I am constantly bemused by American pronunciation of German names. How did it come to be pronounced "Winesteen"?

The German pronunciation, of course, is Vineshtine. I can understand the consonants changing to the English form that corresponds to the spelling, but why are the two vowels pronounced differently?

  • 2
    It is odd, isn't it. After all, Einstein is pronounced (approximately) correctly.
    – user184130
    Commented May 25, 2018 at 21:16
  • 1
    Maybe his family didn't want to be identified as German. I have been told that this is why Simone Weil insisted people call her Simone Weh... Commented May 25, 2018 at 21:27
  • 4
    The bearer of a name alone decides how it is to be pronounced and how that pronunciation is to be spelled. There are probably half a dozen pronunciations all spelled as Weinstein.
    – choster
    Commented May 25, 2018 at 21:52
  • 1
    My favorite name pronunciation story was that of Ross Perot - he's at boot-camp and the drill sergeant has each scrub state their name to they squad-mates. Perot states : Ross "Pea-Rot" ( like knee, and not). Sgt is like - 'You're so dumb in Texas you don't know how to say your own name.' For generations everyone in the county had called his family members that way... I guess Perot deserves credit for switching to the French pronunciation. - but it was his choice to make (well - I suppose a drill-sergeant can do what they want)
    – Tom22
    Commented May 25, 2018 at 21:57
  • 1
    expanding on @choster 's point about the bearer choosing. "Koch" is a crazy one. One inlaw calls himself "Cook" (for Koch which is impossible for me to no read wrong even knowing it) , others "Coke" , and many more like 'Scotch" - you need to remember what they want to be called.. you don't address them by the one you like
    – Tom22
    Commented May 25, 2018 at 22:03

1 Answer 1


In 1787, Emperor Joseph II decreed that all Jewish citizens of the Hapsburg Empire were to assume hereditary surnames for administrative purposes. Though locally they might continue their custom of patronymics, i.e. x son of y, for official purposes, they and their children would have the same last name. Except among the urban middle class, these names were simply ignored except for official business.

Having to assign surnames to hundreds of thousands of citizens in a short time explains the “one from column A, one from column B” nature of many Jewish surnames. This also means that while these surnames may have been assigned by Austrian officials and have a German etymology, the people who bore them may have spoken any number of languages other than German.

The -stein to “-steen” pronunciation, however, seems to have been a strictly American affair, as a 1983 New York Times article explains:

A pattern is seen by John Algeo, professor of English at the University of Georgia. “The German names are usually pronounced with an eye sound. Most of the Jewish names have had the American influence of the ee sound, as in the words weird or receive, particularly that ei after the letter c.” Professor Algeo notes that, in Yiddish, a sound change occurred, with the ei pronounced as a long a, as in stain, but changed in American-influenced Yiddish to ee.” “The ending of stein, pronounced steen,'' he concludes, ''reflects an American influence.”

Each family — or even each family member — may choose how to pronounce their last name. The composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein started out as a Bern-steen, but in adulthood changed it to Bernstein. So if California Sen. Dianne Feinstein wants to be a -stein and someone named Goldstein or Rosenstein wants to be a -steen, then that’s how their names should pronounced, because, of course, they’re American names, not German.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.