A post on Languagehat (18 September) about the variant spellings of Boleyn (as in Anne Boleyn), and its origin in the place name Boulogne reminds me that I’ve been thinking about the anglicization of this name and others for some time.
Going back to the early 1980s and the rise of Solidarity in Poland, the name of Gdansk became prominent in this Polish form rather than its then rather better known German form, Danzig. It seemed obvious that the anglicization should be as it looked: ‘g-dansk’, but there were a few people who suggested that it would be closer to the Polish pronunciation to call it /gdaɪnsk/. Poland and Polish names were constantly in the news at the time – Lech Walesa (so spelt in the British press) and Karol Wojtyla (likewise) became familiar to everyone, and although the spellings in the papers did not change, it was soon accepted that ‘Walesa’ was pronounced /vau’ensə/ and ‘Wojtyla’ /vɔɪ’tɪwə/. The reason of course was that the Polish diacritics were not being used, and the native spellings were Wałęsa and Wojtyła. Similarly, in Gdansk, the <n> is really (in Polish) <ń>: Gdańsk: /gdaɲsk/. Those advocating an anglicized pronunciation /gdaɪnsk/ were transferring the palatalization of the nasal into a preceding close front vowel.
Perhaps we should have listened. This is exactly what has happened to give us the English pronunciation of Boulogne and Spain. French /bulɔɲ/ has become English /bʊ’lɔɪn/ or /bə’lɔɪn/, and Latin/French/Spanish Hispania/Espagne/España gave older English /spaɪn/, which through the Great Vowel Shift became /speɪn/.
The same development has given us the family name Gascoigne from Gascogne, but the place name has developed differently into Gascony.
An exception is Cologne, which by the rule “ought” to be /kə’lɔɪn/, but is actually /kə’loʊn/.