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I have a relation who has named their child Zoe, on the grounds that “in English we don’t use the dots”, but they pronounce it like the second version.

Of course I don’t want to argue that’s not the point, but in Continental Europe where I live, the dots mean that the letter should be pronounced. Think Dutch and German, and the second spelling is as far as I can see universally accepted, even in English otherwise the first spelling would rhyme with Joe.

What are the origins of the name, and should the dots be used in English too?

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We used to use those dots. The New Yorker magazine still does. Is the trema borrowed, or is it reflective of the time in which the name became popular in English? Info about the trema (two dots over a vowel to mark diaeresis). – Kosmonaut Apr 14 '11 at 13:10
I think rather than proper names, a better question would have been about the word naïve, which is probably the most common English word with a trema. – Sam Apr 14 '11 at 14:04
@Sam: that question already exists. – RegDwigнt Apr 14 '11 at 14:08
@T9b Do you pronounce cooperation as coop-eration or co-operation? How about coöperation? Reexamination as reex-amination or re-examination? How about reëxamination? Naïve differently than naive? It's not uncommon to omit the ¨, at least in some varieties of written English. It's hard to see why it couldn't be omitted in Zoë, too. – Joshua Taylor Jul 2 '14 at 16:03
  • The correct spelling is whatever the parents say it is.
  • The correct spelling is whatever the child says it is.
  • The correct spelling is whatever the generally accepted social surroundings says it is.

Sometimes these are different.

For the name under consideration, in the US, Zoe (without the diaeresis) is the majority choice (for all three). So you spell it different where you you’re from? Neat.

But surely the American version is from the European version, explicitly dropping the strange (to Americans) diaeresis.

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Exactly - it would be Zöe if she decided to go into heavy metal for example – mgb Apr 14 '11 at 13:43
That's a mëtäl ümläüt. :) – Joshua Taylor Jul 2 '14 at 16:05

The name Zoe means life. (Read that somewhere years ago—don't have sources to back that up now.) As an English name, it is rarely spelled with the dieresis. Some may be officially named Zoë, but they drop the dieresis, anyway. Another name that rhymes is Chloe, which is never spelled with the dieresis in modern English.

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Wikipedia lists Zoe as "life" in Greek so your memory is well founded. – MrHen Apr 14 '11 at 13:14
@z7sg: Thanks—heretofore ignorant about the distinction. Does your second statement refer to Chloe or Zoe? I meant Chloe is generally never spelled with the dieresis in modern [American] English. – Jimi Oke Apr 14 '11 at 13:20
@MrHen: Thanks for the confirmation! – Jimi Oke Apr 14 '11 at 13:22
Yes, Chloe. There are a few here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chloe Perhaps I am biased because I went to school with a Chloë (in the UK) – z7sg Ѫ Apr 14 '11 at 15:51
@z7sg: Yeah, I should have been more specific. One would certainly be hard-pressed to find a Chloë in the States. But, yes, Mitch's answer above is excellent. – Jimi Oke Apr 14 '11 at 16:31

I manually checked the top three links at OneLook and they all had entries for "Zoe" listed as a feminine name. I would guess that it is more common to drop the trema in names than keep them. I cannot remember the last time I saw a person's name with a trema (unless they were from a different language.)

As somewhat of a contrasting source, Wikipedia's entry on the name includes a list of variants:

  • Zoe
  • Zoí
  • Zoé
  • Zoa
  • Zoë
  • Zoey
  • Zoee
  • Zoya
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The dots are there as a guide to pronunciation and are perfectly acceptable, even though diacritical marks are rarely used in English. Chloë is another name that is often spelled with diacritics.


There is an alternative spelling without the “dots”, for example:

Zooey Deschanel

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From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trema_(diacritic)#English

It signifies that the vowel is pronounced. It used to be more popular.

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The words come from Greek originally, where the e would have been pronounced. The diaeresis makes this clear.

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protected by RegDwigнt Sep 13 '12 at 8:38

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