Background

I'm writing a novel with original character names, and I want to find the way of how to correctly write their names in English to keep the same pronunciation as they had had in Spanish.

The basic problem for me is the sounds of the vowels, so how can you generate the Spanish vowels in English?

Example

Nimree written like this in English would have a different sound than its pronunciation in Spanish, and even tough names writing across languages should be respected. I want to shape these Spanish names into English so there's no confusion about how they are to be pronounced.

So how you would write each original Spanish vowel sound so that it keeps its original sound when ultimately read by English speakers who don't understand Spanish vowels?

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – MetaEd Aug 23 at 21:13
  • There are some attempts at doing this for English dialects. Irving Welsh's 'Trainspotting' written in eye dialect of standard English spelling-pronunciation rules to approximate Scots English pronunciation. It works well for that, but culturally I don't expect it to work at all for non-Englishes. Just write Spanish and if they know how Spanish sounds, then great. English to Spanish teaching doesn't even try to spell things with English spelling. – Mitch Oct 3 at 15:59
up vote 3 down vote accepted

“What would Heighssoose do?”

This is not possible, and probably not desirable even if it were. It’s easier to teach people the five vowels and be done with it.

You aren’t going to be able to represent the sounds of Spanish in an unambiguous way that any English speaker will “always” say “right” because the internal phonologies of each language are different, and mutually incompatible.

Plus if you try you’ll get something crazy like ghoti, the would-be “creative” spelling of fish.

  • Spanish A > English AH: as in the English word KHAN.
  • Spanish E > English EIGH: as in the English word WEIGH except without a Y at the end.
  • Spanish I > English EE: as in the English word FLEECE.
  • Spanish O > English OAH: as in the English word BOAT except without a W at the end.
  • Spanish U > English OO: as in the English word FOOL not like the English word TOOK.

This sort of thing leads to extreme silliness. It renders the names unrecognizable if you try to use English spelling to approximate Spanish sounds. People will hate you if you try this:

  • Hwahn for Juan
  • Dhahbheethe for David
  • Rroahssah for Rosa
  • Dhahnyeighll for Daniel
  • Ahleighhahndhroah for Alejandro
  • Mahnweighll for Manuel
  • Lootheeah for Lucía
  • Ahntohnyoah for Antonio
  • Maheeteigh for Maite
  • Pahkoah for Paco
  • Frahntheeshkoah for Francisco
  • Mahteeahss for Matías
  • Seighbhahshtyahnn for Sebastián
  • Neekoahlahss for Nicolás
  • Hoahsseigh for José
  • Beighnhahmeen for Benjamín
  • Meighrrtheightheighss for Mercedes
  • Klahootheeah for Claudia
  • Eethahn for Izan
  • Oahleebheeah for Olivia
  • Ooghoah for Hugo
  • Hoahrrhheigh for Jorge
  • Bheetoahrrh for Victor
  • Rroobheighn for Rubén
  • Eighthwahrthoah for Eduardo
  • Eessahbheighlyah for Isabella
  • Eezhmaheighll for Ismael
  • Kahrroahleenah for Carolina
  • Eeneighss for Inés
  • Peighthroah for Pedro
  • Ahnthreighah for Andrea
  • Heighssoose for Jesús

If you attempt this, your readers will not thank you. Just teach them how to say the five simple vowels and be done with it.

Well, and all the consonants, which are also “all” of them different from those of English, as I’ve attempted to represent above.

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    Surely Daveedth, Pedthro, Heyzus, Rooben, Horhay, Eeness, Andrayer, Caroleener etc ... Obviously not exact, but at least reasonably clear and more likely to get a fair approximation from a non-Spanish speaker than your rather silly suggestions. Also, the OP is not wanting his readers to have to learn Spanish. – Dan Aug 21 at 17:22
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    I appreciate the sheer number of ridiculous examples you came up with. || What would Heighsooose Do? – Azor Ahai Aug 21 at 17:46
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    @Lambie He didn't make this post in the capacity of an author or a translator. He's demonstrating to the OP how fraught with difficulties the task they are attempting is. – Zebrafish Aug 21 at 20:19
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    @Lambie As I mentioned to you before, the reason for bothering to try something that is not normally done is to be creative. You may have heard of creative writing. The creative part may include being quite eccentric and bohemian (some of the best artists are). If you're saying this site should refuse to accommodate any such departures from orthodoxy, I have a feeling you're wrong, though I don't know what the ins and outs of the purpose of this site, so I may be wrong. – Zebrafish Aug 21 at 20:59
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    @Lambie I was trying to show why this should not be attempted. That is why I called it silliness. You can't use English spelling to get people to say Spanish like it's Spanish. What are you so upset with? I demonstrated why not to attempt this. – tchrist Aug 21 at 21:11

There are regional differences in vowel pronunciation both in Spanish and English that make this almost impossible.

This is an oversimplification, but here are the five vowel sounds in Spanish:

enter image description here

Here is a chart of "General American" vowels. I'm confused because the chart is labelled pure vowels (monophthongs) but some are clearly diphthongs.

enter image description here

Basically your job is to match the Spanish (a, e, i, o, u) IPA symbols to the words in the General American chart which show the corresponding vowel.

So Spanish 'a' would be the 'a' in "father" or "spa".
Spanish 'e' would be the beginning vowel sound in General American "lake", ie.,/leik/.
Spanish 'i' would be the 'ea' in General American "beam".
Spanish 'o' would be the 'o' in General American "goat".
Spanish 'u' would be the 'oo' in General American "goose".

If you are an American who doesn't speak perfect "General American" as described in this chart (very likely), or you have some idiosyncrasy in some pronunciation (very likely), or are not American at all (likely), or the Spanish is coming from somewhere where the vowel sounds used aren't pure IPA (a, e, i, o, u) then all bets are off and you can't assume anything.

