork-Bajir and leech-mouthed Taxxons have similarly unpronounceable names; averted with the juvenile Hork-Bajir named Toby, after the human (sorta) Tobias.
The eponymous character in Daniel Pinkwater's children's book Borgel has a driver's license in the name of Borgel McTavish—his real last name sounds nothing like McTavish, but even less like anything else.
Roger Zelazny's fantasy novel The Changing Land features a demon named Melbrinionsadsazzersteldregandishfeltselior. The long name is necessary for the invocation ritual, and if the sorcerer attempting it were to get as much as one syllable wrong, the demon would kill him. Understandably, wizards are reluctant to attempt it. Subverted inasmuch as one of the antagonists is a wizard named Baran, whose native tongue is a horribly complicated agglutinative language, so he has no problem pronouncing the name and using the demon for errands.
On the Discworld, demons are given names that look like they were selected by headbutting a keyboard; when the demon WxrtHltl-jwlpklz introduces himself in Wyrd Sisters, Nanny Ogg quips, "Where were you when the vowels were handed out, behind the door?" Her co-witch, Granny Weatherwax, pronounces it without raising a sweat. While there are hideous beasts from the dungeon dimensions a la Cthulhu, more description is given to their forms than names (they're usually described as what might be the offspring of an octopus and a bicycle).
"Sir" in A Series of Unfortunate Events has a name that's "very long and complicated" when written down, and which is apparently so illegible that attempts at pronunciation seem entirely random — "Mr. Bek-", "Mr. Sho-".
An ancient Sufficiently Advanced Alien in Phillip Reeve's SteampunkSpace OperaLarklight has a real name in a musical-sounding languages which the narrator says he can't possibly transcribe. And that's not even getting into names such as Ph'Ahrpuu'xxtpllsprngg, and the truly epic example from the third book that takes up almost five lines. *
Which, incidentally, happens to be "Sweet Lover" with each letter incremented by one.
He has another story featuring an evil wizard who has protected himself from vulnerability through his name by subtly altering human evolution until their larynxes are physically unable to pronounce it.
The talking horse Bree's full name in A Horse and His Boy is "Breehy-hinny-brinny-hoohy-hah," which his human companion can't pronounce.
They later meet a talking mare who goes by "Hwin," which suggests she has a similar name
And when told that the human's name is Shasta, Bree remarks that that's "really hard to pronounce."
Averted in Gulliver's Travels, where the eponymous hero often finds himself in lands populated by people with very strange languages (such as the Houyhnhnms, whose words sound largely like whinnies) which he makes every effort to emulate, usually with quite a lot of success.
Watzisname of Enid Blyton's Faraway Tree series had a name so complicated that everyone called him Watzisname up to the point that he himself forgot what his real name was and had to go to a witch to find out that it was Kollamoolitumarellipawkyrollo.
In Larry Niven's Warlock series, the eponymous character's real name was made unpronounceable on purpose. His parents summoned a demon who could pronounce things no human could say, had the demon name the boy, then trapped the demon into a tattoo on his back with a geas to protect the boy from harm if ever released. The idea was that knowing someone's real name gave you power over them, but you had to pronounce the name to use it.
In Hard to Be a God by Strugatsky Brothers, people from Earth are working undercover on another planet, inhabited by humanoids resembling Terrans very closely. One of them works as shaman to a tribal leader, whose name has 45 syllables.
"Very few humans would be able to reproduce his real name. His vocal organ is a vibrating membrane in the top of his head. He does human speech just fine, but we can't manage his."
In Anne McCaffrey's "Talent" series, an alien race called the Mrdini, whose names do not contain vowels, like "Prtglm".
The demon from Artemis Fowl: N* 1, which is apparently supposed to be pronounced 'Number one', but is still a pain to read aloud.
Timothy Zahn loves unpronounceable names, both in his own original works and his Star Wars Expanded Universe series. In the latter, at one point during The Thrawn Trilogy Han Solo mentions the Imperials have attacked three planets — "Bpfassh, and two unpronounceable ones" — and even Bpfassh doesn't look that straightforward to say. In Outbound Flight, Thrawn tries to teach his language to a human, but while the human can hear the difference between his pronunciation and the right one, he can't aspirate right. I am a fishing boat!
Thrawn's name seems pretty straightforward, right? Which is probably why Zahn revealed that his full name is Mitth'raw'nuruodo. Good luck!
One of Italo Calvino's recurring characters is Qfwfq, an immortal entity who remembers everything he has ever done in every last of of his incarnations since before the beginning of the universe. The other entities he interacts with have names like this as well, such as his Granny Bb'b and his sister G'd(w)^n.
The island of Qwghlm in Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon and The Baroque Cycle. The Qwghlmian language has no vowels, and is basically a parody of everything English speakers find difficult about Welsh and Gaelic (although it's not a Celtic language, or related to any known languages at all).
Wild Cards: The Takisian scientist who tries (and fails) to stop the wild card virus from spreading on Earth has a name that covers his lineage for the past thousand generations. Most folks tend to refer to him as "Doctor Tachyon," a nickname that spread after he tried to explain how his ship worked.
In one of the Vlad Taltos novels, Vlad and Morrolan visit a Serioli, whose name is only given as something sounding like "the last cough from a man with Joiner's Lung". Also, people from the Kanefthali Mountains, such as Hwdf'rjaanci, have names unpronounceable to Vlad, though some characters have no trouble saying them.
In the Into The Looking Glass series, it's more likely than not for a member of any species with minimal or hostile contact with another to mispronounce the other's species name, let alone the names of its individuals. The Mreeee (basically a cat yowl) are almost pronounceable for humans, and the N!t!ch! (! is a tongue-click) might be manageable for members of certain African tribes, but the "Fivverockpit," as one human attempts to pronounce, aren't even given a fully romanized spelling for their proper name, with an @ symbol standing in for what one assumes must be Black Speech.
In Gordon Korman's Nose Pickers from Outer Space, we are introduced to Stanley Mflxnys, an alien from Pan (a so-called "Pant", pl. "Pants"). He looks just like a person, but he eats paper, and has a computer inside his head where a person's brain would be (his real brains are behind his knees).
In Jeff VanderMeer's Ambergris books, the Graycaps have a language consisting largely of clicks and whistles, and is so complicated that for longest time people were arguing if they really had a language at all. In Finch it's mentioned that their name for themselves is Fanaarcensitii — or as close as you can get with Roman letters.
The Riddle Master Trilogy by Patricia A. McKillip has a famous wizard referred to only as "Iff of the Unpronounceable Name" (it is later revealed that his name needed to be sung, and even then it took a while to figure out the tune).
Alastair Reynolds tends to name his transhuman characters in this fashion. Many Conjoiners in his Revelation Space universe have names consisting of "a string of interiorised qualia" only comprehensible within Conjoiner collective consciousness. Those who have to interact with baseline humans tend to use one-word approximations — a Conjoiner girl whose name represents a particular atmospheric phenomenon found rarely in the upper layers of certain gas giants is known to her human captors as Weather.
And the Slashers in the standalone novel Century Rain have full names which include strange, musical trilling noises, thanks to their modified larynxes.
In the book "Changes" of The Dresden Files, Harry discovers that the latest monster trying to kill him is called an Ik'k'uox. Rather than bother trying to pronounce that, Harry decides to call it 'The Ick'.
One of the villains in Alcatraz Smedry Versus the Knights of Crystannia is referred to as She Who Cannot Be Named. This is because only one of the good guys is capable of pronouncing Kangchenjunga Sarektjakka.
Lord Toede in the Dragonlance universe has Crystityckol'k'kq'q. They call him Jugger. He also doesn't like those "new" folks at the Abyss with pronounceable names, like Judith. According to him, the real professionals had names that shattered crystal fifty paces away.
