Wednesday 6 June 2012


Among the minor royals to be seen at the jubilee celebrations over the weekend was Princess Eugenie. She is the younger daughter of Prince Andrew, Duke of York; her mother is Sarah Ferguson and she is the Queen’s granddaughter.

(Yesterday she had decorated her fingernails with rather naff union flags. There’s a picture of them in today’s Guardian, though I can’t find it on line.)

I was struck by the fact that the ITV commentator pronounced her name as ˈjuːʒəni. On consulting Wikipedia I find that that pronunciation is given there as appropriate, with a supporting citation from a television documentary now no longer retrievable from the website mentioned. I wonder if this is indeed how she says her name. If so, it is worthy of comment.

The only bearer of the name Eugenie that I know or knew personally was the late Professor Eugénie Henderson (1914-1989), Professor of Phonetics in the University of London at SOAS. She was a former pupil of Daniel Jones and an expert on Thai, Karen, Chin and other southeast Asian languages as well as an inspired theoretical phonetician/phonologist. I knew her as a cheerful, hard-working and helpful older colleague. BAAP awards a biennial Eugénie Henderson prize.

She pronounced her name as juˈʒeɪni, and so did we all. She also spelt it with a French acute accent on the vowel in the middle.

Ever since Jones’s day EPD has prioritized ju:ˈʒeɪni, though also giving juːˈʒiːni and juːˈdʒiːni. The ODP gives BrE juːˈʒeɪni, AmE juˌʒeɪˈni (the ODP doesn’t use length marks for AmE). Forvo, too, gives the pronunciation juˈʒeɪni. The Merriam-Webster Collegiate gives three possibilities, which in IPA would be ˈjuːdʒəˌniː, juːˈdʒeɪni, juːˈdʒiːni.

So our pronunciation authorities give no support whatever to the form ˈjuːʒəni. If that is indeed what Andy and Sarah call her and what she calls herself, it’s an innovation.

As Professor Henderson’s spelling hints, the name is of French origin (and before that, of course, from Greek via Latin: Εὐγενία Eugenia ‘well-born’). In French it is pronounced øʒeni. So ju(ː)- is English rather than French, following words such as eugenics, euphoric, euphemism.


  1. If I may comment on a minor detail, "well-born" in the meaning of "from good ancestry".

    In modern greek, the meaning has become obscure, since Eυγενία is basically the same word with the common noun ευγένεια "politeness".

    Nice name, by the way.

  2. "with rather naff union flags" - and another British slang word learned :)

  3. Here's a clip of Sarah Furguson pronouncing the names of her daughters: It seems to indeed be ˈjuːʒəni (or even ˈjuːʃəni?).

    1. Thanks for that clip, which decides the matter - so ˈjuːʒəni is what her mother calls her, and ˈjuːʒəni she must be.

      naff /næf/ adj BrE informal something that is naff seems silly, especially because it is unfashionable or shows a lack of good taste [LDOCE]

    2. Petr Rösel has found a picture of her fingernails here.

  4. Oxford BBC Guide to Pronunciation (2006) has:

    yoo-zhuh-ni /ˈjuːʒəni/

  5. In this sample, I hear

    Beatrice: ˈbɪə̯ʔtɹɪs

    Eugenie: ˈjuːʒn̩iː I agree the sibilant isn't strongly voiced.

    1. Why not put tʃɹ when pretty much everything else's been rendered phonetically?

      Count me among the shocked that she is ˈjuːʒəni. What does the Queen call her? Doesn't that also have some relevance?

    2. Not sure. Something fricative is going on there, but is it tʃɹ? Maybe a voiceless ɹ.

  6. Shame she isn't next in line to the throne. That'd finish of the monarchy in no time.

    1. Judging from her mother's mumbling I vote for /ˈjuːʃəni/ (with a medial esh).

    2. Lenis, lax, if that makes sense for sibilants.

    3. Please, see also my website at, where you can hear the name pronounced by Eugenie's mother.

    4. Sibilants are quite flexible in voice in certain accents anyway. There's no doubt that phonologically, the name is ˈjuːʒəni, maybe with a schwa in italics in LPD notation.

      I'm not entirely sure if the n is syllabic - certainly I don't hear a schwa there. If it isn't, the sibilant in question would be at the end of a syllable, more prone to be voiceless.


    5. English lenis fricatives are normally fully voiced between vowels or other voiced sounds. I don't think -ən- vs. -n̩- would make any difference.

    6. Sorry - I meant ˈjuːʒ̊.niː.

  7. She was apparently named after Princess Victoria Eugenie, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria. One wonders how her name was pronounced. As she survived until 1969, the family would surely have known.

    1. "She was apparently named after Princess Victoria Eugenie" - who was in turn named after Eugénie/Eugenia de Montijo, empress of France but born in Spain. In Spanish, it is apparently ( pronounced with ç or ʝ.

    2. Eugenia is pronounced ewˈxenja. Where did the palatal fricatives pop up from?

    3. That's what they sounded to me from the sound fragments that are available on the link I posted. More front than [x] anyway. But then, I'm hard of hearing so my perception of the sound may be wrong.

  8. Since the Collegiate gives ˈju:dʒəˌniː so pronunciation authorities do give support to Sarah Ferguson. It's one of those words in which alternates with ʒ.

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