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  • Writer's pictureRicki King

Pronunciation and Spelling of a Name

Updated: Jun 19, 2020

You ask how can a pronunciation of a name be related to genealogy? The way a word is said can help determine how a person spells it. I remember being in school and having to do a spelling bee in front of the class. First, I didn’t want to do it because I recall not being the best of spellers. I’m sure none of my classmates at Perkins elementary recall it but I do some 40 years later. I had recently moved from Burlington, Iowa to Des Moines, Iowa and was still feeling my way. I had already been teased about my southern accent although I had lived in Iowa all my life. Yes, it was southern Iowa but I shouldn’t have an accent since my paternal family had been in Iowa since the 1920’s and my maternal since 1885. The teacher gave me the spelling word and I was excited because it was an easy one “ax.” Wait, how did I get that wrong? She repeated the word several times and I looked at her like she was crazy and repeated “ax.” I learned a lesson that day because I was not the only one with what they said was an accent. Since, I was not changing my spelling the teacher spelled the correct word. It was “ask” but because of how my family and neighbors spoke I was only hearing “ax” a big difference.

Because of how we pronounce a word different people may hear and spell it differently in different areas of the country. Take my last name “King.” It’s not heard to spell and most of us learn to write the letter ‘K’ using the word King. Yet, at least once a week someone asks me to spell it or says “Kane”. My first name is even worse because people come up with all sorts of names and spellings for “Ricki.” Such as Mickey, Frederica, Erica, Nicky, Vicky, Bicky, Lickie, Riki, Rickey, Ricky, Rikki, Reiki, Riki etcetera. When doing genealogy research, you will want to consider all the various spellings of names when researching a person. Because a lot of our ancestors were illiterate a person’s name could and would change from one document to the next. It would depend on what the person heard who was writing the name. The same goes for last names as well an example is Snyder, Snider, Sneider or Schneider all the previous spellings could be one person or several members of the same family. Keep in open mind when researching a person or family. Just because you think it has always been spelled a certain way does not mean it is true.

When looking at the May 7, 1858 Fort Madison Plain Dealer newspaper I came across a story about the pronunciation of Iowa’s capital city. It struck me as funny because I still hear both pronunciations 160 years later depending where I am within and outside the State. I have supplied a transcription of the newspaper story along with a copy of it. Enjoy it and leave a comment on what you think or an example you found in your research or family history.

”Pronunciation and Meaning of Des Moines,” Fort Madison (Iowa) Plain Dealer, May 7, 1858, p. 2, col. 3.


Pronunciation and Meaning of Des Moines.

--Rev. S. Storrs Howe, of Iowa City, while at the Capital, last winter, corresponded with Mr. Antoine Le Claire, of Davenport probably the best living interpreter of the Indian and French tongues, for the purpose of ascertaining the derivation of the name of our State Capital. And by Mr. Le Claire’s letter it appears that the true spelling and etymology of the word should be De- Moins, meaning the less tribe of Indians over the river, so named in contrast with a larger tribe on this side. Its derivation from Des Moines (or the monks) is a mistake. Dropping the letter “s” and spelling it De Moin would be the English pronunciation, without any attempt to give the nasal sound of the word.

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