Zzyzx, the great demon prison in the Fablehaven series.
The Eye of Argon features Grignr the barbarian battling the evil Prince Agaphim and his equally evil advisor Agafnd. Agafnd later becomes Agfnd, which does not go un-riffed in the famous MSTing.
"He's losing vowels with every passing second!"
In Vernor Vinge's story "Conquest by Default", the humanoid aliens have the ability to close their nostrils, and their language accordingly has nostril consonants. The author hoped they could be printed as 'p̃' [p tilde] and 'ṽ' [v tilde]; his editor said "Sure, if you want to pay for special type." Even today they are printed as % and #.
Inquisitor Ligeia, from the first Grey Knights novel, spends much of her time babbling incomprehensibly when she was being interrogated for helping the rogue Inquisitor, Valinov escape. As it turns out, she helped Valinov escape as part of a Xanatos Roulette so that they could actually find the demon they were looking for, Ghargatuloth, and her babbling as she was being interrogated was Ghargatuloth's True Name.
In the short novel Realty Check, (yes, realty, not reality) the female protagnoist briefly encounters a female alien whose name is written out in random symbols — somehow she manages to pronounce it, while her Love Interest can only say "Star-Omega." In the same chapter, we discover said alien's lover is under attack by a monster called a ===.
The Oz bookThe Magic of Oz centers around a formula for instant shapeshifting. You must pronounce correctly the word Pyrzqxgl. Takes amazingly few tries for the characters.
The Wheel of Time has an interesting variation in the case of the names of the wolves, as first described by Elyas Machera in The Eye Of The World for the wolf referred to as Dapple:
Elyas: Her name isn't Dapple. It's something that means the way shadows play on a forest pool at a midwinter dawn, with the breeze rippling the surface, and the tang of ice when the water touches the tongue, and a hint of snow before nightfall in the air. But that isn't quite it, either.
In the Red Dwarf novel "Last Human", many of the GELFS have long, hard to pronounce names (One even has the title "The Unpronounceable" following his).
Isaac Asimov seemed to be peculiarly fond of telling his readers exactly how to pronounce the names of his characters, even if the pronunciation wasn't that unusual. Although he usually only did this when the way the name is pronounced was going to be relevant to the story at some point.
In one episode of Star Trek: The Original Series, Spock claimed that his family name was unpronounceable by humans; in a different episode, his human mother said she could do so, but only "after a fashion, and after many years of practice". (The actress who played his mother, however, once told conventioneers that "Spock" was his surname. His real first name? Harold. OK, he's half-human.)
Story editor D.C. Fontana wrote a letter to a Trek fanzine saying that an English approximation of Spock's family name was "Xtmprsqzntwlfb", and much early fanfic ran with it.
In Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the Vulcan Master — speaking in the Vulcan language — pronounces his name as "Spoch" (with a long "o" followed by the "ch" sound in "chutzpah"). Maybe when Spock told Kirk that "you wouldn't be able to pronounce it", he meant that Iowa-born Kirk never learned how to make a "ch" sound properly.
Or maybe Spock is Jewish, just like Leonard Nimoy.
In the Star Trek New Frontier books, the main character changes his name from M'k'n'zy to Mackenzie to make it easier to pronounce. His brother keeps the name Dn'dai.
He doesn't change it, the guy at Starfleet Academy registration refused to learn how to pronounce and spell it properly. He arbitrarily assigned Mac the name of Mackenzie Calhoun (Calhoun was the name of his tribe, "M'k'n'zy of Calhoun") to avoid having to figure out the real name.
Another Star Trek example, in Star Trek: Enterprise its stated that the names of Xindi Insectoids get longer as they age, making them harder to pronounce.
The Fast Show featured a spoof of The Untouchables called "The Unpronounceables", in which both the mobsters and "good guys" struggle with each other's long and complicated names.
From Monty Python's Flying Circus, and taken by a political person in real life, Mr. Tarquin fim-tim-lim-bim-win-bim-lim-bus-stop-f'tang-f'tang-olé-biscuitbarrel.
Can't forget the Very Silly candidate from Harpenden in the same sketch, whose name includes all manner of sound effects, including a whistle and a gunshot:
Malcolm Peter Brian Telescope Adrian Umbrella Stand Jasper Wednesday (pops mouth twice) Stoatgobbler John Raw Vegetable (sound effect of horse whinnying) Arthur Norman Michael (blows squeker) Featherstone Smith (blows whistle) Northgot Edwards Harris (fires pistol, which goes 'whoop') Mason (chuff-chuff-chuff) Frampton Jones Fruitbat Gilbert (sings) 'We'll keep a welcome in the' (three shots, stops singing) Williams If I Could Walk That Way Jenkin (squeker) Tiger-draws Pratt Thompson (sings) 'Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head' Darcy Carter (horn) Pussycat 'Don't Sleep In The Subway' Barton Mannering (hoot, 'whoop') Smith.
Why is it the world never remembered the name of Johann Gambolputty de von Ausfern -schplenden -schlitter -crasscrenbon -fried -digger -dangle -dungle -burstein -von -knacker -thrasher -apple -banger -horowitz -ticolensic -grander -knotty -spelltinkle -grandlich -grumblemeyer -spelterwasser -kürstlich -himbleeisen -bahnwagen -gutenabend -bitte -eine -nürnburger -bratwustle -gerspurten -mit -zweimache -luber -hundsfut -gumberaber -shönendanker -kalbsfleisch -mittler -raucher von Hautkopft of Ulm.
How can anyone forget the Knights Who Say Icky-cky-icky-icky-kapang-zoop-boing?
The Shadows in Babylon 5 do not call themselves "The Shadows". Their own name for themselves is "ten thousand letters long" and unpronounceable by humans.
In one Keeping Up Appearances episode, Hyacinth's father had a female friend with a Polish surname that none of the other characters knew how to pronounce. However, this was solely due to Polish spelling; the actual pronunciation was approximately 'Zoey'.
There was another episode in which Rose was engaged to a Polish man whose name baffled all the characters (and was never seen on-screen), so they all just called him "Mr. Whats-it".
The Doctor in Doctor Who has occasionally dropped vague hints that his real name is unpronounceable by humans (which makes more sense, given his abbreviation of "Romana" for Romanadvoratrelundar). Other times, it just seems like he doesn't have one.
Russell T Davies also has a love for this trope — the two most egregious examples being:
Blon Fel Fotch Passameer-Day Slitheen from the planet Raxacoricofallapatorius. Getting the planet's name right became a Running Gag.
The Mighty Jagrafess of the Holy Hadrojassic Maxarodenfoe. This one so stumped Simon Pegg the one time he had to say it that he was told to just say it the best he could and a roaring sound was added in post-production to cover his very minor mispronunciation.
The most recent series makes it clear the Doctor is lying; apparently revealing his name might end the universe (this idea has a whole religion built around it).
Maybe. One character spends one episode trying to convince the Doctor (who does not recognize her) that she has met him before in another time and in that timeline, gained his absolute trust, but he hasn't experienced that timeline, yet. She finally manages to convince him that she is neither lying nor crazy by whispering his name in his ear. End of the Universe? Probably not. However, the Doctor then says "River, you know my name. You whispered my name in my ear. There's only one way I would ever tell anyone my name. There's only one time I could." And the Wild Mass Guessing did begin.
In "The Doctor's Wife," the passcode to access one of the TARDIS' control rooms is, quite literally, unpronounceable. It's telepathically based, and you have to think the concepts, which are "Crimson," "11," "Delight," and "Petrichor (the smell of dust after rain)."
Parodied on The Daily Show when Samantha Bee gives Al-Jazeera a makeover. Because she can't even understand Ghida Fakhry's name, after the American friendly rebrand, she becomes "Peppermint Gomez".