But as a general guide you can try this. Also there is the issue of vowel length which isn't even covered here, but that's the least of your problems.

These charts are screenshots taken from:
Spanish phonology at Wikipedia
General American at Wikipedia

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    This is frankly absurd....they are no regional differences reflected in spelling of Spanish names in English. The names are given as written in Spanish. And the names in Spanish are the same throughout Spanishdom (my coinage). – Lambie Aug 21 at 19:55
  • @Lambie The task I undertook was absurd. What's absurd about my attempt to make a correspondence between Spanish and English vowels using IPA notation? You simply say it's frankly absurd, add an ellipsis and downvote. – Zebrafish Aug 21 at 20:15
  • @Lambie Please point out where I claim that Spanish names orthographically vary between regions or spontaneously change when read in English from a spelling point of view. – Zebrafish Aug 21 at 20:25
  • You say: "making this practically impossible." The entire enterprise is foolish. There are literary traditions. This person is writing a book. Name spelling is not changed in books. Everyone has answered as if the question were legitimate, it isn't. Try reading some of the great authors in translation or in English. Foreign names keep foreign spelling: Sancho Panza, comes to mind. – Lambie Aug 21 at 20:29
  • @Lambie Pardon me, my post gives no advice to replace or substitute letters. It's simply a one-to-one correspondence of Spanish vowel sounds to vowel sounds in what's called General American phonology using IPA notation. You're right that generally names don't change. But they can be transcribed (phonetically), not transliterated, transcribed, by using corresponding characters that match a particular phoneme to another. To that extent it's entirely up to the individual whether they wish to do such a thing. Your opinion of how absurd you feel it is is quite irrelevant. – Zebrafish Aug 21 at 20:41

No one writing a novel changes names from the original language. You keep the name and if the language has a different alphabet, you use the transliteration (as with Russian names).

Think of the great Russian, French, Spanish, Italian and other novels translated into English. Or great novels by English-language writers in English with characters who have foreign names.

If you change the names to sound phonetically English, most readers will understand them as Spanish names.

That's it. The question is misguided unless one is joking or writing some kind of odd science fiction.

I will not go and post names from famous books to make the search easy.

Try the most famous one from Spanish:

Don Quixote [from Spanish]

Then try: War and Peace [from Russian] Madame Bovary

Just to name a few.

All names are kept in the English translations.

And, by the way, English names are kept as is in books in French,Spanish and Portuguese. And I assume other languages as well.

Imagine if all the English names were phonetically given in French and Spanish? What a hoot that would be....

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    @Mike Lambie's right, if you got a guy in your head you're writing about named Jesús, then that's the way he should appear in your story. Doesn't matter whether it's José, or Miguel, that's the way you write it. If the person reading it pronounces it as Joze or Migooel, that's their problem. Unfamiliar foreign names are a problem we all have to deal with. Having said that, it's your book, and if you really wanna change the names phonetically into English, go ahead, but understand it's quite weird and very uncommon. – Zebrafish Aug 21 at 22:16
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    You might consider editing your answer to remove the judgemental elements. "Sorry, this is too insane for references" and "The question is misguided" are unnecessary. The rest of your answer is useful. – Chappo Aug 21 at 23:43
  • Misguided is not really judgmental. – Lambie Aug 22 at 14:10

For what it's worth (Spanish vowels and English words where they can be heard)...

a - c a t (fat, mat, sat...)

e - l a te (fate, mate, sate...)

i - f ee t (meet, meat, seat, greet...)

o - l o t (got, rot, sot...)

u - gr ou p (fruit, suit, loot...)

It's of course important to bear in mind that these English words provide approximations to Spanish vowel sounds. Generally, all Spanish vowel sounds are shorter and 'cleaner' (each sound is precisely enunciated) than English vowel sounds, which are often stretched and mixed in an astonishng array of dialectical dipthongs.

As far as your specific question goes, the problem you'll have is that, unlike Spanish, English does not usually behave predictably when it comes to pronouncing vowel sounds. Meat and seat for example, do not rhyme with great. You will need to make up your names and then work out their best English spelling by asking English speakers to say your written version (to discover if you've spelled the names for an English speaker to pronounce them how you are wanting).

Bear in mind too that there are quite a few English names that do not sound how even a native English speaker would expect them to sound. So perhaps you shouldn't worry and just spell the names how you will, ...and enjoy the controversy that ensues;-)

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    I'm very sorry, that isn't at all right. A Spanish a is the vowel of FATHER not the vowel of HAM, a Spanish o is the vowel of GOAT not the vowel of FATHER or CLOTH or THOUGHT, etc. – tchrist Aug 21 at 16:12
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    I like your answer ! the more whimsical the better! – Mike Aug 21 at 16:15
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    I'm with tchrist, and would also quibble with your characterization of e; Spanish el isn't pronounced like English ale. If Spanish speakers accept these pronunciations from you, they're just being polite. – choster Aug 21 at 16:31
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    Well, this is why IPA was invented. – choster Aug 21 at 16:47
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    I have to agree with the others disagreeing with you. The vowels used in Spanish (peninsular) are close to what your answer states but not quite. They're all slightly different, but I can't think of a good analogue for any of them in English. Not in my accent, anyway. The best I can come up with is that they are pronounced as shorter versions of what you've written. So when I say meet, I make the ee longer than when I say pico or mina in Spanish. – terdon Aug 21 at 17:44

I faced a similar problem when I wrote my first articles in the written service writercheap. In fact, there are several solutions to this problem. And all of them are more or less effective. You can use your version, it's not so bad. And you can leave your names in the exact translation. Those who need it will understand how to pronounce Spanish names and will read correctly, or you can always put a sign that will help to read and determine how to decline your name.

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