Until about two years ago, I had never heard any pronunciation for this Greek name other than that given by all the current English pronunciation dictionaries: /bəˈlerəfɒn/ (with allowances for varying qualities of unstressed vowels). Then I went to a day’s series of lectures on Napoleon, and the lecturer consistently called the ship which took Napoleon into exile on St Helena, “Bellepheron” (and he spelled it that way too). Clearly he had a problem with the name.

Now, this week, in a radio programme about the ending of the First World War, the early twentieth century version of the ‘same’ ship was mentioned, and a reporter called it /bələˈrəʊfɒn/, which set me thinking. It’s well-known that sailors in the nineteenth century called the ship of that time by the affectionate nickname “Billy Ruffian”. Maybe this was because the Navy’s pronunciation was the one I heard this week – the stress pattern is the same, after all. Has this pronunciation ever been reported as the one accepted in naval speech? If so, should it be added to the dictionaries? With the proviso, of course, that it is only used in this context.


  1. The Wikipedia page for the Greek hero has your pronunciation. The page for the battleship has no pronunciation. Significant?

  2. Yesterday I was talking to the grandson of a sailor who served on the World War I version of HMS Bellerophon, and he told me that his family had always used the ‘approved’ Greek pronunciation, with antepenultimate stress.

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