Jon: I can't believe he got out "Barzan Ibrahim Hasan al-Tikriti" and "Abd al-Baqi abd al-Karim Abdallah al-Sadun" and then tripped on the word "urn."
There's also his hilarious attempts to pronounce ex-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich's name. It tends to come out as "Rod Blah-GOOJEWHOSYWATSIT" or something.
In Farscape, Pilot's native language is so complex that one sentence can convey hundreds of ideas. The Translator Microbes can't keep up unless he carefully dumbs down his speech for others. This is probably why we never learn his real name.
And let's not forget all the alien names that have to be shortened for John: Joolushko Tunai Fenta Hovalis (Jool), Utu Noranti Pralatong (Noranti), Sikozu Svala Shanti Sugaysi Shanu (Sikozu). While these names are all technically pronounceable, they are pretty complex.
In "The Peacekeeper Wars", the name Aeryn originally wanted to give to her and John's child sounded pretty much like a loud belch. While yawning.
Early in Bewitched, while Darren is still trying to be polite to Endora, he asks her what her last name is. She flatly replies, "Forget it, you'll never be able to pronounce it."
In The Middleman episode "The Flying Fish Zombification", an energy drink is named "!!!!", which you pronounce by stomping your right foot, doing "jazz hands" and grinning. The characters then proceed to use the name through an entire scene (and occasionally throughout the rest of the episode) as if it were an ordinary name.
In That '70s Show, Fez's real name is unpronounceable — that's why everyone calls him Fez. (Apparently it's actually "Fes", which stands for "Foreign Exchange Student".)
That's So Raven had Raven hiring a pair of child models from Africa with long and complicated first names. As for their last name, everyone simply referred to it as "Unpronounceable".
The Wire gives us Roland Pryzbylewski, referred to as either "Prez" or "Prezbo".
In the late 1970s there was an American comedy series called "Szysznyk", starring Ned Beatty as a teacher named Nick Szysznyk, pronounced "Shiz-nik". The running joke was that no one could pronounce his name.
That might be how English speakers pronounce it but it's quite different in its native language. To understand, scroll down to Real Life and check out the entry for Polish surnames. Specifically, the difference between "sz" and "ś".
In thisA Bit of Fry and Laurie sketch, Laurie's character gives his name to a policeman as Derek followed by the sound of a small object being dropped onto a countertop, which is spelled "Nippl-e" (not "nipple"). Hilarity Ensues.
The episode of LOST titled "?" Consensus seems to mostly believe it's pronounced "question mark".
The source of the page quote is Stargate SG-1's Zat'nik'tel. Lampshaded a few times in the series, it's usually just called "Zat" or "Zat gun".
Which actually isn't too hard to pronounce, it just looks hard. (Zat-nik-a-tell)
SG-1 and other members of the SGC later started shortening the Goa'uld (Go-ah-ooh-l-duh) to "Gould" (goo-ld).
The fact that many Goa'uld (alien) terms are hard to pronounce or are very/overly long is lampshaded in the Season 3 episode "Deadman Switch":
O'Neill: So, Teal'c, how does one Goa'uld fire weapons from several directions?
The Day Today expanded the name of real-life reporter Brian Hanrahan for the character Peter O'Hanraha-Hanrahan.
Canadian comedy team Wayne and Shuster did a skit on their show about a Private Eye in Ancient Rome hired by Brutus to investigate the murder of "Big Julie." Early on, the detective monologued, "My license number is 'IXIVLLCCDIXMV'. Also comes in handy as an eye chart. If you can read it, you don't need glasses. If you can pronounce it, you're Polish."
The mermaid in Sanctuary has a name, but Will and Henry consider it unpronounceable, and have instead christened her Sally.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Xander and Spike are tracking a demon that's poisoned Buffy when it suddenly leaps out at them.
Spike:Oh, balls! You didn't say the thing was a Glarghk Guhl Kashma'nik.
Xander: That's 'cause I can't say Glarma— (demon hits him)
The band has referred to it as "The Bracket Album".
The album LOL <(^^,)> by Basshunter, partly pronounceable at best.
Totally pronouncable! Lawl happy-kirby hug!
The fourth Led Zeppelin album's name consists of the four band-members' symbols. It is sometimes called Zoso, after the Latin letters the first symbol (that used by Jimmy Page) resembles, but more often simply Led Zeppelin IV.
Their repetoire also features two songs with Welsh titles: "Bron-Yr-Aur" and "Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp". The phrase means "Golden Chest" and refers to a cabin where the band retreated to compose Led Zeppelin III.
Further complicating the matter, "Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp'' was misspelled as 'Bron-Y-Aur Stomp' in the initial album release.
The "Symbols" album by KMFDM. The five symbols supposedly represent a censored swear word; one of the fan nicknames for the album is "Curse". The symbols appear in the liner notes for "Down and Out", but the word is bleeped out in the recording.
KMFDM also have the album UAIOE, though the band claims it's supposed to be pronounced as 'a scream or something', rather than be spelled out or called "Vowels".
The title of the first track on Blitz, "Up Uranus", is written as a modified Uranus symbol on both the track listing and the lyrics sheet.
There's a Korn song called K@Â£$%!. One would presume it is for censoring.
Regurgitator's "! (The Song Formerly Known As)".
Justice's † album, usually called "Cross".
:( is credited as Colonopenbracket on certain recordings, a possible subversion.
Pearl Jam's song "●". The Other Wiki says it's read as "The Color Red". iTunes says "Red Bar". Sporcle's quiz on Pearl Jam's songs accepts "Dot".
Drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig of My Bloody Valentine. The "Colm" part is easy, but it's best if you ask for help from your Irish friends when it comes to the family name.
Lynyrd Skynyrd's first album was titled (Pronounced 'Lĕh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd) as an aid to pronunciation.
Aphex Twin has a song whose title is a complicated calculus equation. Technically not unpronounceable but you'd need to have a decent background in math to read it out correctly. Most fans simply call it "equation"
The Other Wiki gives that track's name as (ΔMī¹=αΣDi[n][ΣFij[n-1]+Fexti[n̄¹]]).
His album Selected Ambient Works Volume II has the song "Blue Calx" and 24 other songs that use photographs as their titles.
Autechre's later albums have a few songs that fit the bill: "Cep puiqMX", "P.:NTIL" and "O=0", for example.
IDM in general loves unpronounceable (or nearly so) song titles.
The trance artist TranceControl.
Relatively-obscure indie rock band Driftless Pony Club has the penultimate song on their 2012 album "Magnicifent", "Yr Mnhtn".
Progressive Rock group The Minotaur Project has a song entitled "77345_018". Apparently, it was actually supposed to be called "Biosphere" but somehow it ended up with the absurd former name.
Ftatateeta: Who pronounces the name of Ftatateeta, the Queen's chief nurse? Caesar: Nobody can pronounce it, Tota, except yourself.
In Misalliance, also by Shaw, there's a running joke of no one being able to pronounce (or spell) Lena Szczepalowska's last name — while Lena herself can't fathom why everyone's having so much trouble with it.
Munchkin Cthulhu has one such monster. If it defeats you, it forces you to pronounce its name, causing you to sprain your tongue and be unable to ask for help next turn.
The Tau from Warhammer 40000 are said to have names effectively unpronounceable in Imperial Gothic, the humans' lingua franca of the setting. This is somewhat ironic as far as the symbolism is concerned, considering that the Tau are the idealists of the setting and are mostly immune to its daemonic menaces.
Tau lanquage however isn't nearly as hard to prnounce as some other examples. It is however quite different from the human lanquage, consisting of long flowing series of syllables. An example of a Tau name would be Shas'O Vior'La O'Kais Mont'Yr O'Shovah (meaning Commander Farsight, the skilled and the bloodied, of the sept Vior'La).
