Aaron and Maria


When did the name Aaron start to be pronounced /ˈarÉ™n/? John Wells has included it as a pronunciation for the modern personal name since the first edition of the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary (1990), and the 15th edition of the English Pronouncing Dictionary (1997) followed suit, but I’ve only become aware of its widespread use since the footballer Aaron Ramsey rose to prominence. John Wells says that the pronunciation of the Biblical name remains, usually, /ˈɛːrÉ™n/, but I wonder for how much longer?

The reason for my doubt is the parallel case of Maria. When I was growing up (in the middle of the last century), the only pronunciation you ever heard for this name was /məˈraɪə/. It was often to be heard in the colloquial name for the police vehicle that was used for transporting prisoners: black Maria (in those days they usually were black, and not owned by private security companies). Then, in the mid nineteen fifties, two separate American musicals appeared whose main character was called Maria, in both cases appropriately pronounced /məˈriːə/: West Side Story, and, shortly afterwards, The Sound of Music. Both musicals had hit songs which included the name (“Maria”, ‘I just met a girl called Maria’ – according to Wikipedia, the name appears 27 times in the song; and “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” respectively), and so we were bombarded with this continental pronunciation day in day out, for months, if not years. Now, it has to be pointed out that Mariah Carey and Maria Aitken use the traditional pronunciation, otherwise they get their name treated in the ‘wrong’ way. Likewise, 19th century (and earlier) characters from fiction, such as the two Maria Bertrams of Mansfield Park, Maria Lucas of Pride and Prejudice, or Maria Thorpe of Northanger Abbey, or the eponymous Maria of Mary Wollstonecraft’s novel run the risk of being pronounced anachronistically, so thoroughly has the continental pronunciation taken hold.

As an aside, the only criticism I have to make of Timothy Spall’s portrayal of Mr Turner, in which he displays a mastery of different grunts, is that he stressed Purcell on the second syllable, which readers of this blog with long memories will recall I demonstrated to be a 20th century innovation.


  1. Graham, the current edition of the “Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary” doesn’t include /ˈarÉ™n/ for British English.

  2. Alex – of course, you’re right. I should have qualified what I said about the EPD. So only John Wells has ‘officially’ recognized it as a British pronunciation.

  3. The Oxford Dictionary of Pronunciation, like the Cambridge, doesn’t admit /ˈarÉ™n/ as a British pronunciation. However, a couple of days ago, when I was in a shop in Stevenage, I heard one of the assistants call to another – /ˈarÉ™n/! To me, who do not follow American sports or popular entertainment (to my disadvantage, no doubt), the only well-known American Aaron is Aaron Copland, and whatever the pronunciation used in the US, in the UK he is – so far – only ever known by the traditional, and biblical, pronunciation.

  4. I should also have mentioned that in the 1950s, there were two extremely famous real women called Maria – Maria Bueno, the Brazilian tennis player, and the opera singer Maria Callas, both of whom were definitely /məˈriːə/.

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