What to do when no one can pronounce your kid’s name properly?

| March 29, 2011 | Comments (27)
Our family is Italian: my husband is from Rome, and we speak Italian at home. When it came to naming our daughter, my husband insisted on naming her after Amalasunta, ancient Queen of the Visigoths. No, nope, that won’t work. I stood firm, No one will ever be able to pronounce that! And so we settled on Chiara, which means light and fair, the perfect name for our little blonde-haired, blue-eyed daughter.
Well, as it turns out, no one seems to be able to pronounce that, either. 

While I was pregnant, we kept the name a secret from everyone, so it was never tested out. Of course we don’t have a problem pronouncing Chiara (KEY-are-ah) – one of the more popular girls’ names in Italy – and we just assumed that everyone else would be able to pronounce it fine, too.


I don’t know whether to laugh or wince when, at the doctor’s office, for example, the receptionist on duty calls out everything from Kiera to She-ierra to She-are-ah. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve politely had to say, “It’s Chiara – key-are-ah” – and even then, most people still don’t get it.

For a brief moment in time, I thought about officially changing her name to Claire – the English equivalent of Chiara. But by then, she was already our Chiara, and her name fits her just perfectly.

Here’s to hoping that our Chiara – that’s key-are-ah – comes to love teaching people how to say her name, the right way.

Category: girls, New Posts, Parenting

About Amy: Amy Bizzarri wears many hats: teacher, writer, and most importantly, a mother to two beautiful children, ages 1 and 8 years. She and her family live on the Near North Side of Chicago, and enjoy exploring our city together. Follow her on twitter at: amybizzarri Amy blogs at tiramisumom.com View author profile.

Comments (27)

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  1. Chiara is a beautiful name. But yes, I can see how some cannot handle it. Don’t feel bad. I had a friend who’s name was Maria and people couldn’t handle that.

    I have an ethnic name which is long but I am proud of. My nickname is also not American-main-stream, so people ask what my nickname is for that. I typically just blink, and say, “That is my nickname. It’s only two syllables.” One woman was rude and said it was just too difficult & long for her and she would call me some other name, which was also two syllables. So, I started calling her some other name as well. When she said it was rude, I said it was hurtful that she wasn’t attempting my name either and giving me someone else’s name instead. The other women at the playgroup laughed and agreed with me. What can I say? I see my name is being a part of me.

    When someone butchers my name now, I have learned to pronounce it for them, then if they can’t get it, just feel pity if it is obviously due to a lack of trying and openmindedness on their part.

    My daughters both have American-main-stream first names and Polish middle names. People make all sorts of comments about that but I really could care less. Their names suit them, as mine suits me, as your daughter’s suits her.

    • Alina says:

      My friend is Polish-American and her name is Katarzyna, which people constantly fumble. She goes by Kasia (Polish nickname) which people still fumble!

  2. Hah, I hear you. Myself, I don’t have that problem, ’cause it’s very easy to pronounce my name (both my real name and my pen-name), but when my brother was in New York this summer, he had to tell everyone his name was Christopher, because if he said his name’s Krzysztof, people just opened their jaws and asked him to repeat. Impossible to pronounce for them. :)

    (You wouldn’t have this problem here. Poles seem to be natural at pronouncing Italian names, the only thing that is a problem, is “ghe” as opossed to “ge” etc. and the accent, ofc. :D)

    ciao :)

  3. Amanda says:

    Okay, but what do you do?

    Furthermore, what do you do when family members repeatedly say it wrong? We named our girl something kind of rare, but that definitely follows English pronunciation rules. If it wasn’t a name, peope who know how it is spelled would know how to say it properly. I firmly believe it’s a power thing, that older family members who don’t like that we didn’t choose a very traditional name, think it’s not worthwhile to learn the way we pronounce our daughter’s name. Do you say something?

    • Well, I guess the only thing you can do is correct people every time they pronounce it wrong. That’s what I’d do. Otherwise is either change daughter’s name or give up and not pay attention to the pronounciation, and both sound equally wrong. Maybe, if you are persisten enough, they’ll learn. Someday.


  4. selfmademom says:

    When you say her name it sounds perfect and beautiful and that’s all that matters right!?

  5. Amy says:

    Thank you for all your comments!

