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Here is a personally inspired question, but I hope it finds broader relevance.

Without clear specific roots, what phonetically indicates that a word is spelled with a kn rather than an n?

Recently a friend and I were discussing his name, which begins with an N.† As it is uncommon, most people that hear it don't know its origins or how it is spelled. Almost invariably when they first try to spell it they assume it begins with a K.

What makes them assume this?

I am interested in both inherent and applied indicators.

  • Is there a slight difference in pronunciation of kn- and n-, and my friend employs the former?
  • The name is of Slavic origins and I, though maybe biased by the truth, hear nothing Germanic in it; nonetheless, could some Germanic-seeming traits encourage hearers to think it's Germanic, and thus potentially take a kn-? I don't trust that everyone that assumes the k is linguistically aware to associate kn with Germanic languages, so this would be at a deeper level of language understanding.

If this question proves impossible without giving the actual name I will ask my friend for approval to divulge, but for now I want to respect his privacy.

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  • This question references Germanic and Slavic languages but the interactions and assumptions are happening in the context of English, so I therefore find it relevant for the site. – Unrelated Sep 14 '17 at 18:03
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    My immediate guess is that the name sounds like a word that we already know starts with a kn-. If you're named "Night", "Notts", "Nox", or "Nuckel", for example. – Hellion Sep 14 '17 at 18:05
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    There is no difference in pronunciation between 'night' and 'knight', and the like. Without knowing your friend's name it's impossible to suggest a reason. – Kate Bunting Sep 15 '17 at 9:18

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