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Scarlett Johansson (Photo: AP/Jacques Brinon)
Scarlett Johansson (Photo: AP/Jacques Brinon)
Scarlett Johansson (Photo: AP/Jacques Brinon)

There are many world leaders, historical figures, and pop culture icons who are well-known in both Britain and the U.S. However, there’s one thing Brits and Americans don’t always agree on—how to say their names. Here are 10 celebrities whose names are pronounced differently based on which side of the Pond you are.

1. Scarlett Johansson
American actress Scarlett Johansson is one of those personalities whose Scandinavian last name (her father was a Danish citizen) leads many Brits to incorporate a Y-sound as the initial phoneme of her last name—as in “yo-HAN-sen.” However, the Lucy star, as well as the American public-at-large, prefer to pronounce “Johansson” exactly as it is spelled—as in jo-HAN-sen. Thankfully, both countries can agree on the pronunciation of her first name, which is more than can be said for the next person on this list.

2. Adolf Hitler
Most Brits and Americans are in general agreement regarding their opinion of the former German dictator. What is not so cut and dried is the way in which we pronounce his first name. In Britain, the preferred pronunciation is almost always ADD-olf, whereas some Americans—and this appears to be a generational thing—like to say AID-olf. At least we can all agree on how to pronounce his last name; the next person doesn’t have one.

3. Pelé
Okay, so technically speaking, Edson Arantes do Nascimento in fact has more than one last name; however, football fans know him by just one: Pelé. The legendary former Brazil striker is perhaps the greatest football (or is that soccer?) player of all time, yet people on either side of the pond cannot seem to agree on the pronunciation of “Pelé.” Actually, I should rephrase that: Americans cannot seem to agree on the pronunciation of “Pelé.” While the British pretty much universally say PELL-ay, Americans seem to be torn between this pronunciation and the following one: PAY-lay.

4. Louis Pasteur
French chemist Louis Pasteur is arguably the most well-known microbiologist of all time for his breakthrough work on vaccinations, microbial fermentation, and of course, pasteurization. But Americans and Brits are utterly divided over the pronunciation of not just one, but both of his names. On the whole, the British lean closer to the French pronunciation: loo-ee PASS-dirr. Americans, on the other hand, offer several alternatives. While some Americans do pronounce his first name LOO-ee, many will say LOO-iss (as with “St. Louis”). For his last name, Americans might opt for PAST-yoor, PAST-oor, PAST-yer or PAST-dirr.

5. Pete Doherty
Let’s face it; Pete Doherty is not always the most coherent of individuals. But on those rare occasions when we can decipher what the Babyshambles and Libertines frontman is saying, he himself would insist that the pronunciation of his last name is DOCK-er-ty. Indeed, British music fans are usually in agreement with this, if not with the singer’s antics. But Americans, just as they do with Doherty’s namesake Shannen (of 90210 fame), usually opt for the alternative DOUGH-er-ty.

6. Andy Warhol
This one might just be the most subtle difference on the list. The 1960s pop artist—known for his prints of famous people and Campbell’s Soup cans—was something of a divisive figure in the art world. It is fitting, then, that the pronunciation of his last name should be a source of division among Brits and Americans. The latter generally pronounce it as WAR-holl, whereas the former like to elongate the final vowel sound: WAR-whole. (Note: most Brits will also drop the rhotic “r.”)

7. Buddha
Buddha is the second and final mononymous person on this list. Unlike Pelé, however, the founder of Buddhism offers a universal pronunciation in the United States, where Americans are quite firmly in the camp of BOO-da. Brits, meanwhile, tend not to elongate the initial vowel sound, instead pronouncing it BUD-uh.

8. Vladimir Putin
While the name “Vladimir” might not cause too much of a discrepancy between our two nations, the Russian leader’s last name produces what I like to call the “Tuesday effect”—that is, a difference in how Brits and Americans say the “u” sound. Simply put, Brits usually pronounce it PYOO-tin, while Americans say POO-tin. Americans will often use a glottal stop in place of the hard “t.” Watch this clip from Late Night Starring Jimmy Fallon to hear it in action.

9. Christina Aguilera
For whatever reason, Brits have a hard time correctly pronouncing Spanish names (“Chile,” “Nicaragua” and “Uruguay” are among some of the place names we pronounce differently to not only Americans, but the Spanish.) The vast majority of Brits would pronounce the last name of U.S. singer Christina Aguilera as AGWIL-era. Americans, on the other hand, have a relatively decent grasp of Spanish, given that the language is often taught in schools across the country. Thus, Americans usually pronounce it AGEE-lera, though variations such as AGYA-lera and AGIL-era also exist.

10. Vincent van Gogh

Tony Curran as Vincent van Gogh in 'Doctor Who' (Photo: BBC)
Tony Curran as Vincent van Gogh in ‘Doctor Who’ (Photo: BBC)

The Dutch post-impressionist Vincent van Gogh’s name seems to cause more debate than any other on the list. For their part, British people are more likely to say van-GOFF (see Matt Smith in the Doctor Who episode “Vincent and the Doctor”). Meanwhile, Americans—presumably influenced by the “-gh” pronunciation in words like “though”—pronounce it van-GO. Brits and Americans each tend to think that their way is correct, but actually both are wrong. The Dutch pronunciation would be closer to vun-KHOKH.

See more:
Why Did America Drop the ‘U’ in British Spellings?
How Do You Say ‘Jaguar’?: British vs. American Brand Pronunciations
No, Arkansas Doesn’t Sound the Way It Looks: A Guide to Pronouncing U.S. Place Names
10 Words Pronounced Differently in Britain

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Filed Under: pronunciation
By Laurence Brown