Lewis Carroll


I was listening to “Start the Week” on BBC Radio 4, presented by Andrew Marr, and dealing mainly with the anniversary of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. I was not surprised that Mr Marr should pronounce Carroll’s ‘real’ surname as /ˈdÉ’dÊ’sÉ™n/, when all the evidence points to his pronouncing it /ˈdÉ’dsÉ™n/ – as did the late, great dialectologist John Dodgson. Most people pronounce it that way without thinking, as it is what the spelling implies. I was disappointed that the author of the latest biography of Dodgson/Carroll , Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, should follow suit. Has  he not spoken to members of the family? He also mispronounced the name of the place in Cheshire where Dodgson was born – Daresbury. Although this looks like /ˈdɛːzbÉ™ri/, it is actually pronounced /ˈdɑːzbÉ™ri/. I see from his biography that Robert Douglas-Fairhurst is an Oxford academic. Perhaps he conforms to the stereotype of Oxford dons, no doubt inaccurate in most cases (but it is the exception that proves the rule) of not needing to consider anything that happens outside that city.

John Dodgson was the author of the multiple volume Place Names of Cheshire published by the English Place Name Society. He suffered all his life from those who told him how to pronounce his own name. His remains must be performing all sorts of acrobatics.


  1. Where ignorance is bliss …
    I particularly enjoyed your last sentence!

  2. Petr – “The Story of Alice” is being serialized on Radio 4 at the moment (09.45 each morning this week). Simon Russell Beale is the reader, and /ˈdÉ’dÊ’sÉ™n/ is the regular pronunciation. This is not a BBC production, but comes from a company called Pier Production, and the producer is Joanna Green. Clearly, there can be no obligation on independent companies to even consult the Pronunciation Unit, so ignorance here is obviously bliss, too.

  3. This morning, Thursday, we came to the point in Alice Liddell’s life when she was married to Reginald Hargreaves. This is also a trap – the most common pronunciation of the name Hargreaves is /ˈhɑːgriːvz/,(I even have relatives of this name myself, with this pronunciation) but for some strange reason, Reginald and his family prefer the unpredictable /ˈhɑːgreɪvz/. I suspect that you have to be a real Carroll expert to know this, and predictably, Pier Production, as represented by Simon Russell Beale, is not. In the ‘old days’, a drama or talks producer would simply take the script to the Pronunciation Unit (and why have they dropped the word “Research” from their name, which we introduced in the 1980s?), and ask them to go through it for precisely these sorts of problems and traps for the unwary. O tempora, o mores…

  4. A question that needs considering here is how far anyone (broadcasters or not) should go to use an unusual or idiosyncratic pronunciation of someone’s name, especially if another pronunciation is commonly used for most people of that name. This becomes more pointed in historical instances such as Lewis Carroll. To take an extreme example, should we stop pronouncing Shakespeare’s name in SBS as we currently do because (a) he was probably rhotic, and (b) the vowels would have been somewhat different?
    Out of politeness, I agree that an effort should be made with the names of living people (but even here I don’t feel that even broadcasters should be expected to check every single name they encounter that just might have an unusual pronunciation), but for historical persons I think a commonly used version is good enough.
    I await reactions in some trepidation!! 🙂

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