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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Baby Naming Issue: The Pronunciation of Vivienne

Megan writes:
I am 37, almost 38 weeks, pregnant with our second (and final) babe- a little girl. We are 90% settled on calling her Vivienne, nn: Viv or Vivie, but I am feeling nervous about which spelling we should choose. My dilemma is this...my husband, bless him, feels very strongly that we should not share our name choice or even finalists with anyone we know- a combination of not wanting to be judged, wanting to give people a surpise (since we've shared everything else about the pregnancy to date)  and just wanting to make sure that this is "her name" when we meet her. I am more or less on board with this plan, but it makes it hard to get feedback along the lines of...does this work? is this weird? etc. Which is why I'm coming to you and your readers...
My question is, do people generally percieve a disctinct difference between the pronouciation of Vivienne and Vivian? I prefer the first spelling, but would want to pronouce it: "VI-vee-uhn", which I think may be more associated with the spelling Vivian? I guess what I'm wondering is, is the French spelling only associated with the French pronouciation, or can it go both ways (as I hope). I prefer the French spelling for a number of reasons: I studied and speak French, I think it's prettier/more feminine and I feel like that spelling is potentially more versatile/recognized in other cultures. I worry though that, since she's growing up in the US, she will spend lots of time explaining the spelling/pronouciation difference, "Yes, with an E-N-N-E, but it's pronouced VI-vee-uhn not  vi-ve-EHN"  Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? My first name is Megan, and I frequently have to specify that it is spelled without and H or other extra vowels...and it really doesn't bother me. Anyhow, I would love to hear what other folks think. Maybe a poll?
Thanks much!

Oh! I have wondered this TOO! I see Vivienne and I hear it in my mind "viv-vee-EN"---but I am aware that people are using both pronunciations, so if I encountered a Vivienne out and about, I'd expect it to be pronounced either like that or like Vivian (VIV-vee-en). The Baby Name Wizard's listing for Vivienne shows both pronunciations.

So yes, I agree with you that you could use the spelling you prefer combined with the pronunciation you prefer, and that the hassle level would be comparable to your experience with the name Megan or mine with the name Kristen: not a huge deal, just something we've gotten accustomed to dealing with when it's a name with more than one spelling/pronunciation. If the name Vivienne continues to increase in popularity, that will help her out as well.

Let's have a poll, too, because I'm still interested to know how many people would think of Vivienne as being pronounced only the French way, and how many think of it like the name Madeline (i.e., aware of two possible pronunciations, as in the middle three poll options). (Sorry the poll options are so LONG! It proved challenging to put those concepts succinctly!) [Poll closed; see results below.]


Poll results for "The Pronunciation of Vivienne:" (508 votes total):

I would say it French and be surprised if it were like Vivian - 144 votes (28%)
I would first guess French, but wouldn't be surprised if it were like Vivian - 163 votes (32%)
I would expect either pronunciation - 79 votes (16%)
I would first guess like Vivian, but wouldn't be surprised if French - 87 votes (17%)
I would say it like Vivian and be surprised if French - 35 votes (7%)



Name update! Megan writes:
Many belated thanks to you and your readers for weighing in on our spelling/pronunciation conundrum...hopefully this extra cute fall photo makes up for the belated update! Born on the 4th of July, it's hard to believe our Vivenne Leymah is 5 months old already. We decided to stick with our guns on the spelling of Vivienne, but are surprised to find ourselves pronouncing it more like the spelling (vi-vee-ehn), though usually, we just call her Vivie.


38 comments:

oiseaurobyn said...

One of the little girls I babysat was named Vivienne, and I never even thought of the "uhn" ending. It was always Vih-vee-ehn. We called her Vivi (vih-vee) for short.

Michelle said...

Not to confuse the issue, but I would think the difference would be more with the stress. I would tend to place the stress on the first syllable of Vivian, but on the last syllable of Vivienne. I don't know that this would bother me if it were my name, but then my own name gets pronounced different ways, too. Mi-chelle, Mah-chelle, Mee-chelle, and the way I tend to say it: M'chelle- with the stress placed squarely on the back end, rendering the first vowel almost inaudible.