Also in 40K, there are several examples of Daemon names in the style of Lovecraft — so much so that, on the GW website, there is a Daemon name generator that strings together random syllables to form names such as Yyeaag'gaeffthlgzaaq'ffdhppccdhergzbhyyiieduii.
It should be known that if you happen to roll correctly on the generator table, you might get a Knornate daemon named "Deathdeath the Deathbringer"
The chaos god Tzeentch has at least three pronounciations to his name none of which Games Workshop claims is right.
Magic: The Gathering — One word: Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar. In the one story she appears in, she is usually just called Asmor. And her boss's name? Vincent.
And then there's the totally lost Ravnican homunculus Fblthp.
There is a horselike race in Fading Suns, whose members' names can look like "Aluuuraloooraaaa" or "[long, fading whistle]". The creators cared enough to avert Rubber Forehead Aliens and point out several races (this one as well as bird- and bugpeople) have their voice apparatus working differently than that of primates.
Yu-Gi-Oh Card Game: The Earthbound Immortals all have weird names. Ccapac Apu and Ccarayhua deserves a mention.
All of which are Quechua, a real language.
Dragons. Crack open Races of The Dragon or The Draconomicon and you will see that damn near everything that flies and breathes fire or some other breath weapon in those books will have a name that is nigh unpronounceable. Most non-dragons tend to use a nickname or reporting name for them.
R.A. Salvatore's Sellswords series has the dragon colloquially known as Hephaestus. His real name is Velcuthimmorhar.
The Saurials from the Forgotten Realms (introduced with "Dragonbait" from Azure Bonds) have unpronounceable names, using the scent system described above along with a series of clicks and whistles. Fortunately, a simple tongues spell allows apt communication.
The same book has the red dragon Mistinarperadnacles. This has been known to be mangled out-of-universe into something like "mister nerple-dinkles".
This is the logical conclusion of pre-recording equipment era Black Spiral Dancers in Werewolf The Apocalypse. The Book of the Wyrm states that BSDs are named after the first sound they make after they exit the BlackSpiralLabyrinth. Since this was usually a pained, guttural and utterly insane howl, sigh, scream, or giggle, somebody best to have been listening really closely, otherwise the "name" would be lost as soon as it was uttered. Even then....
The alien race the Kyz, described in the Role-Playing Game supplement GURPS International Super Teams, have a language which is partially verbal and partially projective empathy, making not only their names but their entire language impossible to pronounce for anyone lacking the proper psionic gifts.
Super Mario RPG. A member of the Powers That Be takes interest in Mario and company. When asked his name, his response is ♥♪!?, but says for Mario to use the name of the doll he inhabits, Geno.
The third Star Control game introduces the Daktaklakpak, whose full name is an insanely long equation. This also applies to the Eternal Ones, whose name in every language is a far longer equation beginning with ∞1.
Marathon in general really had fun with this: we also have the S'pht, and their long-lost brothers, the S'pht'Kr. The species used to live on Lh'owon, and may have been engineered by the Jjaro...
One area in Final Fantasy XI is named the Temple of Uggalepih, sometimes referred to by fans as the Temple of Unpronounceable. Also, the area simply known as Pso'Xja.
FFXI uses tab to complete words for auto-translation. Various hard to spell/remember or hard to pronounce things are often shortened by writing out the "tab". For instance, a body armour called Pahluwan Khazagand simply being referred to as "Pahltab body".
Dragons in games based on Dungeons & Dragons seem to often have very long, Punctuation Shaker names. Frequently they get a much, much shorter name that are probably something they picked up to make communication easier.
Neverwinter Nights featured Akulastraxas and the Guardian White Dragon, or Ma'fel'no'sei'kedeh'naar.
The sequel added Nolalothcaragascint. This might be a subversion as it's pronounced exactly the way it's written: NO-la-loth-care-uh-GAS-kint. It's still long, though, so most characters shorten it to Nolaloth.
In Yume Nikki, Uboa's name, in katakana, is "ウボァ." In Japanese, the "ボァ" sound (romanized as "boa") normally does not exist, which makes him all the scarier.
This is also what the Emperor cries out when he is killed. Of course, in this instance, it is hilarious and more than a little narmy.
In World of Warcraft, most players will not know how to pronounce C'thun or R'khem without reading their article in the wiki.
Murlocs speak in some weird language that consists of MRRGLE sounding things, however, when you learn their language in an area of Borean Tundra, you can understand them, but they have the same overly long, hard-to-pronounce names.
The Murloc language, also shared by the lobster-like Makrura, is called Nerglish. It's one of the few languages that there are no real translations for at all. Some of them have completely unpronounceable names, such as Mmmrrrggglll.
The Digimon games feature a character named Moon=Millenniummon. Yes, that's an equals symbol.
Although considering that equals symbols are basically equivalent to showy hyphens in Japanese, this trope only kicks into effect for non-Japanese audiences. For instance, the American book Catch Twenty Two is often referred to in Japanese as "キャッチ=22".
RuneScape has the Stalkers. Hilarity Ensues from attempts to pronounce names like Lakhrahnaz, Khighorahk, Ihlakhizan and Haasghenahk. At least the last one, Shukarhazh, is a bit more pronouncable, but mostly limited to people who speak languages that are pronounced exactly as they are spelled (Finnish, Latin etc.). Much amusement can also be had with the inevitable guttural sounds involved in such K-heavy names.
One of the game's in Capcom's 1940's series of shoot em ups is called "19XX". So, is that "Nineteen Hundreds", "Nineteen ekks ekks", "19 variable variable", "Sometime in the 1900's"...?
Nrvnqsr Chaos from Tsukihime. Someone needed to buy that vampire some vowels. *
It's actually Greek neron kaisar ("Nero the Emperor") as spelled out in Hebrew letters, which in Hebrew numerology add up to 666
Final Fantasy XII has the Viera Mjrn (pronounced in-game as something like "me-ern"), Krjn, Ktjn, and Jote (pronounced "yo-tay").
Viera apparently write Y sounds as Js. Hardly unpronouncable, just Scandanavian. (Thor's hammer is pronounced mee-YOLL-neer, by way of comparison.)
The La-Li-Lu-Le-Lo in the Metal Gear Solid series is a Japanese attempt at this, as the lack of an L sound in Japanese (the source of the infamous "Ls replaced with Rs" stereotype of Asians) makes their name essentially unpronounceable in Japanese. Unfortunately, the English dub obviously has no difficulty with it and it just sounds dumb.
In Assassins Creed III, the main character is given the name Connor by his mentor because he finds the name Ratohnhaké:ton way too troublesome to pronounce. Similarly, Connor's mother will tell others with trouble pronouncing her name to just call her Ziio.
The name of the Boron race in the X-Universe series is a human invention that has no relation whatsoever to what the species calls itself. This is mainly because the Boron are Starfish Aliens whose language consists mainly of clicks and pheromones. Likewise humans do not have the vocal structures necessary to reproduce Paranid words. The Split are a lesser example; humans can learn the spoken language but not the sign language that complements it, since we don't have six digits on each hand.
Network Adventure Bugsite, a lesser-known Mon game, has an entire evolution family of these: ***@, ***#, ***♪, and ***★. Keeping in mind that all the Bugs have computer-related names, the intention may have been for their names to resemble passwords.
The side-comic "Tempts Fate" from Goblins has a brilliant subversion. There is a dragon who's name coincides with the D&D dragons being unpronounceable, but to the point that if you utter it, any who hear it would be sent to the abyss. The dragon elects to destroy him instead.
