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Disclaimer: I'm no native speaker.

Thomas gets pronounced with a starting "T" (the "h" is silent), while Theodore with a "Th". What rule is followed here?

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I do not think the h is silent in Thomas or Thailand. I hear a definite aspiration after the t. H often serves to indicate an aspiration after a consonant. – Quay Mar 9 at 16:13
up vote 11 down vote accepted

There is no rule at all. As Robusto mentioned, there isn't really any rule for pronouncing th, and even if there were it's common for names not to follow rules.

Thomas comes from the Aramaic t’om’a, while Theodore comes from the Greek Θεόδωρος (Theodōros), which is probably the reason for the difference in pronunciation. Eventhough the th in Thomas comes from the later Greek spelling, it's likely that the pronunciation remained from the original form.


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@Jasper Loy: Thanks. I have a hard time getting that right. It doesn't help that pronounce and pronunciation are spelled differently either... – Guffa Jan 24 '11 at 2:24
@Guffa: Pronounce and pronunciation are pronounced differently, too. english.stackexchange.com/questions/5732 – Jon Purdy Jan 24 '11 at 2:41
Hmm, this could be the cause, but it looks doubtful to me. Would this distinction have survived the various transliterations and borrowings through Latin, etc? There are other th 's that are pronounced like t 's, such as Thames: perhaps they have a similar background. – Cerberus Jan 24 '11 at 3:41
According to the wikipedia link you give, the pronunciation has been influenced by the French one. This explanation seems more likely than the conservation of the Aramaic one – Frédéric Grosshans Jan 24 '11 at 10:39
@Guffa: True, history is the key to English spelling v. pronunciation. – Cerberus Jan 24 '11 at 15:47

Unfortunately, the rule is pretty much that you have to know how it it is pronounced for every single word in the English language that begins with th-. Especially for proper names.

Even then it won't help if you work with two women named Thalia, one of whom insists on her name being pronounced Talia and the other wants the lithpier version.

Oh, and by the way ... Theodore's nickname is Ted! And you thought English pronunciations ought to make sense. That's just ... adorable! :)

P.S. I'm not poking fun at you, but at our silly, unreasonable language.

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It's all good. I just wanted to keep the question short. Thanks for your insights! – miku Jan 24 '11 at 2:18

From the great poem on English pronunciation The Chaos:

The th will surely trouble you

More than r, ch or w.

Say then these phonetic gems:

Thomas, thyme, Theresa, Thames.

Thompson, Chatham, Waltham, Streatham,

There are more but I forget 'em-

Wait! I've got it: Anthony,

Lighten your anxiety.

It was actually written by a Dutch teacher of English.

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I once had an English trainer who taught us that proper nouns that start with Th should be pronounced with a silent h. Like Thomas = Tomas or Thailand = Tai-land. I don't know if it's really how it should be. I kind of adapted it but it doesn't really apply to all such words.

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Yes for Thomas and Thailand. No for Theodore, Thelma and Thatcher. – Peter Shor Jul 25 '13 at 21:54

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