Anyway, I like Vivienne. It feels a bit more updated.

Leslie said...

If I saw it on paper, I would probably try out the French pronunciation first - but I wouldn't be at all startled or phased if I was corrected, and I'd very quickly make the adjustment. If I heard it spoken first, I would ask which spelling to use when writing it down.

I think you should use the spelling and pronunciation you love. Vivienne is gorgeous, and your little girl will be lucky to have such a lovely name!

StartsWithA said...

I would always think that Vivienne is pronounced -ENN. My first name has a similar set of possible endings (-an, -anne, -enne), which I do think should indicate pronunciation, especially for the -an / -enne distinction. (Different vowels! Different stress!) I think it's not uncommon for people to choose to pronounce -anne (-ANN) like -an (-uhn), but not the other way around and never like -enne. All of the people I've met with the -enne spelling were clearly -ENN, much more so than -anne as -ANN.

I do get called all the various versions (-uhn, -ANN, -ENN) and many people persist in using the wrong pronunciation despite correction, so you will probably have some trouble no matter what. And I always have to spell my name, but that bothers me a lot less than the incorrect pronunciation.

So, if the wrong pronunciation really bothers you, I would recommend using the spelling that's more standard for the desired pronunciation to have more hope of convincing people to pronounce it the way you'd like. However, with Vivienne as Vivian, I don't think you're dooming your daughter to much more hassle than the average person faces with their name.

Anonymous said...

Vivienne is so pretty, and I don't think you need to worry about pronouncing it more like "Vivian" - they are so close.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps I am an odd one out, I would pronounce both spellings "ehn". But I wouldn't be bothered if I was corrected, regardless of the spelling.

Swistle said...

Anonymous- So would I. The difference is in the emphasis: viv-vee-EN versus VIV-vee-en. The first is the one we're calling French; the second is how Vivian is pronounced.

Jilian said...

To me this is like the word Aunt. Is it 'ant' or 'aunt'. I ALWAYS say ANT.

No matter how you spell Vivienne I'll say "viv-vee-EN".

My first name is Alta. My family pronounces it 'Al-ta' but MANY MANY people call me 'All-ta'. I always correct them - but it doesn't really bother me.

Anyways... since she'll use her nickname MOST of the time I don't really think this is a big issue. Spell it the way you love!!

Karen L said...

I really would expect that if someone went "out of their way" to spell the name Vivienne, that they would want viviENN.

I daresay, the rising popularity of Vivienne will increase the number of mispronunciations. It would seem on Swistle's poll, for e.g., that ENN is the most commonly expected pronunciation.

I'm not opposed to some minor name hassle (my daughter goes by her middle name) but in your shoes, I'd stick with Vivian. Not because it is more correct or less hassle or whatever but because I'd be a little thin-skinned about people thinking I'd used a creative spelling, which Vivienne-pronounced-Vivian is NOT but some people would think it is. And I would not WANT to be bothered by that but I would be.

Joanne said...

I am having a hard time with this - I would think Vivienne is pronounced Vih-vee-EHN and Vivian is pronounced VIV-ee-en. It seems different to me, so much so that I would name a baby Vivian if I wanted it to be pronounced like Vivian.

Laura said...

I agree with Joanne. Both spellings are beautiful, but if you want it pronounced a certain way, spell it like you want it pronounced.

Bethany Haid said...

I agree with Joanne and Laura.

And I don't think of Vivian as less pretty spelling.

Anonymous said...

I only know one little girl named Vivienne so it's not a good sampel size, but she's pronounced like Vivian. I'm not saying it's right but it's being done.

Anonymous said...

In my accent, the ehn and uhn endings are almost interchangeable. I really have to concentrate in order to articulate it clearly one way or the other. I do speak French and if I met a French Vivienne, I'd probably go with the traditional French sound. However, if I met a Vivienne who wasn't French, I'd probably just say it the way I normally do unless corrected.

AirLand said...

I think you should try to spell names the way you would like them pronounced (unless it's not a generally accepted spelling). Almost any name will get mispronounced, misspelled, etc. Why make it even harder?