The demon K'Z'K, also known as "'The Vowelless One" of Sluggy Freelance. Commonly called "Kizke" by the main cast of the strip, though he repeatedly indicates this is a completely wrong pronunciation.
Subversion: in Starslip Crisis, Jinx, a Cirbozoid, tells Cutter that his real name is unpronounceable in English. When Cutter says he'd like to hear it anyway, Jinx mentions that it is also unpronounceable in Cirbozoid.
The names of the Demon and his brother in Friendly Hostility are depicted as random symbols and cause nosebleeds and spontaneous combustion, respectively.
Black Mage: The God of Undeath has a name of twenty-seven syllables spoken simultaneously by six ever-screaming mouths.
Cleric: Yeah. Or Jessie to his friends.
Also, saying Darko's true name would cause a brain to eat itself.
The Abyssal Exalted may not have names that are difficult to pronounce, but they certainly are long enough that only other Exalted have the Stamina to say them in one breath. And sometimes, such as in Keychain of Creation, not even them.
"Sadachbia" from Not So Distant isn't exactly the character's name; he was named after a star, but in a language which humans (and some other species) would have trouble pronouncing. It just so happens that this is one of the stars which humans have given a name to, so that name is essentially equivalent.
In The Order of the Stick, several characters are unable to pronounce "Xykon" correctly. He can hear it when people say "Zykon" instead, and gets angry about it.
Actually it was more like a "spelling" problem than a "pronunciation" one. (the joke being that Xykon can "hear" the wrong spelling).
Also from Start of Darkness there is a lizard man who Xykon calls "Scaly", who informs Xykon that his name is Ekdysdioksosiirwo, Viridian lord of— at which point Xykon zaps him with lightning, saying that it is too long to remember. This is what prompts Redcloak to give fake names for himself (Redcloak, of course) and his younger brother, Right-Eye.
Niklas And Friends has a character named Martin Czrnczinsky, although the issue of the pronounceability of his surname is never brought up in the comic itself. When asked about the correct pronunciation, the author replied to "pronounce it any way you like".
Pronunciation note: Chef Ch'vorthq's name is pronounced as follows: start with the hard "CH" as in "china," rather than the soft "CH" from "chevrolet." Now make the sound of an expensive piece of china being struck by a moving chevrolet—that noise is represented with the apostrophe. The rest is easy. Say "vorthq" with the soft "th" from the word "the" and a "q" like in "qetzlcouatl." The footnote from http://www.schlockmercenary.com/d/20000725.html
Corporal "Legs" real name is Leelagaleenileeleenoleela.
xkcd has no way to enunciate it. It must be spelled out when spoken.
Slightly Damned's Angels tend to have difficult names. Case in point, one of the main characters is called Kieri Suizahn. The angelic disposition towards the common language is generally that it's something that happens to other people.
Tamuran: The Tree Creatures tend to have names that are this. Ex: Hhr’skhygh
In Darken, Mink's full name is revealed to be "Minknarperadnacles"
Lizardwoman "Hissy" in Tales of MU has a real name that's a combination of hisses and rattles. The nymphs in the same series are identified by sensory impressions of sun and wind; the pair who elect to go to college name themselves after their fields, becoming Amaranth and Barley.
Vilhjalmur Sigurbjornsson from Survival of the Fittest. Given that the medium is written, it might be more apt to call him 'The Unspellable'. Also notable in that his author intentionally picked a name that would be as obnoxiously difficult to spell and pronounce as possible.
I would like to point out that this is a common Icelandic name and I happen to know a VilhjÃ¡lm and one of my friends is Sigurbjörnsson. The only part difficult for most foreigners to pronounce is the hj part of the name.
SCP Foundation's Dr. Clef, who "maintains that its true name is that of an A major chord played on a ukelele."
Whateley Universe example: in "Ayla and the Grinch", Phase fought a demon from a hell dimension and lost. The demon was named BKCRMWDJVG which apparently can't be pronounced properly using a human mouth and throat.
Detective Randall from The Lazer Collection is made out the way, with his superior and a helicopter pilot trying and deciding to just call him Detective Randall.
In Dragon Ball Abridged, nobody seems to be able to pronounce the Japanese name for Piccolo's "Speical Beam Cannonnote (Makankosappo)", including Piccolo himself.
"Makansa... Makakasappa... Makasappa-Ah to hell with it, Special Beam Cannon!!"
Fhqwgads (full name fhqwhgadshgnsdhjsdbkhsdabkfabkveybvf) was the sender of the Strong Bad Emaili love you. Strong Bad comments that in the time that it took him to say that, he could've painted a picture of a big guy with a knife.
Although almost pronounceable with some effort, Toy Hammer gives us 'Shas'ui Fi'rios Yon'anuk Eldi'myr' which means 'Fire cast veteran trooper of the Fi'rios colony, flying-hunter winged-knife'. AKA 'Sergeant Talon'.
The entire Centaurian language in The Pentagon War is unpronounceable, due to Centaurians having four mouths.
Subverted in Red vs. Blue: Reconstruction. Two characters both with the name Jones, but pronounced in seemingly difficult ways. The first Jones is continually dismayed by the fact that his team mispronounce his name as "Jo-En-Es". To continue the joke a character whose name is thought to be Jones, but is actually pronounced as Jo-En-Es was introduced for one scene.
Subverted in the Disney version of Hercules, where several characters have halfway-unpronouncable Greek names like Philoctetes, and say, "Just call me Phil for short".
Subverted in the Futurama episode "Why Must I Be a Crustacean In Love", when an old acquaintance of Zoidberg's refers to him as "Dr. (unintelligible slurping/gurgling noise)."
Fry: Is that how you say "Zoidberg"? (The man runs off, crying.)
Zoidberg: You didn't have to call attention to his speech impediment.
Used straight in "The Day The Earth Stood Stupid", where Nibbler tells Leela that "in the time it would take to pronounce one letter of my true name, a trillion cosmoses would flare into existence and fade into eternal night." One wonders how they communicate with each other.
From The Simpsons, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon. Also in The Simpsons, news reporter Kent Brockman reports there was a tidal wave in "Kuallall... Kulalum... Klumallu..." then changes the report to read "France" instead. (He means Kuala Lumpur, BTW.)
May be a subversion, but Kearney ZZYZWICZ!? How the censorship-bleep should you pronounce that?
'Zizz-witch'. Or, if you wanted to get into real Polish, 'Zizz-vitch'.
From the Treehouse of Horror episode "Hungry Are The Damned"
Marge: Well, thank you very much, Mr...
Serak the Preparer: To pronounce it correctly, I would have to pull out your tongue.
Also subverted in "Missionary: Impossible", where Homer is sent as a missionary to an island of aboriginals:
Homer: What was that?
Qtoktok: Oh. We call that Wrrrkp Gwrkkagkh Kkkakakhakgkkoighr. Sorry, fishbone in my throat. We call that earthquake.
Parodied in Freakazoid!. In trying to track down a Cthulhu-like monster, Cosgrove says he can't pronounce their next destination. Prof. Jones, however, finds 'Romania' easy to say.
Also parodied in Spliced. The name of the species of bird Lord Wingus Eternum belongs to can't be pronounced; it has to be expressed as a laser dance show.
As a general note for examples below: Slavic languages and languages from the Caucasus (Georgian, Chechyen, etc.) permit very long consonant clusters, which are often hard to pronounce for nonnative speakers, and are usually half-assed even by natives. Take, for example, the Russian word vzglyatnote "look" or "glance", also "eyeglasses" in some dialects or Georgian gvprtskvninote "you peel us"; as a metaphor it means "you're making us spend a lot of money".. Even Germanic languages suffer from this from time to time, as many of them can slap words together; German "Angstschweiß" note "sweating caused by fear" is an extreme example, jamming 8 consonants together (but only four pronounced at once because they're split between two syllables), but the Dutch word slechtstschrijvendnote "writing the worst" tops it with 9 consonants!
