I was watching a BBC documentary on the natural wonders of India. It was a decently made documentary alright. But here’s my pet peeve.

EVERY SINGLE non-Indian pronounces “Himalayas” with all vowels as short sounds. Himalaya is derived from two sanskrit words – Hima (snow) and Aalaya (temple/abode). Merging them (the specific grammar is called “sandhi” in most Indian languages), lengthens the first “a”. Which means Himalaya is pronounced as HimAAlaya. The final “a” is also sometimes extended, but that is optional – it can be “Himaalay”, “Himaalaya” or “Himaalayaa”. The first ‘a’ long sound is a must.

I notice that Westerners have a serious problem with vowel sounds, and I understand – I personally had a lot of trouble in my younger days pronouncing ‘Massachusetts’, and until I came to the US, I said the word with the stress on the second ‘a’ (massAAchusetts). But once corrected, I learned it and say it the right way. On the other hand, my name is Lakshmi, with the “a” in a short sound (like “luckshmi”), but every single non-Indian I know extends it, thereby calling me Laakshmi*. That’s fine – it’s not an easy name for the non-Indian tongue. But nine times of ten, they’d continue to call me Laakshmi, even after I’ve corrected them. Which bugs me. Whither effort?

Ah well, at least for the seven and a half non-Indians reading this post, it is HimAAlaya, not Himalaya….please.

*It’s the same with “Kamala”.. all the “a”s are short sounds. Unfortunately, the vice president of the US pronounces her name as Kaamala, which is wrong. Kamal means lotus. Kamala is the female form of the word lotus. Kaam, on the other hand, means lust or desire, we don’t want that connotation, do we?

**Here’s an African names 101. I learn from Trevor Noah that the striped animal is “Zebra” (like Debra) and not Zeebra as we have learned to pronounce it since childhood.

17 thoughts on “Indian Names 101

  1. Ahhh, a new learning experience, thank you! I did not know that the second a in Himalaya was meant to be a long a. I did however, say your name properly.

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    1. First ‘a’, Carol. HimAAlaya.
      Thank you for saying my name right, Carol. It’s not a big deal actually, but occasionally bugs me. Today I was particularly peeved because the guy who kept mispronouncing Himalaya is a mountaineer and has scaled the mountain range many times, apparently. Without learning its name right.

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  2. Hearing a car nav mispronounce Sepulveda (commonly seh-pul-veh-duh; latin say-pool-vay-the) so bad that I didn’t even know what it meant was a highlight in my life. I also like SAY-pull-VEE-dah.

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  3. My peeve is coworkers calling Antoinie by Anthony. I don’t know the guy, maybe they’re correct. I still don’t like it.

    My birth name is spelled with an ‘au’ but even I pronounce it ‘o’. When latin men pronounce the a and u, I get all giddy cause it sounds sexy.

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      1. Au is correct but ‘mericans rarely say that way.

        I spent part of the night making up mispronunciations of Himalaya, trying to remember the one I heard on a tv show that made me want to throw things at the tv.

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      2. I know, right? I don’t want to remember the wrong pronunciation, but that’s all I can think of sometimes, that it drives me insane.
        Do you know the guy Manoj (Night) Shyamalan (Hollywood director, I think). There was one episode in the Big Bang Theory where Sheldon would call him Shyamalamalan. I hated it…but it haunts me to this day.

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