    I should have added to the post that I don’t expect people to have perfect Italian pronunciation – but to just give it a try. I just never imagined that her name would be so difficult for others to pronounce!

    I can imagine other parents who name their children popular names from their country of origin find themselves in the same boat.

    Maybe one day Chiara will take advantage of her dual citizenship and move to Italy where her name is as common as Claire here – Chissa’ :)

  6. SP says:

    I have the same issue with my own daughter’s italian first name: Gianna(pronounced JAH-na). She gets called Gee-ah-na, Janna…. I’ve had a little success telling people it’s like Giada (as in TV chef Giada de Laurentiis)or that there’s no “J” in italian, so “Gi” is used instead of “J.” Sigh.

    • Alina says:

      I met a Gianna recently and pronounced it the Italian way (I studied Italian in high school/college) and she corrected me by saying “Jee-ann-ah”…I guess in America it has taken on its own pronunciation.

  7. MJ Tam says:

    One of my HS bestfriend’s name is Chiara. I never realized that people find that so hard to pronounce! Such a beautiful name too.

  8. Lisa says:

    One of my closest friends from childhood is named Kari (Khar-rhee), which always became Carrie (Kare-rhee) for all the teachers, etc. It used to drive her crazy, but she’s kind of embraced it and laughs as she corrects people. It’s become a pretty good joke between all of our old friends. At her wedding a few years ago, the priest mispronounced her name for the first 15 minutes or so… Until her husband leaned over and corrected him. Though, we all got a great laugh from it. And now she has someone else who can help with correcting people.

    Your daughter’s name is beautiful – Hopefully she’ll grow up with a good humor about correcting people.

  9. Hmmm. For a name like Chiara, I assumed that most people would just KNOW that it’s Italian and how to pronounce it, or at least closely.

    My daughter’s name is Corinne and I ASSUMED that people would know that 1 “r”, 1 “i” and 2 “n’s” mean that you give the name a short i sound. Not so. Most people call her “Coreen”. I don’t get it. Not at ALL.

    I especially don’t understand when someone corrects you and you continue to mispronounce it! Eesh.

    What are you gonna do other than continue to correct?

  10. Karen says:

    My daughter Eileen’s dance teacher kept mixing her name up with another student named Elena. After the 3rd time, my daughter said, “You can just call me Peter.” And now the teacher does!

  11. Dwana says:

    Hahaa I love the comments as much as the post – this coming from Dwa-na De-La-Cer-na … usually I say just call me “D” :-)

  12. Raffaella says:

    I hope your daughter comes to embrace her name because I personally have been on the verge of changing my Italian name “Raffaella” to my middle name “Marie” because I am at my wits end with constantly correcting people. I don’t even go by Raffaella, I have a nickname “Raffy” and you can only imagine the ways that that is butchered! I have gone by “Marie” from time to time and still people mess it up and say “Mary!” I just can’t win!

  13. Lindsay says:

    We knew that my daughter’s name – Briony (brEYE-oh-nee) – would be tricky for some people, and that you need to say it out loud once or twice to catch on. It’s a ‘real’ name and we spelled it properly – it’s just more common in the UK or Australia than here in North America. And two and a half years later, I cannot imagine our daughter having any other name. It suits her perfectly.

    Our family and friends mastered it quickly, and lots of acquaintances have too. A few have not (AHEM… the receptionist at her doctor’s office!) – and I’m realizing that it’s THEIR issue, not ours. I don’t take it personally, and I hope Briony won’t either.

    I’d rather have to teach someone to pronounce her name than for her to be the nineteenth Olivia in her preschool class – but that’s totally personal preference (and the natural consequence that goes along with it).

  14. Lidia says:

    I can totally relate to this, having an Italian first name myself. (I still frequently get emails or calls addressed to “Linda” — go figure)

    As a child, I remember being disappointed that I could never find items personalized with my name on family vacations (unless we were in Italy, of course!) However, as I got older, I started to love the connection my name held to my culture/past and the fact that it set me apart.

    Now, as my husband and I ponder names for our upcoming baby (some of them Italian), I try to keep in mind that it should be relatively easy to spell and pronounce — without losing sight of that fact that it’s also unique. I know he will thank me later!

  15. authorchild says:

    Coming from a Hanna (that’s HAW-NUH), I have to say, there were four or fine Hannahs (Heh-nuh) in my classes at school, and I get the name a lot- even from non-english-speaking relatives!

