My literature professor pronounces the name of a very famous novelist incorrectly (I've searched quite a bit and I'm sure of it). I'll have an oral examination soon, and I'm not entirely sure whether I should adapt and pronounce it like she does, or correctly. I'm afraid that if I choose the last option she will tell me I'm wrong, and I'd have to explain she is, which might embarrass her.

What's the best thing to do? If the second, what would be the most polite way to explain I'm right?

  • Ask a friend from another department to go to this professor and ask a question about the novelist using the correct pronunciation, and see how they react. If your friend is brave enough, ask her/him to say something like "Is it pronounced like this or this?".
    – user41235
    Dec 11 '14 at 1:46
  • Students should start comfronting professors with their mistakes in front of the entire class. Aren't students subjetively shamed for not knowing things? The protected status and authority of teachers inside classrooms is counterproductive to education. How can you teach students it's okay to be wrong if you aren't willing be wrong yourself? Aug 25 '16 at 14:58
  • I have learned....from similar situations but tech related, that correcting a professor can be like walking a mine-field. Also....if said professor holds a PhD in the field.......... Dec 2 '16 at 14:19

Ideally, find your professor during office hours, and say something like "Hey, this has been confusing me... I'm seeing all these references to one pronunciation and you've been using another. Is there a disagreement in the academic community, or are both pronunciations valid, or did the author use a less-common pronunciation, or are these other references simply wrong?"

In other words, don't tell her that she's making a mistake; ask her to help you learn. Much more polite, much harder to take offense at, and much less likely to embarass you if she says either "Well, this is how [author] always pronounced his name when I spoke to him" or "I have a slight speech impediment that I'm a bit embarrassed about; thanks for not bringing this up in public."

The fact that she's outvoted does not necessarily mean she's wrong. For that matter, she may not be aware that there is a difference, or not be able to reproduce that difference accurately, if her accent isn't the same as the others you've spoken to (or your own)... or you may be having the same problem in the other direction.

You have an interesting question. Ask it. In private, and as a question, and you'll probably get an interesting answer and maybe a bit of an uptick on your grade for having made additional effort. If you tell her that she's wrong, and/or do so in the middle of class, it's likely to go less well for either of you.

If you really can't meet with her before the exam, despite your best efforts, you have to decide whether you're going to pronounce it her way, pronounce it your way and -- if challenged -- say "I've been meaning to ask about that; this is how I've always heard it...", or try for a compromise between them with the "I've been meaning to ask" as a fallback.

But I really doubt you're going to get dinged for getting this wrong if you get the rest of the exam right. So maybe you should focus on aceing the exam, rather than on this nitpicky point.


Just pronounce the name the best way you can. If you think pronouncing it correctly differs so much from the way you have heard it from your teacher then using something close to their pronunciation can help stop confusion so in this case you roll with the punches. The fact that names are sometimes pronounced weird, wrong or even butchered is just a reality. In some cases it is a lack of exposure to unusual names or forms of spelling. This is a very common experience for anyone visiting a country with a different language.

So, in general, don't worry too much about it. Sometimes to avoid confusion if the "true" pronunciation and the way you have heard it differ to the extent it can be seen as two different words, you may have to adopt a stance closer to that which find wrong. But the worst that can happen is that you will be corrected.

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