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?


7 Answers 7

  • 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.

  • 13
    Exactly - it would be Zöe if she decided to go into heavy metal for example
    – mgb
    Apr 14, 2011 at 13:43
  • 1
    That's a mëtäl ümläüt. :) Jul 2, 2014 at 16:05

The name Zoe comes from the Greek zōē, life (see etymology of zoea in the Oxford English Dictionary. 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.

  • 1
    Wikipedia lists Zoe as "life" in Greek so your memory is well founded.
    – MrHen
    Apr 14, 2011 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, 2011 at 13:20
  • 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, 2011 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, 2011 at 16:31
  • "The name Zoe means life. (Read that somewhere years ago—don't have sources to back that up now.)" What do you mean, you don't have sources? Have you ever been to a zoo? Why do you think they call it that? Or you could check the Internets... Apr 15, 2011 at 2:19

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


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

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


I have a 6 month old daughter named Zoé.

We’re right in the middle of that discussion and I thought the internet would sort it out. Instead I found this question.

I was born in France, so to me it’s Zoé, but I spent most of my adult like in North America where the accent on the ‘é’ is kind of telling people the ‘e’ is not the regular ‘e’ sound in English. My girlfriend is from Poland, the ‘é’ sound doesn’t really fit there so for them it is ‘Zoya’. She was born in Germany and it looks like for people there Zoë is a better fit.

In French, with the accent on the ‘é’, the name would sound like ‘zo’.

So my belief is that the last letter is really dependent on the language of the place you live in. From one language to another the vowels can be hard to explain and have to be modified to fit the language you’ll be around in order for people to know how to pronounce the name. Because of this, there is really no ‘right’ spelling. I tend to call her ‘Zo’ which makes everything simpler :)


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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