The Name Game: 4 Bands With Odd Pronunciations
  • MONDAY, JULY 23, 2012

  • Posted by: Zoe Marquedant

Artists and musicians have the right to go by whatever name suits their fancy. It's about the music isn't it, not the name? If Prince now wants to be called "The Artist Formerly Known as Prince", so be it.

However, the name game has been getting a little difficult for those of us who were never really hooked on phonics. Call me old fashioned, but I don't like having to sound out my band names when browsing for new music. I'm a writer, not an etymologist.**

Band folk have been getting braver and more imaginative with their naming. It's no longer just "The" followed by some noun (The Temptations) or someone's name (Leonard Cohen) and sometimes something like "and the band" tacked on the end (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers). Naming a band has almost become an art form.

Sometimes the change is refreshing. But part of me wonders if it's all just a gimmick -- using tons of umlauts and extra letters -- for musicians to try and set themselves apart. I just wish someone would give me an occasional heads-up on something like a phonetic spelling.

1. Bon Iver (BOW-NEE-VAYER)

Once upon a Wisconsin winter, Justin Vernon was lain up in bed with mono. He passed the time watching reruns of Northern Exposure. In the show, characters would bid each other "bon hiver", which is french for "good winter". Vernon first heard the greeting as "boniverre". Upon learning the proper spelling, Vernon dropped the "h" and "bon iver" was born. Knowing the names origin makes it's pronunciation much easier. Before reading that, I spent an embarrassing month telling my friends to listen to "Skinny Love" by this guy "Bon Eye-ver". This was often met with an eye-roll and a "You mean Bon IVER?". The mistake is a little humiliating, but easily correctable.

2. Gotye (GO-TEE-AYE)

Gotye has a surprisingly straight-froward story as to how he got his stage name. Gotye, whose full name is Wouter "Wally" De Backer, is of Belgian-Australian. The french pronunciation of "Woulter" ("Walter") is "Gauthier". This was then shortened to "Gotye". Most people manage the double vowel at the end, but for non-francophones it can be marginally difficult. I was once asked if I had heard the new "Got-yeah" song. The mistake is understandable, but only kind of excusable.

3. AWOLNATION (A-WALL-NAY-TION)

Aaron Bruno's band AWOLNATION is the easiest name on this list to read. The name stemmed from the nickname "AWOL" which Aaron had in high-school, due to his tendency to leave without saying goodbye. "AWOL" which stands for "absent without leave" was an appropriate moniker. The "nation" part was added once the band was formed and stylized into all capital letters. When the name first popped up on my car dashboard, I read the scrolling word as one big chuck, "Uh-wall-nah-tion?" I later learned it was pronounced with a space, between the second and third syllables.

4. Xiu Xiu (SHOO-SHOO)

Californian experimental outfit, Xiu Xiu named themselves after the movie Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl. In case you aren't a Chinese-film buff, it's pronounced "shoo shoo". That's "shoo" or "shoe", like what you put on your feet. As an English-speaker, I didn't have a clue how to handle the x's. Ex-eye-you? It was one of those cases where the band would awkwardly be referred to as "that one band"

Most of these mispronunciations come down a lack of knowledge surrounding foreign languages. With that being said let's blame the school systems and get back to the music. Honorable mentions to Ke$ha, ?uestlove, and fun. for throwing punctuation into the mess.

**Disclaimer: I genuinely like all these bands and am only playfully poking fun at their chosen names. I'm also just bad at reading.

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