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Magdalene pronounced/spelled?
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2010/12/14
4:03am
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I’m wondering about the spelling and pronunciation of Mary Magdalene/Mgadalen. I always thought there were two options: -lene (pronounced “leen) and -len (pronounced “len/lin”). I was trying to find out under which circumstances each was used. Online hunting was no help, and from what little I can find I think I’ve had it wrong all along.

From what I can tell, the correct spelling is -lene, and it should be pronounced “len” (rhymes with hen). Is this correct? Or not? Have I been saying it wrong my whole life?

I’m from Michigan and showed the word “Magdalene” around, and just about everyone pronounced it “leen.” The only person to say “len” was a transplant from Tennessee. Am I part of a small geographic area of folks who have grown up saying it wrong, or is the confusion spread more widely? If it is indeed -lene pronounced “len,” it’s easy to see how alternate (incorrect?) spellings and pronunciations have cropped up.

(And Yikes! The Brits’ pronunciation is another story for another day…)

Anyone know the story on -lene/len?

2010/12/14
6:26am
Bob Bridges
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Not terribly helpful, maybe, but the original pronunciation in Greek would have been /mag da le ‘ne/ (mahg-dah-lay-NAY)—the accent was on the last syllable. But that has little to do with the “correct” pronunciation in English. I’ve heard both your pronunciations, /’m&g d@ l@n/ and /’m&g d@ lin/, with a sprinkling of /m&g d@ ‘li ni/s and /m&g d@ ‘le ne/s.

But any time a proper name from a foreign language is modified in English, it’s hard to defend any of the “wrong” choices as “The Right One”. “Jehovah”, “Archimedes”, “Cicero”, it’s all kind of academic (heh, heh). I think either of your choices is fine.

(The pronunciation system I use above is an ASCII adaptation of the IPA that I first encountered in the late ’80s; in it /a/ is “ah” as in “shot”, /e/ is “ay” as in “neigh”, /&/ is the short ‘a’ in “lag”, /i/ is “ee” as in “peek” and /@/ is the schwa as in the second syllable of “lemon”.)

2010/12/14
5:25pm
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Thanks! Perhaps I shouldn’t phrase it as correct/incorrect. (Unless there is a “correct”) Maybe it would be better to take a poll…

How do YOU all say it/spell it?

Feedback would be great! A baby’s name potentially hangs in the balance :)

2010/12/14
7:20pm
Bob Bridges
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When I’m not thinking about it I say “MAG-duh-luhn”, schwas on the last two syllables. But I don’t really notice if someone else says “MAG-duh-lean”.

2010/12/15
6:09am
Glenn
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I would put myself in the /-lin/ camp. I would not find schwa odd at all, and hear it that way often. I don’t think I have ever heard /-leen/, and would find it jarring and odd.

2010/12/15
7:52am
Jackie
Spring Green, WI
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I’ll second Glenn’s /-lin/. Although I do know a woman who pronounces her name Mag-dah-lay-nah.

2010/12/15
9:26am
Dick
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I have pronounced the last syllable “leen” all my life because that’s what I have mostly heard. (63 year old Texan) I found a couple of references that say “lin” is preferred but “leen” is an acceptable alternate.

2010/12/15
11:21pm
tunawrites
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I would agree with the /lin/ pronunciation in general; if I didn’t know otherwise, I would say it that way. But if the woman corrects you and says it’s pronounced “mag-dee-LEE-nee”, well, you have to respect that pronunciation, too. The grammar police have no jurisdiction over names.

On that point, the urban legend of “La-a”, pronounced “la-DASH-a” (which my wife says is true — she says of her friends actually had a girl by that name in her class; I still doubt it), should be respected. But for cold pronunciations, I would have said “La-AH” — that just makes my guess wrong; it doesn’t make the actual name wrong. Kids face enough hardships without our correcting their given names, however misinformed we feel they might be.

2010/12/17
6:50am
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I usually say the one that rhymes with hen, because I wasn’t familiar with the name until I was introduced to it by a Spanish speaking friend named Magdalena (MAg-duh-LE-na). Speaking of which, how would you pronounce “Madeline”? My friend Jamie says it “Mad-eh-LINE” (rhymes with wine).

