And So Do “Gianni,” “Giovanni,” and Other Badly Pronounced Italian Names
I just finished listening to a news report about Giada De Laurentiis' eponymous new restaurant in Las Vegas. And it made my ears bleed. Not the subject of the interview, and certainly not the namesake thereof, for I am acquainted with Giada and find her to be a completely lovely person. No, what made my ears bleed was yet another clueless media “personality” savagely mispronouncing a beautiful Italian name. When the dolt started bleating “jee-AH-dah,” “jee-AH-dah,” “jee-AH-dah” over and over again, the bleeding commenced.
To staunch this aural hemorrhaging, may I humbly suggest that reporters, interviewers, announcers, talk show hosts, masters of ceremonies, and other so-called “professionals” exercise a bit of due diligence and learn how to eff-ing pronounce the name of their subject!
“Giada” has only two syllables. The accent is on the first one. It is pronounced “JAH-dah.” Some purists will demand the more technically correct “JYAH-dah.” But the name never, ever, ever contains three syllables and is never, ever, ever pronounced “jee-AH-dah.”
In really basic Italian pronunciation, there are certain monosyllabic clusters that have specific sounds. “Gi” has a soft sound like the English “je.” When such a cluster is followed by a further vowel – “a” for example – the first vowel sound, in this case the “i”, becomes silent and the English “je” sound is followed by the sound of the second vowel. Thus, “gia” is not “JEE-ah,” but rather simply “JAH.” Hence, “Giada” is never sounded as “jee-AH-dah,” but as “JAH-dah.” There. Was that so difficult? Actually, the phenomenon is not limited to Italian. Think of the English word “relieve,” for example. Do you say “ree-LY-eev?” Of course not. The “i” sound becomes silent and the “e” sound dominates.
The same principle applies to the name “Gianni.” It is not “jee-AH-nee.” It is “JAHN-nee.” The late Gianni Versace comes to mind. Well, there's actually another rule in play here; each letter of a double consonant has a distinct sound. They don't just run together. In the case of “Gianni,” the first “n” is the last sound of the first syllable and the second “n” is the first sound of the second. Sorry if that confuses the basic issue.
Another example that sets my teeth on edge is the name “Giovanni.” Same cluster rule is in effect. The name is not, never has been, nor will it ever be “jee-oh-VAH-nee.” It is “joh-VAHN-nee.” The double consonant rule applies here, too.
Similarly, “Giuseppe” is not pronounced “jee-oo-SEP-ee.” Rather, it is “joo-ZEP-pay.” There are some specific pronunciation rules in effect here, too, but I'm not going to go into a discussion of all twenty-one letters of the Italian alphabet right now. Just trust me on this one.
With all of its silent letters, homonyms, homophones, diphthongs, and other unusual parts of speech, English is not a particularly easy language. But for some reason, English-speakers in general and Americans in particular have a horrible time wrapping their tongues around most “foreign” words. Just yesterday, I was in a conversation with a woman who could not for the life of her spit out the name of the cookery store, Sur la Table. It came out sounding like “Sir lah Tay-bel.” And I frequently run screaming from Italian restaurants when I hear people ordering things like “kuh-PREESE” salads (Caprese) or “broo-SHET-uh” (bruschetta). Oddly enough, though, Americans go miles out of their way to be impeccably correct in pronouncing the most complex of Spanish words and names. I've never heard anybody order a “kwes-uh-DILL-uh” (quesadilla) at “Tack-oh” Bell, but they'll murdelize the marinara at Olive Garden. “Mare-uh-NARE-uh”. Ugh! What a nasty thing to do to a beautiful word. And I've yet to hear anybody with the name “Juan” be addressed as “JEW-an.” Some folks even go so far as to more correctly sound the name as “Hwahn” rather than just “Wahn.” But ask the average American for “JAH-dah” instead of “jee-AH-dah” and they look at you as if you're insane. I don't get it.
Of course, Italians don't have a monopoly on name pronunciation issues. My French-Canadian Uncle Louis (Loo-EE or LOO-ee) fought a lifelong uphill battle against being identified as “Lewis.” He ultimately settled for “Lou.” At least my Uncle George never had to contend with people trying to call him “JEE-orj.”
As far as pronouncing “Giada” is concerned, I asked her about it once. I mean, you'd think a body would get pretty pissed about having their name mispronounced for forty-some years, right? Not so much. Giada's developed a fairly philosophical attitude about it and says that a lot of her friends just call her “G.” Okay by me. Not my ox getting gored. But I would think that one could determine one's true friends based upon their ability to …..oh, I don't know....correctly pronounce one's name. And maybe the common schlub from Steubenville or Schenectady can be somewhat forgiven for having difficulty with a wildly “exotic” name like “Giada”.......or “Gianni” or whatever. After all, there are many people born and raised in the USA for whom English could still be considered a foreign language. But my former brethren in the media should not be among such. They are supposedly paid to know better. It is incumbent upon them as “professionals” to at least have a modicum of knowledge regarding the subject about which they are speaking. Such knowledge should probably begin with at least being able to pronounce a person's name.