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Weird History

Famous Figures Whose Names We Just Realized We're Mispronouncing

List Rules
Vote up the names you just realized you've been butchering for years.

What's in a name? Apparently, a lot of misconceptions and mispronunciations. These famous names have become part of the public vocabulary, whether they belonged to historic heroes or modern-day celebrities. But once the masses start to say a name in a particular way, it tends to stick.

Many of the people on this list found it hard to change the narrative once their mispronounced name got big, and resigned themselves to being called the wrong thing for all of eternity. In other cases, translating names into English from another language caused the mispronunciation mishap. And occasionally, the mispronounced name is so well known, it actually overtakes the original version, making a wrong into a right.

Some of these might change the way you say certain names. But also, we get it. No one wants to be the person who insists on calling The Cat in the Hat author "Dr. Soice." Still, it's nice to know the technically correct way of saying things, and some of these mispronunciations have backstories more mind-blowing than the right way to say the name. At least now, if you're ever time-traveling to the beginning of the Mongol Empire, you'll be courteous enough to pronounce "Genghis Khan" correctly.

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  • Jake Gyllenhaal
    Video: YouTube
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    1,853 VOTES

    Jake Gyllenhaal's surname pronounced properly sounds something like "Yeel-en-high-luh."

    The actor joked to Conan O'Brien that the only places that can get it right are Sweden and IKEA. 

  • Dr. Seuss
    Photo: Al Ravenna / World Telegram & Sun / Library of Congress / No copyright restrictions known
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    2,525 VOTES

    Dr. Seuss took his pen name from his actual name, Theodor Seuss Geisel. "Seuss," as most of us know it, rhymes with "moose." Except, it actually doesn't.

    Seuss is a German name, with the correct pronunciation rhyming with "voice." Over the years, Dr. Seuss eventually gave up on correcting the mispronunciation. But one of his friends, Alexander Liang, came up with a handy little poem to help us all remember:

    You’re wrong as the deuce

    And you shouldn’t rejoice

    If you’re calling him Seuss.

    He pronounces it Soice (or Zoice).

  • Dr. Jekyll
    Photo: Henry Van der Weyde / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
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    1,315 VOTES

    Most pronounce the fictional character Dr. Jekyll as "Jeck-ul." Turns out it's actually "Jeek-ul." While the phrase "Jekyll and Hyde" might be used in the modern day to describe anyone acting two-faced, the character comes from the 1886 Gothic novella Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, where the original Scottish pronunciation would have "Jekyll" rhyming with "treacle," not "heckle." 

    One anecdote says that author Robert Louis Stevenson came up with the name as a joke to rhyme with "seek all" and play off of Mr. Hyde as "hide and seek."

    The first speaking film with the name, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, came out in 1931 and used the proper pronunciation of Jekyll. But in 1941, MGM did a remake with the mispronunciation. They also apparently eliminated all the copies of the earlier version they could find, to get rid of the competition. The film was lost for decades, along with the properly pronounced name of "Jekyll."

  • Vincent van Gogh
    Video: YouTube

    Americans pronounce it "van Go," while Brits tend to say it "van Goff." Turns out neither is technically correct.

    The Dutch pronounce it with a more guttural noise, which sounds like something between a cough and a laugh: "Khokh." However, since it's not a sound used by most English speakers, we won't fault anyone for using the more familiar mispronunciation.