Recently I listened to a highly-regarded political podcast in which some of the participants referred to Senator Fine-Stine while others spoke of Senator Fine-Steen. I have several thoughts: 

  1. Any journalists who plan to talk about a person for half an hour in public have a positive moral obligation to decide in advance how that person’s name is to be pronounced. 
  2. It is not difficult to discover how Senator Feinstein pronounces her name, so what does it say about journalists’ commitment to their job when they can’t be bothered to find out? 
  3. The mispronunciation some of them chose is not just wrong but indefensible, because the syllable -ein cannot legitimately pronounced one way in the first half of a name and a different way in the second half of the name. 
  4. I blame Leonard Bernstein for this confusion. As far as I know, he is the first famous American with a name ending in -stein who chose to pronounce it -steen. Now it’s a question for everybody in the same nominative condition.
  5. Note, though, that there’s never a debate when someone’s name begins with Stein or simply is Stein. 
  6. I think we should all pronounce names that end with -stein the correct way (the Einstein Way, let’s call it) (the Ein Steinway?) and if anyone with such a name wants to pronounce it -steen we should tell them that they’re wrong and refuse to comply. 

UPDATE: Matt Stover has written to inform me that — as Tom Wolfe has informed others — Leonard Bernstein pronounced his name Bern-Stine and corrected those who called him Bern-steen. I had always heard his name pronounced in the latter way and thought him responsible. Turns out I was, unforgivably, blaming the victim. On the other side of the ledger, my friend Joe Mangina — who shall be cited in a forthcoming post — reminds me of this