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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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  • The mispronunciation that drove me crazy when I lived in England was pronouncing the name 'Thor' with the 'h', it's pronouned like 'Thomas'! I guess though it had something to do with the conversion of the runic spelling to Latin. It's weird though, because in Scandinavia, the day of the week before Friday, is Torsdag and thunder is torden. In England they put an 'h' in and spell and pronounce it as Thursday. Someone told me adding the 'h' common to the name Tor in Denmark, but, the 'h' is not pronounced, had something to do with the use of French in Denmark, when the'h' came into a lot of wor Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 1:58
  • Let me remark that we are pronouncing Thor "correctly" (or at least, with the consonant it had in Old Norse), while you are pronouncing it "wrong". See etymonline. Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 4:32

5 Answers 5

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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.

Thomas
Theodore

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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
    Commented Jan 24, 2011 at 2:24
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    @Guffa: Pronounce and pronunciation are pronounced differently, too. english.stackexchange.com/questions/5732
    – Jon Purdy
    Commented Jan 24, 2011 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. Commented Jan 24, 2011 at 3:41
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    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 Commented Jan 24, 2011 at 10:39
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    @Guffa: True, history is the key to English spelling v. pronunciation. Commented Jan 24, 2011 at 15:47
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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
    Commented Jan 24, 2011 at 2:18
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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. Commented Jul 25, 2013 at 21:54
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In Australia and the US over the last 30 years, the written language seems to have trumped traditional UK pronunciation. Standard Aus. and US, in my experience, is 'th' fricative, like the 'th' in 'that'. Older UK speakers, on the other hand, seem to be sticking with a clear 'T' plosive pronunciation. Note that shorter version used sometimes to be written 'Thom' but always, to my knowledge, pronounced 'Tom', with a clear plosive 'T'.

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  • You are used to people using the sound of "th" in "that" in the name "Thomas"? That seems very strange to me.
    – herisson
    Commented May 29, 2017 at 21:59

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