How to Say Hari Kondabolu

Hari Kondabolu posted an audio pronounciation guide for his name on Tumblr yesterday, adding:

My career goal is to make people say my name properly. This kind of success is called THE GALIFIANAKIS. Hopefully this post will help.

Hari is such an easy name I can’t understand why someone wouldn’t pronounce it correctly (after hearing someone else say it correctly). Kondabolu is harder, but just like Hari, there aren’t any syllables in it which don’t exist in English and most modern languages right? It should to be easy to teach yourself to say Hari correctly. Just say hurry. Or say hubby and replace the b sound with an r sound.

My experience in the UK was that most people said Soooo-nil for some reason – and it grated like hell. This despite them hearing me say it any number of times. The u in my name is actually pronounced like foot, and the i is pronounced either like eel or ill – I use the former, though most Sunils seem to use the latter.

I think it’s a basic courtesy to pronounce someone’s name the way they pronounce it, provided you can say all its syllables. If you can’t say them all, at least say the ones you can – make a “good faith” effort. If you’re not sure, ask! Some of my Indian friends don’t pronounce my name with the pronounciation I use either – I wish they would. (I also have friends who don’t say my name at all – I don’t want to think about what that means.) I’m not immune to this myself; but I try to correct myself. When realisation dawned that I’d been mispronouncing one of my oldest friends’ name for years, I corrected it overnight. When I had a colleague named Sarah I taught myself to say it – “say stair-ah and remove the t“. I’m not sure how to pronounce Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘s name, but I’m confident that once I hear someone say it correctly, I’ll learn that correct pronounciation.

The phenomenon of name mispronouncation takes on a more serious tone when the person whose name is being mispronounced belongs to an out-group – say immigrants or ethnic minorities. I did some searching on Google Scholar and came across this thesis The Racialisation of Names: Names and the Persistence of Racism in the UK by sociologist Emily Jay Wykes, which examines the racialisation of names including mispronounciation. It’s interesting stuff and there’s free access to the PDF, do take a look.




  1. kathleenmcnamara says

    I probably would’ve pronounced Hari like Harry, until (unless) I was corrected, so it’s not necessarily obvious. I also would’ve been one of those grating people that would’ve seen Sunil, and said Soon-ill at first. Once I’ve been corrected on how to pronounce a name, I make an effort to say it correctly. I really don’t get why anyone wouldn’t make that effort. It’s just rude to mispronounce someone’s name intentionally after you’ve been told the correct way to say it.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    Correct pronunciation varies with dialect and accent.

    In the deep south (of the US) when and where I was born, the “r” in my name was somewhat aspirated (“ah”) – arguably, that’s more “correct” – traditional, anyway – than the way I say it now.

  3. says

    Pronunciation guides are not much help. An audio file is.

    I listened to Kondabolu’s audio; that’s the way I would have pronounced his name, just based on the spelling. However, your suggestion of using “hurry” wouldn’t have worked for me. Your pronunciation of “hurry” must be very different from mine; the vowel sound is completely changed. For me, it’s an “er” sound, as in “fur”, “brrrrrr”.

    “Hubby” would work better for me, although not as well as just reading “Hari”.

    I’m in Canada, BC, although my family is from Ontario. And I speak fluent Spanish. All these influence pronunciation.

  4. says

    I would probably said a short “a” instead of a schwa in the middle, but that’s besides the point. Not getting it right because different languages spell different sounds in different ways (and English kind of just randomly assigns letters and then makes you learn the pronounciation by heart) is not a crime, it’s not bad, it’s what is to be expected. What is bad is to simply do with a name as you like and then expect the person to adopt your version. If somebody is called Hari and they introduce themself as “Hari” they are NOT Harry.

    My husband works for an international company and his own department is half in Germany half in China. Many of the Chinese employees simply make up an English name for themselves, so you’re talking to “Mary Smith” and are not forced to admit you didn’t get the Asian name and could they please repeat it? Because there’s no bigger crime than making a white person feel like they’re not totally superior

  5. says

    Sunil is, I would guess, using his native Indian English vowel values, which are Indically-flavoured variants based on those we would now call RP, Received Pronunciation, or ‘how the Queen talks’.

    In that system, ‘hurry’ is indeed said with a vowel very much like our Canadian ‘hubby’.

    In general, outside of English and French (two seriously messed-up orthographies), vowel values are relatively consistent across the world’s users of Latin scripts.

    ‘a’ usually is somewhere around the value of English ‘father’.
    ‘e’ is around ‘pane’ or ‘pest’.
    ‘i’ is near ‘peat’ or ‘pig’.
    ‘o’ is near ‘poke’.
    ‘u’ is near ‘boot’ or ‘book’.

    Keep those in mind, sound out every letter you see, and you’ll have a shot at most names that aren’t English or French. It’s like the metric system; everybody but the US is metric, and everyone but English and French use basically the same vowel orthography (method of writing).

    There are exceptions to the rules, for sure, like digraphs (‘th’ and ‘ng’: two letters for one sound) and diphthongs, but since most languages using Latin scripts added them to an existing script, or it is their only orthography, they don’t have a long linguistic history of changing pronunciation reflected in a long-ago calcified system, like we are stuck with in English and French.

    Hope that helps? 🙂

    Always happy to hear the immortal cry, “Is there a linguist in the house?!?” Even if it’s just in my own head.

  6. says

    You’re most welcome, Sunil. Thanks for the clarification about your name – I’d always thought it was a long u rather than the shorter, so it’s nice to learn I was wrong and listen more closely to my interlocutor’s pronunciation. 🙂

    Canadians with largely English-speaking backgrounds would see “Hari” as being pronounced more like you’d probably say “hairy”. In the extreme east of the country, you might get something closer to what you’d say as “harry”, as in a harrier. English orthography just messes people up. And given that many Canadians’ only other language exposure is to French – the other most seriously messed up orthography among European languages – we are not well-served in having the experience to grasp non-Western names.

    The big cities find this less of a problem, of course, because the bigger the city, in Canada, the more likely it is to be half or more not-Canadian-born, and thus the residents to be well familiar with people from all over. Toronto is (more than half immigrants). The city I live in, near Toronto, is a tech-oriented hub, and I recently worked at a software company where I was literally the single person whose native language was English, and not one of us was born in Canada (I’m UK-born, naturalised). We had workers from 11 different countries among the 15 company staff – 3 East Asian countries, 3 West Asian countries, 2 South Asian countries, plus Libya and Uruguay, in addition to my own UK origin. Love that about Canada. I love that if you look at our national football team, we’ve got players from backgrounds all over the world. 🙂

  7. says

    Hari tweeted about a particularly insistent butchering of his name:

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