  16. Milan says:

    I don’t think it’s very fun at all having a name that’s hard to pronounce. It makes me dread introducing myself to people, because I know I’ll have to say it at least 3 times: “Mil-ahn”. Then I always have to explain, “No I was NOT named after the movie- her name was Moo-lahn, yes, it IS like the car and the city.” sheesh. And my middle name is weird as well.

  17. Barbara says:

    Honestly, although I wouldn’t have initially known how to pronounce your daughter’s name either, I would have apologized and picked up on the correction immediately. Not to do so is just rude.

    I dislike the nickname Barb and have a hell of a time getting people to call me Barbara. Getting them to stop using Barb usually involves an alternate suggestion on my part, such as “My friends call me B”. Still annoying, only less so. A friend named Susan prefers her full name and dislikes being called Sue. In order to get people to call her Susan professionally, she had to resort to incorrectly spelling her own name as Suzanne!

  18. Christine says:

    I can semi-relate. My name is ChristinE. Pretty easy right???? NOOOOOOOOO! In school it was ChristinA, Christin, and once they horror of all horrors (I was 12) they had me down as CHRISTOPHER!!! It was never my classmates that called me the wrong name always adults and everyone else would laugh. ME I was too shy and embarrassed to correct them out right so I would write ChristinE and underline the E most teacher’s would get it. Two just started calling me Chris, which at that point in time I HATED being called Chris I preferred Chrissy to Chris but to them both I always preferred Christine.

    Then there are the spelling Kristine, Christene, Christiene, Kristyne, Kristenem, Khrystine…..I could go on and on ….so I am not really sure it matters if the name is common or not.

  19. Monica says:

    My eldest son’s name is Magglio(Mah-glee-o), also an Italian name. People always think I say “Mario”, and I have to repeat it at least 3 times.

    Same with my youngest son, Tiago. It’s a portugese name, actually spelled Thiago. We decided to drop the ‘h’ (which is silent anyway) because we didn’t want people to pronouce it, as ‘th’ is a common consonent combo in English.

    I love both names, and really that’s all that matters!

  20. Lindsey Della Nina says:

    Dear Amy,

    I love that you decided on an Italian name for your child. I come from a large Italian family, and when it came to getting married I also married an Italian. So when we had our first child together, of course it was going to be a strong Italian name. We decided on Giuseppe! Which is pronouced Jo-zep-a! Its Joseph in italian. Although he is only 16 months and we have not had to deal with school yet, not one person has ever been able to say it correctly. I love his name and it fits him perfectly! While my twin sister picked italian names you would think are easy to pronouce (Luciano & Giovanni) they still get pronounced wrong! I am so happy in the end that I named him something that will make him proud of his backround, and proud to be Italian!


  21. Alison In-Oz says:

    I have a Chiara too, and we have had our fair share of pronunciation woes over the years. When she was born 14 years ago and I sent out a birth announcement, I inserted the following “riddle.”
    What does Chiara have in common with the following things: an echo, Christmas, an echidna, arachnophobia and the field of chemistry?
    Answer: all of them are words in which the “ch” is pronounced “k.”
    Problem solved. At least for the people who received my birth announcement.
    Chiara is a beautiful name; I considered using Kiara, the Irish version, but, as a fully-fledged Italian wanna-be, only Chiara (middlename Cristiana) would do.
    Thanks for the article.

  22. Amy says:

    Allison, I love the riddle! I may have to make a tshirt for my daughter with those words and her name for her first day of school someday!


  23. Clarissa says:

    Hey there,
    I know this is a very old thread, but I saw your name and had to ask – because I named my daughter Raffaella – how do you prefer to pronounce it? Raf-eye-ella? Or Raf-ella? :) we call her by Raf-ella but everyone else says Raf-eye-ella which actually seems more correct.. just curious 😉 my husband is Italian, but I just love the name!!

  24. Jen says:

    Hi! I am expecting a little girl in just a few months and have been obsessed with the nsme Chiara. But I pronounce it “kya-ra” and my husband says “kii-ar-a. If we can’t settle this ASAP I will have to give up on the name! It seems like he pronounces it the way you do. Is that right? Thanks, and you made a great choice!

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