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What's the Right Way to Pronounce This Baby Name?

My husband and I like name Lena. He says "Layna," however, and I say "Leena." Either way, we still like the name, but I was wondering if you could provide some insight as to which way is more widely accepted. Thank you!

–Tomato, Tomahto

While it's tricky to pin down, "Leena" (as in Lena Horne or Lena Dunham) is much more frequently used in the U.S. and Canada, while "Layna" is standard in Europe and Australia. So if you live in North America, you could use the "more common here" argument to break the tie in your favor.

However, both pronunciations are accepted and workable wherever you are. It's a tricky problem that besets some lovely names like Lucia and Helena (each has at least three accepted pronunciations!), Leila and Anna and Carin. And that does leave you a little stuck. If you are both truly fine with the pronunciation that prevails where you live, then you can choose that one and be all set.

If you both feel your way is the right way, though, you'll need to reconcile your differing pronunciation preferences. It’s not fair to ask your friends and family, and especially your child, to do so for you—which is what will happen if you avoid settling this ahead of time.

Many couples have trouble agreeing on a name in the first place. You're one step ahead of that, as long as you can come to a mutually acceptable decision on pronunciation. Good luck!


Please do not add links to your comments. Thank you.

January 16, 2017 11:48 AM
By anonymous (not verified)

I have friends whose daughter is named Lena. Mom is German and pronounces her name Layna; Dad is American and says Leena. It doesn't seem to be a problem for any of them.

January 16, 2017 9:12 PM
By Juli (not verified)

People can learn to answer to multiple different pronunciations. I answer to my name whether it begins with a /y/ or a /j/ sound, and that's a bigger difference than /ee/ versus /ay/, really.

January 17, 2017 4:08 PM
By ADY (not verified)

Billy Joel has a song called "All For Leyna" - he pronounces it Lay-na

January 17, 2017 5:55 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Why not use both pronunciations? My name is pronounced differently in Spanish than in English. I answer to both; no big deal.

Of course, when she starts introducing herself, she can choose her preferred one.

January 18, 2017 11:03 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I think that's the issue, though, Anon 5:55. "She can choose her preferred one" ... and how is the parent who's pronunciation is not preferred going to feel? Ideally they won't care and would be gracious about it, but what if they (secretly or not) feel rejected?

January 19, 2017 2:39 PM
By Joni (not verified)

I do think it matters which pronunciation you use. People asked if my daughter's name was Christi-AH-NA or Christi-ANN-ah. I said "either is fine" and my father-in-law suggested that we decide because otherwise it would be unclear which one her name really was and that the two names weren't the same.

Not to nerd-it-up too much, but there is an episode of Star Trek TNG where the android Data is talking to the Doctor. She calls him "DAH-ta" and he corrects her saying "DAY-ta". She says "what's the difference?" He responds with "one is my name, one is not." This pretty much sums it up for me.

January 20, 2017 12:50 AM
By Juli (not verified)

To Joni: I think part of the point of the DAH-ta/DAY-ta ST:TNG episode was to show the inflexibility of the computerized "mind", and to contrast it with actual humans, who can deal with much bigger differences in pronunciation than that.

Also, I disagree with your father-in-law: AH-na and ANN-a are really dialectal variations of the same name. It's often helpful to have a much broader definition of "same name", for example when doing genealogy, because István, Pista, and Stephanus could all be the same person.

January 20, 2017 3:52 PM
By Emily (not verified)

I introduce myself with a different pronunciation in different languages, trying to conform to the language in question without ever changing my name. I do think this family could roll with both. The child will probably introduce herself by whichever one she finds people remember or spell correctly most often.

January 22, 2017 3:07 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

My daughter and I both have names with two acceptable pronounciations and I don't consider it a big deal. I have my preferred way which I use but I don't correct anyone who uses the other way. I'm sure the daughter will cope if both parents use different sounds - she would be ok both parents had different accents wouldn't she?

February 7, 2017 9:33 AM
By Agnetha (not verified)

My original birth name also has 2 pronunciations. I used a different one to the one my family used but it is still the same name.

February 7, 2017 2:50 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I hate to toss another problem in for you, but as someone with a name that could be pronounced multiple ways, I just wanted to bring it to light. What if your family picks a pronunciation, then she prefers the other? Maybe everyone has gotten used to Leena, but she prefers Layna, yet nobody wills switch. Before anyone says it can't happen, I prefer a pronunciation of my name that literally NOBODY uses. No matter how many times I ask.

I've given up entirely and go by a nickname now.

February 8, 2017 1:38 AM
By Name Nut (not verified)

Juli, I'm guessing that Steven/Stephen and Esteban are also part of the Istvan, Pista, and Stephanus group?

I have a friend (who has always gone by a nickname that's unrelated to her first or middle name) whose middle name is Laurel. You'd think that name would be pronounced "LAW-rel," just like the tree or the city in Maryland. However, hers is pronounced "law-REL," with the emphasis on the second syllable! She's the only person with the name Laurel who pronounces it that way that I know of. So, even names that most people think are impossible to mispronounce can carry surprises!

I have a neighbor named Marisa, and I only know her through a neighborhood Facebook group, meaning we have never met in person. The first time I ever heard of the name Marisa, I was in fifth grade, and the Marisa I met then was a fellow fifth-grader. Her name was pronounced to rhyme with Teresa: mah-REE-sah. However, I also know someone (who goes by her middle name - I heard her full name when I attended her wedding years ago) with the first name Marisa, and it's pronounced to rhyme with Melissa: mah-RISS-ah. I had no idea which way my neighbor's name is pronounced until I saw a picture she posted on line this evening of something someone had written her name on. It was misspelled with two S's: Marissa. So my guess is that's how it's pronounced.

You could drive yourself crazy, thinking of all these guessing games and trying to head off mispronunciations and misspellings. As others have said, since you and your husband already love the name Lena, the two of you simply need to agree on a pronunciation. Maybe take an informal poll among family and friends? Don't tell them who favors which pronunciation - just say you're trying to decide between the two and see what others suggest. Go ahead and laugh: That's what I did with the spelling of my DOG'S name! Her name is pronounced just like Lindy (like the dance, or a typical nickname for Melinda or Belinda), but she's named after singer Lynn Anderson, so from the beginning I wanted to spell it Lynndi or Lynndee. (NO Lynndie - Google Lynndie England if you don't remember her and want to know why I said no to that spelling!) I started out with Lynndi, but started having second thoughts, considering the EE ending, so I asked friends on Facebook for their opinions. The two choices were about evenly split for awhile but before the night was over, Lynndi, the original spelling I'd chosen, was the clear winner. (Had to know before I took her to the vet for the first time and it went on her record!) So Lynndi she is!

February 22, 2017 4:19 PM
By Ruth Ben-Or (not verified)

My second son was called Yehoshua (Hebrew for Joshua) but my parents persisted in calling him Joshua even though that was not his name which I thought was plain rude. (He goes by Joshua now, that's his choice, although my fiance says it's a pity because it sounds more assimilated, can't win!)

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