I would pronounce it Vi-vee-EHN. I also like that pronunciation and spelling better. I like that it is French and if it were me, I would honor the French pronunciation as well.

Alice said...

i LOVE the spelling "vivienne" and would go with that if you love it too, and just do some occasional corrections! like a lot of folks here, the only difference in pronunciation for me between the 2 spellings is emphasis: "VIV-ee-ehn" (vivian) vs "viv-ee-EHN" (vivienne), no difference in the actual pronunciation of any syllable.

Megan said...

Thanks so much everyone for chiming in to the poll and comments! It feels both helpful and interesting to me to have feedback :)

Anonymous said...

For me, Vivienne is "vih-vee-EN" (or you might get by with "VIH-vee-en") while Vivian is "VIV-vee-uhn. I prefer the French spelling and pronunciation and would use both if it went well with my surname. But if not, I'd stick with the standard English Vivian. I think you need to choose one or the other. Naming her Vivienne and calling her Vivian is analogous to naming a girl Suzanne and calling her Susan. Confusing in either case.

Swistle said...

Anonymous- The Susan/Suzanne analogy would only work if people were naming babies Suzanne but pronouncing it as either SOO-san or soo-ZAN, which as far as I know they're not---whereas people really are pronouncing Vivienne as both VIV-vee-en and viv-vee-EN. I think we need to work not only with "things as we'd like them to be done" but also with "things as they are actually being done."

Anonymous said...

I've met a couple of Viviennes and they all pronounced it VIV-ee-uhn. I'm pretty sure the (English) fashion designer Vivienne Westwood pronounces it that way too.

Yes, you may get people pronouncing it the French way on occasion, but I think it will not be a huge hassle. I would say a good analogue is Adrienne -- most English speakers say it with the stress firmly on the first syllable, in my experience.

Anonymous said...

I pronounce them the same and prefer the spelling Vivienne.

Anonymous said...

I would assume French pronunciation (emphasis on EHN at the end) & find it strange if the name were not pronounced this way. I would wonder, hmm, well why spell it this way then? There's my two cents!

Claire Wessel said...

Honestly, hardly any Americans have any clue how to pronounce French names. I think most people would see Vivienne and assume it is just a fancy spelling of Vivian and pronounce them the same. I'd go with the Vivian pronounciation with whichever spelling you prefer because that's what you'll be hearing all the time anyways! My daughter has a Quebecois name that sounds pretty close to Ray-zhann, since I knew this would be nearly impossible for people, I figured everyone can say Regine (ray-zheen) so I went with that pronunciation. To my dismay, she is called Ray Gene or Regina by pretty much everyone, no matter how much I correct them, until they've known her for at least a year or two. Some folks that zh sounding J in the middle eludes them completely. Good luck!!

Anonymous said...

What about Vivianne?

gail said...

"I think we need to work not only with "things as we'd like them to be done" but also with "things as they are actually being done.""

Boy, isn't this the gist of it.....Especially here in the US.

Given that this is the case, I'd simply go with the spelling and the pronunciation you prefer. (I do wish it weren't so, though.....)

Anonymous said...

It would bother me to *consciously* use a spelling that was not the usual spelling for the name I wanted to *call* my daughter, a spelling that many people (see poll) pronounce another way from the way I want it to be pronounced. I couldn't/wouldn't do it. The suggestion that you write the name as Vivianne might improve the situation: Vivianne looks pretty while being closer to the pronunciation you want. (This reminds me, though, of Marianne and Marian; one could pronounce them the same -- as Marian -- but that's not really correct.) Why not just spell her name as Vivian -- you love that pronunciation and it will simplify the situation for your daughter and others?

Alice said...

For what it's worth, Vivien is an old often-used family name on my husband's side and it is spelled just like that, with an e but no additional ne. I don't know if that just complicates things further, but I've always liked the spelling because it actually sounds the most true to its pronunciation. It could be a good middle ground for you? Failing that, I vote to stick with the Vivienne spelling. It's pretty and I can't see many Americans going around pronouncing it the French way.