All of the are put to shame by Ubykh. It features a record high of 84 consonants without featuring click sounds. And as for how many vowels is has? A mere two. It is nothing but clusters of consonant clusters.
Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia is ironically the fear of long words.
Most Southeast Asian languages such as Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Lao, and Khmer are very heavy on the vowels and do not feature consonant clusters at all, rendering all European languages more or less unpronounceable to them. To a Vietnamese, imagine the horror that is learning Russian.
For the sake of foreigners, most of these countries' education system includes teaching students english pronounciations of their language, such as pinyin.
This is common with Polish names, because they often have lots of consonants and Z's next to S's.
Polish spelling is very phonetic, so once you learn the basic rules it's easy. Still, it's hard to look at placenames like Szczecin ("Shche-Cheen") or Bydgoszcz ("Bid-Goshch") without your eyes watering.
The "sz" and "cz" are pronounced very similarly to "sh" and "ch" respectively. However, there are also "ś" and "ć", which are similar but not the same as "sz" and "cz". Non-native speakers tend to have some difficulty telling them apart.
Croatian sees your strange sounds and spelling (č,ć,š,đ and dž), and raises a propensity for consonant cluster-f*cks, having such fluent tongue twisters as: Cvrči, cvrči cvrčak na čvoru crne smrče. = A cricket chirps on the knot of a black Juniper.
Črljenak Kaštelanski is a Croatian red wine grape. For apparent reasons, most people rather refer to it on its German name, Zinfandel. (It is pronounced not unlike CHERL-Yennack.)
Czech: Chrt pln skvrn vtrhl skrz trs chrp v čtvrť Krč. It's an entire phrase that has literally no vowels. Local cops use your ability to pronounce it to determine how drunk you are. (It means "A greyhound full of stains burst through a cluster of cornflowers in the district of Krč").
Actualy they don't do that anymore, at least to my knowledge, they use breathalyzer instead. But some Czech language teachers use similar phrase: Strč prst skrz krk to determine you ability to use the language (It means "Stick your finger through your throat").
It helps to know that those languages treat some letters as vowels that are consonants in English, most notably the r. The trick is often not the pronounciation per se, but fluent pronounciation of letter groups that require much tongue movement.
Many Indian languages, (like Hindi, Tamil and Malayalam) have numerous different sounds and letters which don't even exist in English. Consequently, English heavily lacks the vocabulary required to accurately represent these languages, making them sound bizzare to native English speakers. (Yup, now you know why you can't pronounce Indian Names.)
Eoin Colfer, to the point that Neil Gaiman gave that wonderfully helpful quote shown on Eoin's trope page. (It's Owen).
The new Canadian Chief of Defense Staff is General Walter Natynczyk. I can has phonetic pronunciation plz?
On the old Usenet Babylon 5 newsgroup, he was frequently referred to as "The Unpronounceable One".
The sports world has examples of Polish names, the great tonguebreaker of Slavic languages, all the time. Most notably, Duke University basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, pronounced "chə-shev-skee". Usually just referred to as "Coach K", for obvious reasons.
Regardless of how MK pronounces his name, it's definitely not pronounced "chə-shev-skee" in Polish. A more accurate pronunciation would be something like "kshi-zhev-skee".
Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Marc Rzepczynski, pronounced "zhep-chin-ski".
DeSagana Diop. It's pronounced "sə-gah-nə jahp". Yes, that's right... the first two letters are both silent.
Have I Got News for You: "The Americans intend to invade Iran and replace Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with a dictator whose name is easier to pronounce."
Running Gag on ESPN: Mispronouncing the last name of Seattle Seahawks wide receiver TJ Houshmandzadeh
Proving, along with the aforementioned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that Persian is second only to Polish in its ability to turn the human tongue into a tangled ball of rubber.
Another name that is a favorite of some ESPN writers is Alabama State basketball player Chief Kickingstallionsims. That's not the unpronounceable part. The unpronounceable part is his first name (Chief is his middle name). His full name is Grlenntys Chief Kickingstallionsims Jr.
Finnish and Brythonic personal and place names are often used as a Running Gag variant of this trope.
Surprisingly, the case with Finnish is more an exaggeration of how it might look, but its pronunciation is actually one of the clearest. Aside from the vowels Ö (close to the AI in "bait," but with rounded lips) and Y (like the EE in "beet," but with rounded lips) — Ä is just like the A in "bad"— the only real troubles are J being like an English Y and speaking in the right rhythm. Every single word is stressed on the first syllable and every double-letter cluster is pronounced just like a single letter, only for twice as long.
Tonal Languages are this to most westerners who grew up with languages where vowel pronunciation does not influence lexical meaning. Ever wondered why Asian people talk like they're being an overly melodramatic Shakespearian actor who canot decide whether to be loud or quiet, and with weird vowel pronunciation? That is why. Westerners trying to pick up tonal languages find tone the hardest thing to get right. That's why the locals never seem to comprehend what you are saying.
Nguyễn, the most common name in Vietnam is pronounced as one syllable — ngweeun (Northern accent) or ngweeung (Southern accent). Sounds a lot like "win" or "wing" actually, but few Americans even bother. The "Ng" is pronounced like "ing" but leaving off the initial "ee" sound. The basic pronunciation is nwin. Plus accents due to Vietnamese being a tonal language, it is pronounced like noohw-in.
The Vietnamese language in general, unless you already speak a language that sounds similar to it (Cantonese, Thai etc.).
Although the name of the Jewish God is written as YHWH (which looks unpronounceable) that's due to it being a literal transliteration of the name from Hebrew, where it is written without vowels. This doesn't mean there are no vowels, just that they aren't shown (which is done often in Hebrew; vowel marks weren't added to the written language until the 9th century). However, God may have much longer mystical names (depending on the religious theories and interpretations) of up to seventy-two letters which have been lost at this point; these might fall into this trope.
Some scholars think that pronunciation of YHWH would actually be all breath sounds, leading to "God is breath/life." Which brings up the question "Can you pronounce breathing?"
Also, it is actually forbidden to Orthodox Jews to pronounce God's real name. When reading the Torah (which is done aloud), one just replaces it with "adonai" meaning Lord.
This is the source of the word Yehovah, reading YHWH with the vowels from adonai.
Even the word YHWH is actually a shortened version of the "real" name of God, which was allegedly dozens of syllables long and originally passed down in secret by the Levi clan and only pronounced aloud in the innermost chamber of His temple during the most sacred rituals. As far as anyone can tell, it has been lost to history.
The Renaissance painter Doménikos Theotokópoulos is known as "El Greco" (the Greek) as his real name was too long and too difficult for Spaniards to pronounce.
Immigrants passing through Ellis Island were often given names that were more English-sounding than their native tongues. Or they changed them themselves.
That's about as close to Nibblonian as human languages can get. 189,819 letters long, people!
When Mrs. Anneli Jäätteenmäki became Finland's Prime Minister some years back, she was supposedly reported in the British radio as Mrs. Unpronounceable.
"Ya-at-teh-ehn-ma-kee" (A as in "bad")
That's nothing compared to the untypable Zyskowicz. Ben Zyskowicz.
If you can pronounce 'Oconomowoc' correctly, you're from Wisconsin. If you can't, you're not. Many a news anchor, several just arriving from an out-of-state market, have blown it. And then they try to climb out of the linguistic quicksand and just sink in deeper and deeper, mangling 'Oconomowoc' worse and worse, while the locals laugh and laugh.
In Washington State, the cities of Puyallup and Sequim often serve this role. (The Y and the E are silent.)
