Anyone who watches BBC TV or listens to BBC radio will have heard the name of Wyre Davies, currently the BBC’s Middle Eastern correspondent. Everyone pronounces his first name as ˈwɪrə.
And therein lies something of a mystery. I wonder if anyone can shed light on it.
Wyre is Welsh, and his first name is presumably Welsh too. After all, it can’t be English: if it were the English name so spelt it would be pronounced ˈwaɪə, as in the Lancashire placename.
No, it must be Welsh, and presumably a hypocoristic form of some longer name. But — (i) I cannot discover what this longer name might be, and (ii) there is a phonotactic rule in Welsh to the effect that the vowel ə cannot occur in final syllables (as it does here).
As a Welsh name you would expect Wyre to be the pet form of some name beginning Wyr- or Gwyr-. (Welsh g soft-mutates to zero.) But I know of no such name. Perhaps the nearest is Gwilym, the Welsh for ‘William’.
Given the Welsh spelling -e you would expect the pronunciation to be e, as in bore ‘morning’ ˈboɾe, which you may know from the greeting bore da! ‘good morning!’. Since English doesn’t allow the DRESS vowel in final position, that would map onto English eɪ. But all the other BBC presenters are consistent in calling Wyre not ˈwɪreɪ but ˈwɪrə.
In Welsh the schwa vowel is always spelt y. It can be stressed or unstressed. But it cannot be in a word-final syllable. So for example the word for ‘mountains’ is mynyddoedd məˈnəðoið; but if we strip off the plural suffix we are left with the singular mynydd, which is pronounced ˈmənið.
Correspondingly, given the Welsh spelling y (not counting the digraph wy) the reading rules tell you that the pronunciation will be ə, except in a final syllable, where it will be i. (The sole syllable of a monosyllable is inevitably final. There are footnotes here, which we can ignore, relating to north Welsh ɨ and to proclitic function words.) One of the words for ‘is’, ydy, is ədi; one of the words for ‘valley’ is dyffryn ˈdəfrin. One of the words for ‘man’ is dyn diːn, plural dynion ˈdənjon. All of these exemplify the reading rule for y.
OK, the spelling wy can be an exception to this rule, so we needn’t worry about the first syllable of Wyre ˈwɪrə. But the final vowel remains very unexpected, and from the standpoint of Welsh phonetics seems to be impossible.