Anonymous said...

My Aunt, born in Australia now living in Scotland, is Vivienne. Everybody calls her Viv or Vivvie, BUT ir is pronounced VIV-ee-un. Not the French Viv-ee-enn. I tell you this because NOBODY spells her name properly. Even people in our FAMILY don't know that it ends in -enne. Because it is SAID as VIV-ee-un, everybody thinks it has the short ending. I tell you this because your baby will undoubtedly spend her whole life explaining that she is short pronounciation, long spelling. And it can get pretty tedious. I dont think either spelling is 'prettier' and actially think that the shorter spelling will be less common. And easier to align to pronounciation.....good luck!

Anonymous said...

Ok, another idea. If you're not 100% sold on Vivienne, what about Livia? It has nicknames Liv and Livi. And Not too common.

Patricia said...

A quick look at British and American name dictionaries for VIVIAN:
--the name of a little-known (male) 5th-century Christian saint, was little used until after medieval times
--originally given solely to men --later to members of both sexes
--between 1911 and 1934, Vivian was in the top 100 most popular names for American girls (Vivien was always a secondary spelling in the US)
--well known bearer: Sir Vivian Fuchs (1908-1999)

VIVIEN:
--English first name that developed as a feminine variant of Vivian
--this spelling was quite common in old French
--was popularized by Tennyson's poem 'Vivien and Merlin' (1859)
--well known bearer: British actress Vivien Leigh (1913-67)

Vivien Lee was born Vivian Mary Hartley. Was the spelling of her first name changed because the pronunciation of Vivien was preferred? According to this website, her name is pronounced VIH-vee-en: http://www.forvo.com/word/vivien_leigh/

VIVIENNE - French feminine form of Vivien, used in the English-speaking world as an unambiguously female form of the name

Conclusion: there appears to be a subtle preferred pronunciation difference between Vivian and Vivien(ne).

Pocket said...

In French, the name Vivienne has two syllables: Viv-yehn, with the second syllable being a nasal sound we don't use in English. I think if you spelled it Vivienne, you might get some VIV-ee-en and some viv-ee-EN, but I think those are so close to the same that I wouldn't even worry about it.

Maria said...

Or you could get the same nicknames from a different, very pretty name - Aviva!
But if you're set on Vivienne, I think it's fine to choose the spelling that looks best to you.

Kacie said...

I have a Vivienne! She's 18m and Swistle helped me on this blog decide it was the right one for us.

I prefer Vivienne to Vivian because I like how it looks. I don't call her by her full name often -- to us she's Vivie or Viv.

It does sound a little softer to my ear when I read "Vivienne" aloud to when I say "Vivian." It's a subtle difference though.

liz said...

My mom's name is Vivian. VIV ian. So whenever I see the other spelling I always assume it's pronounced vivi EN.

Vivianne b said...

I am trying to find the origin of spelling my name vivianne. Vivienne and vivien is the female way of spelling it while vivian is the male way of spelling it. I love the way my vivianne is spelt and it is a way of breaking ice .

Natalie Burke said...

oh she is darling! Love her name, it's top on my list as well. Congrats!

Leslie said...

Her name is beautiful, and so is she! What a cute picture - thanks for sharing! Congratulations.

Alana Sand said...

I also have a Vivienne! Vivienne Verda. Born 07/09/11. I always knew this spelling was the only one for me. While both are beautiful, this one seems slightly more feminine with a little more cadence to its rhythm. I wasn't worried about the population being able to pronounce it at all-to me it just seems like common sense! That being said, the doctor that delivered her (not my normal doctor) completely butchered her name pronunciation when he came to check on her. I was horrified and second guessing myself. however,he just must be bad at name pronunciations though because in her 18 months I've only had 1 other person butcher it. after reading your post I was asking myself how I say it and I came to the conclusion that while I named her Vivienne same as Vivian (just different spelling) we do call her vih-vee-en not the -uhn. its as if the spelling pronounces it for her. we do call her Vivi for short. so I wasn't surprised in your update post that the same thing happened in your situation. congratulations on your sweetie. she is a doll!