Over the last couple of weeks, the name of the tragic child James Bulger has come back into the news after nearly twenty years, because one of his killers, Jon Venables, has been found guilty of child pornography crimes.
As a result, we have been hearing two pronunciations of the name Bulger – /ˈbʌldʒə/ and /ˈbʊldʒə/. The obvious question is – which of these is ‘correct’? The answer has to be, both or neither.
James Bulger lived his short life in the North West of England, where the STRUT-FOOT split never happened. As I’ve mentioned before, here, most speakers of the split accents believe that for non-splitters, it is the FOOT vowel that is consistently used (for instance, they characterise ‘mushy peas’ as being pronounced /ˈmʊʃi/, while the split pronunciation is /ˈmʌʃi/). You would therefore expect splitters to pronounce Bulger as /ˈbʊldʒə/. But the word bulge has /bʌldʒ/, from which splitters might extrapolate /ˈbʌldʒə/ for the name.
So, splitters may use either version and be arguably correct, but the local pronunciation of the name in Merseyside would be more like /ˈbɔldʒə/, the /ɔ/ representing a short THOUGHT vowel.