Puyallup is "Pew(as in church pew)-al(As in the name)-up(as in the direction)"
In California, there are cities with names like "Tuolumne", "Yreka" and "Suisun". ("Too-awl-uhm-nee", "why-reek-uh" and "suh-SOON", respectively.)
In Massachusetts there's Worcester, pronounced wuh-stir. Saying "warchester" or "warsester" gets you an automatic eyeroll from the locals. (It sort of helps to pronounce it "worce ster" with a heavy Eastern Mass accent, where it comes out something like "Wista". Worcester, Ohio got around the problem by just respelling it "Wooster".)
Similarly, Gloucester is pronounced Glah-stir. The best way to spot a telemarketer is by how badly they mangle the city name, often pronouncing it "glau-cester" or "glowchester".
Massachusetts also has Scituate. Have fun trying to figure out it's pronounces "SIT-chu-it" or "SIT-yu-it."
And Aquinnah, which fits, but is far better than the original name of the town: Gay Head. Locals are known to still call it by the latter and manage to do so with a straight face.
Leominster. For the record, the O is silent.
Leicester. The "ice" is silent.
Utah has the city of Tooele, pronounced Too-ill-ah. To make matters more confusing, it is also home to Tule Valley, (not a city, just a valley) where Tule is pronounced the way you would think Tooele would be.
In fairness, most of these are either literally or derived from Native American names or old English names. This was a minor piece of incidental humour in Shrek The Third, where Donkey (supposedly 'American') horribly mangles 'Wore-sester-shy-ree?' before Shrek (supposedly 'European') puts him out of his misery by informing him it's pronounced 'Wuss-ter-sheer'.
In the UK, there are the villages of Wymondham and Garbaldisham in Norfolk (That's Win-dam and Garb-ee-sham to you).
The Greater Houston area has a street named Kuykendahl. Unless you're a local, you're very unlike to know it's actually pronounced as "Kirk end all" and the first syllable does not rhyme with guy or boy or any other word that remotely resembles it in spelling.
Conflated phonemes can cause this without resorting to long names or strange characters. The most well known example is that Japanese contains neither L nor R sounds but rather a sound that is a mix of the two (though accepted to be closer to R) making words that contain Ls very difficult to pronounce.
The Hmong language, due to a weird transliteration system, has a lot of these, including the name of the language itself in Hmong, "Hmoob", pronounced "mung". Just read this thread: there's someone on there named "Nkauj Xwb".
Tibetan, in the Wylie transliteration, is pretty bad about this too: there is a Tibetan Buddhist sect named "Bka' brgyud", pronounced "Kagyu".
That's a common problem in transcription, namely whether to follow the written or spoken language. Wylie preferred an accurate representation of Tibetan as written, there's another common transcription based on the usual pronunciation. See also Thai Prime Minister ABHISIT Vejjajiva — second name pronounced "Whettacheewa".
Hubert Blaine Wolfe+ 585, Senior has a full name which, when typed out, takes up 746 characters. It is: Adolph Blaine Charles David Earl Frederick Gerald Hubert Irvin John Kenneth Lloyd Martin Nero Oliver Paul Quincy Randolph Sherman Thomas Uncas Victor William Xerxes Yancy Zeus Wolfeschlegelsteinhausenbergerdorffvoralternwarengewissenhaftschaferswessenschafewarenwohlgepflegeundsorgfaltigkeitbeschutzenvonangreifendurchihrraubgierigfeindewelchevoralternzwolftausendjahresvorandieerscheinenwanderersteerdemenschderraumschiffgebrauchlichtalsseinursprungvonkraftgestartseinlangefahrthinzwischensternartigraumaufdersuchenachdiesternwelchegehabtbewohnbarplanetenkreisedrehensichundwohinderneurassevonverstandigmenschlichkeitkonntefortplanzenundsicherfreuenanlebenslanglichfreudeundruhemitnichteinfurchtvorangreifenvonandererintelligentgeschopfsvonhinzwischensternartigraum, Senior. And yes, Senior is part of his last name.
Even Irish people struggle to pronounce Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh ("blaw-nid nee khuffigh")
The Gaelic languages in general are a nightmare to sound out until you know something about the phonetics (which are weird and vaguely resemble Russian), and Scots Gaelic has a lot of unnecessary (i.e. no longer pronounced) letters that Irish got rid of in spelling reforms. Even then, the consonants aren't too bad, but the vowels can be... inscrutable (the only time a vowel is unambiguously itself is when it has an accent on it). Overall, Scots and Irish Gaelic spellings are a barely-comprehensible mishmosh of historical and phonetic spellings... and then you have Manx Gaelic, whose spelling is mercifully based on English phonetics... from four centuries ago. Old Irish spelling resembles modern spelling simplified, but is mercifully phonetic and nowhere near as tangled as its descendants. Still, it's best taken with a bottl o da fookin' wiskie.
A train station in Wales is known by the name Llanfair PG (to the ticketing system, at least). That is because the full name looks like this◊.
Welsh. Just Welsh. note Also known as Cymraeg. Or Gymraeg, or Nghymraeg. Welcome to the wonderful world of Welsh initial mutations.
In one of the Torchwood books (Another Life), Owen Harper (English) looks at a list of Welsh locations and lampshades this tropes, asking if the Welsh just used whatever was left in the Scrabble box when the English were finished with it. Cue Gwen (Welsh) perfectly pronouncing every place he indicates, complete with a summary of its location. Admittedly, this was only in print, and not on film ...
The volcanic glacier that has ruined air travel in Europe is named Eyjafjallajökull. Admittedly, not unpronounceable for someone from Iceland, but for everyone else it's quite difficult... For the record, it's approximately AY-a-fyaht-la-yeuh-kuht.
When Seth Meyers reported on the disaster for Weekend Update, he lampshaded and subverted it by referring to it as "Iceland's — I hope I'm saying this right: volcano."
Eyjafjallajökull's unpronounceable name is parodied in this comic by The Oatmeal.
Slightly easier on the tongue is another Icelandic volcanic glacier, and until recently a more famous one, Snæfellsjökull.
Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, a group of indigenous people from southwestern British Columbia. Also mercifully called Squamish, which according to Wikipedia is probably the closest to the pronunciation (which is roughly sk-HU-mesh, with the h being pronounced like a Spanish J).
St'a7mes, a village/reserve of the indigenous Sḵwx̱wú7mesh. Also known as Stawamus.
And Xwemelch'stn (Homulchesan), and...you know what, just go to Wikipedia's article on Squamish Nation and get the full list, because there are a bunch of these names in Squamish and a number of other tribes in the area with equally overpunctuaed names.
Nuxálk (a Native American language up in the Pacific Northwest) has the word xłp̓x̣ʷłtłpłłskʷc̓. Means "he had in his possession a bunchberry plant". Not only are there no vowels, there's nothing that could even function as a vowel. And yet, people can still say it.
Prince, when his name consisted of nothing but a symbol.
Dolphins are thought to have names — unique clicks and whistles that they use to identify each other.
This theory was possibly alluded to in Splash (see entry under Film).
When the Swedish diplomat Dag Hammarskjöld became Secretary-General of the UN he told reporters that it was OK for English-speakers who had problems pronouncing his name to use the direct translation of it and simply call him "Mr. Hammershield".
Some drugs and medicines have chemical names that are ridiculously long and hard to pronounce. Of course, the formal names are for the benefit of doctors and technicians who need to know exactly what they're handling, but they can be quite unwieldy for laypeople.
Of course, since scientists and doctors are human too, long, ugly formal names are often shortened in the interests of sanity. For instance, the common organic buffer 4-(2-hydroxyethyl)-1-piperazineethanesulfonic acid is generally just called "HEPES."
The host in a radio program about etymology: "This word goes back to a Proto-Indo-European root which cannot be written with our alphabet, and I also cannot pronounce it." Eh... But at least, he knew what it was.
