Topical Guide 414
Names, Pronunciation of
Reservations Recommended, Chapter 1:
SNOW has begun to fall, a pretty sight in the warm yellow light that spills from Belinda’s windows. It’s a charming place, two floors of a town house on Marlborough Street, a very desirable location, very pretty in the snow, and it should seem inviting, yet Matthew hesitates before ringing the bell. Why? He finds Belinda’s daughter unsettling. Her name is Leila. She and Belinda say “Lay-la.” He would say “Lie-la,” but he supposes people should be able to decide how they want their own names pronounced.
Vladimir Nabokov, in an interview reprinted in Strong Opinions:
“It is indeed a tricky name. It is often misspelt, because the eye tends to regard the “a” of the first syllable as a misprint and then tries to restore the symmetrical sequence by triplicating the “o”—filling up the row of circles, so to speak, as in a game of crosses and naughts. No-bow-cough. How ugly, how wrong. Every author whose name is fairly often mentioned in periodicals develops a bird-watcher’s or a caterpillar-picker’s knack when scanning an article. But in my case I always get caught by the word “nobody” when capitalized at the beginning of a sentence. As to pronunciation, Frenchmen of course say Nabokoff, with the accent on the last syllable. Englishmen say Nabokov, accent on the first, and Italians say Nabokov, accent in the middle, as Russians also do. Na-bo-kov. A heavy open “o” as in “Knickerbocker”. My New England ear is not offended by the long elegant middle “o” of Nabokov as delivered in American academies. The awful “Na-bah-kov” is a despicable gutterism. Well, you can make your own choice now. Incidentally, the first name is pronounced Vladeemer—rhyming with “redeemer”—not Vladimir rhyming with Faddimere (a place in England, I think).”
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