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:
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- Note, though, that there’s never a debate when someone’s name begins with Stein or simply is Stein.
- 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.