The "Chef Boyardee" line of prepared Italian foods was named that by Ettore Boiardi, because he feared his name's real spelling would be subjected to this trope. Most rural Americans in the 1920s were unfamiliar with Italian names.
Spend just a few minutes at a zoo's exhibit of native Mongolian wild horses, and you'll hear every conceiveable pronunciation of "Przewalski". Except, perhaps, the correct one ("sher-wall-ski").
Note that "sher-wall-ski" is only "correct" in English. A Pole (or other Slavic-speaker) would be able to handle that consonant cluster, and possibly recognize the "w" for the "v" that it is.
Can you pronounce Wojciechowski correctly? Commonly incorrectly pronounced "woj a house key". (Pronounced correctly: "Voytsiehkhovski", more or less).
The !Kung people of the Kalahari Desert have a tongue-click sound in their language, represented by the "!". The protagonist of The Gods Must Be Crazy is a !Kung.
Every single Khoisan language has many different click sounds, some produced with the teeth, some with the lips, others with the sides of the mouth. Zulu and Xhosa have "imported" clicks from the Khoisan languages, despite not being related to them.
There's a Hungarian reporter named Vujity Tvrtko. That's much harder to pronounce than Balogh Szilárd which is his birth name.
A good deal of Hungarian names in general at least look unpronouncable, until you learn the rules (it's much like Polish and Finnish in that regard.)
The Armenian actor Mher Mkrtchyan. It's pronounced phonetically, that being, "m-k-r-t-ch-yan", basically stumble through the letters, rolling the "r".
Senate candidate John Raese loved to make even the most simple foreign-sounding names unpronounceable. (So "Chu" becomes "Dr. Chow Mein".)
Hawaiian is this to some people, especially with the glottal stops common in the language (even the name "Hawaii" has been anglicized; it's more properly "Hawai'i"). Hawaiian has the opposite problem from Polish: the profusion of vowels, often strings of them separated only by apostrophes, make the language look confusing to English speakers. Two fish names in particular give people a lot of trouble, although they're pretty easy once you know the rules: "humuhumunukunukuapua'a" (reef triggerfish) and the even longer "lauwiliwilinukunuku'oi'oi" (longnose butterflyfish).
Even seemingly simple English names can be difficult for East Asians to pronounce. In China, the name "Clark" is written 克拉克 and pronounced "KeLaKe" as the "R" sound is relatively uncommon. On the other hand, Koreans will tend to pronounce it as "Crik" because the "L" sound is not used. The R&L pronunciations lead directly to English speakers' stereotypical impression of what an Oriental accent sounds like. Amusingly, Japanese people WILL pronounce it as crahk.
Subverted with Jake Gyllenhaal's last name. Despite the hundreds of possible pronunciation given by his co-stars, the real pronunciation is actually Yillenhoolahay which he said so himself and backed up by co-stars.
The Backwards R looks normal to most people, but if you can read Cyrillic letters, it sounds hilarious when you say it aloud the way it's supposed to be read, as the Cyrillic letters make totally different sounds than the letters they're supposed to represent. For example, "Яцssiд" would actually be pronounced "Yatsssid"
This results in hilarity for the Cyrillic literate when they see fake Cyrillic. MaЯx is pronounced mayah. Leиiи is pronounced Leiii. Ячssiди is pronounced Yachssidi. SIИGЦLДЯITY would be pronounced Siigtsldyaitya. KФммцифsм would be pronounced Kfmmtsifsm.
Although it pales in comparison to some of the above examples, German has a few sounds that native English speakers have difficulty pronouncing: ä, ö, ü, and the two "ch" sounds (hard as in Bach and soft as in ich). The easiest of these is ä. Pronounce it like eh and you're good to go. The others are rounded front vowels, which don't exist in English, but pronounce ö by placing the tongue in position for "ay" and rounding the lips, and likewise ü is the rounded version of "ee". As for the "ch" sounds, hard "ch" is like "k" but relaxed so that you can breathe through it; soft "ch" is like the "hy" sound in "human". On the other hand, the seemingly unpronounceable symbol ß is really just a double s, pronounced like the s in "snake". (Oh, and normal "s" before certain consonants is pronounced "sh".) It also helps to know French: the German R is the same as the French R, ö is the same as French eu, and ü is the same as French u.
A lot of native speakers do not make the soft ch sound as you describe. I've heard ich pronounced most frequently as eesh. However, there are people who insist that it's pronounced like ik. It's probably a dialect and accent thing.
There's a reason our Aztec Mythology page is full of footnotes with pronunciation guides — Mexican gods tend to have names like "Chalchiuhtlicue" or "Huitzilopochtli."
And if there's an "X" in an Aztec name, it's actually pronounced similar to "sh." The /ʃ/ sound (the "sh" sound) did exist in Old Spanish and was written as "x". It is still written that way in other languages spoken in the Iberian peninsula - namely in Portuguese, Galician, Basque and Catalan. There was a shift in the Spanish sibilants that made /ʃ/ disappear and a later spelling reform so that the letter "x" represents a variety of other sounds in modern Spanish. So, in all, the name of Mexico was pronounced something like "me-sheeh-coh" in 16th century Spanish, "me-khi-coh" in modern Spanish... and "mek-sih-co" in English. Quite strange come to think of it.
American parents have been known to get... inventive... with given names, either mangling the spelling of a perfectly serviceable name, or just making one up. Just ask a teacher. They'll tell you that class rosters can look like a typewriter barfed on them.
Based on anatomical reconstructions done by archaeologists, it is believed that the Neanderthals were completely incapable of pronouncing the letter E. Basically, that means that most of our languages would have been completely unpronounceable to them.
Beakman's World gave the name as a Fast Fact, spelling it for the kids at home... and getting it wrong.
In 1989 Dundee United FC signed a player from what was then Yugoslavia, called Miodrag Krivokapić. He was booked in his very first match, and the TV coverage showed a close-up of an incredulous referee saying "What???" after asking him for his name, then turning to his linesman and exhaling slowly. It is not recorded whether the referee considered letting him off with a verbal warning instead...
A shibboleth is a word or phrase used to sort out spies. These most often work by using sounds that members of the enemy group find difficult to pronounce, or that only a native speaker could possibly properly pronounce.
A typical password in the south of England in the summer of 1940 might have been Weymouth War Weapons week, playing on German difficulty with "w".
Danes like to tease foreigners into attempting to pronounce the name of dessert dish Rødgrød med fløde. After the war, Danish border police trying to determine if someone trying to gain entry to Denmark really was Danish, would often have them say the phrase. You pretty much have to be a native Danish speaker in order to get it right.
In Finnish: Höyryjyrä. Almost impossible to pronounce to anyone foreign. Meaning? "Steamroller".
Back in the 1970s and early 80s, if you were a member of the Swedish pop group ABBA and your name wasn't Benny Andersson, the chances were pretty good that the next non-Scandinavian broadcast journalist to interview you would butcher at least part of your name.
Csaba Csere, a longtime editor of Car and Driver magazine. A blurb in the magazine's 50th anniversary issue claims that, when he was asked what the correct pronunciation of his name was, he simply responded with: "Csaba Csere."
"Masayori" is not a particularly difficult name for Westerners to pronounce, as far as Asian names go. However, you should tell that to Masi Oka's old elementary school teacher, who started calling him "Messy Masi" for his atrocious handwriting and he decided it was easier to go by Masi than make everyone say his entire name. There's a brief period where he's credited under his full name in movies, though now things have swung in the opposite direction and even his native Japan tends to refer to him as Masi - despite the fact that Japan has trouble with the "si" syllable and tends to pronounce it as "she" instead of "see". The poor man just can't win!