2010/12/17
7:02am
Glenn
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tunawrites said:

I would agree with the /lin/ pronunciation in general; if I didn’t know otherwise, I would say it that way. But if the woman corrects you and says it’s pronounced “mag-dee-LEE-nee”, well, you have to respect that pronunciation, too. The grammar police have no jurisdiction over names.

On that point, the urban legend of “La-a”, pronounced “la-DASH-a” (which my wife says is true — she says of her friends actually had a girl by that name in her class; I still doubt it), should be respected. But for cold pronunciations, I would have said “La-AH” — that just makes my guess wrong; it doesn’t make the actual name wrong. Kids face enough hardships without our correcting their given names, however misinformed we feel they might be.


Well said. I agree entirely that with personal names the people who own them get to declare the pronunciation. However, I don’t let that intimidate me when I need to make a best guess. As for place names I feel a little more freedom to take liberties (e.g. modify Paris from /pari/ to /pærɪs/) but I tend to give preference to the local pronunciation.

I will often joke with people who ask me to guess at the pronunciation of a person’s name from the spelling, and say that my given name is Glenn, spelled J-O-H-N. I know families whose individual members pronounce the family name entirely differently. In these cases, often one member favors the pronunciation closer to the language of origin, while another adopts the spelled pronunciation in English. For example, I understand that the actor Steve Buscemi pronounces his last name like bus-SEM-mee; I would have guessed boo-SHEM-mee.

And my wife’s father and uncles, having come to the USA on different voyages, all pronounce the family name the same, but have three different legal spellings of it.

2010/12/17
7:04am
Bob Bridges
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tunawrites said:

….if the woman corrects you and says it’s pronounced “mag-dee-LEE-nee”, well, you have to respect that pronunciation, too. The grammar police have no jurisdiction over names.

Oh, if we’re talking about the name of a person standing right in front of me then yeah, I can ask her how it’s pronounced and her word is authoritative; I’ll pronounce it “Smith” if that’s what she wants. We’re talking about names of the ancients, where only a few authorities can be very sure of the proper pronunciation of “Nebuchadnezzar”, and maybe even they’re guessing.

2010/12/17
8:36am
Anonymous
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Glenn said:

I will often joke with people who ask me to guess at the pronunciation of a person’s name from the spelling, and say that my given name is Glenn, spelled J-O-H-N.


Reminds me of this Brian Regan clip. “I’m Brian, B-R-I-V-O-L-B-N-7-Q!”

2010/12/17
4:20pm
Bob Bridges
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…Which in turn reminds me of something I saw on a sticker someplace: “Sure, I use my pet’s name for a password. My parrot’s name is Qvl*7!xXs, but I change it every three months.”

2010/12/18
1:22am
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Bob Bridges said:

tunawrites said:

….if the woman corrects you and says it’s pronounced “mag-dee-LEE-nee”, well, you have to respect that pronunciation, too. The grammar police have no jurisdiction over names.

Oh, if we’re talking about the name of a person standing right in front of me then yeah, I can ask her how it’s pronounced and her word is authoritative; I’ll pronounce it “Smith” if that’s what she wants. We’re talking about names of the ancients, where only a few authorities can be very sure of the proper pronunciation of “Nebuchadnezzar”, and maybe even they’re guessing.


Right… That’s the case here: I’m wondering how the name of the Biblical figure Mary Magdalene has traditionally been pronounced in English. Granted there are a variety of current pronunciations/spellings — many by folks who wear the name themselves. But the Biblical spelling is -lene. And I’m wondering if there is an English pronunciation that is more widely used or stretches furthest back?

Thanks for all the great feedback thus far!

2012/11/18
6:06pm
BigK
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In the biblical sense I’m aware of three pronunciation endings. leen, lane and lin. Mary Magdelene was simply Mary from the place named Magdelene

How strange though that Magdelene College at Cambridge University, UK is pronounced ‘maudlin’ – a word which in another context means ‘tearfully or weakly emotional; foolishly sentimental’ and is also the name of two varieties of plant.

But the tearful and emotional aspect might explain the university pronunciation of Magdelene because Mary Magdelene was often portrayed crying.

Interestingly, but off topic, a Magdelene House is a euphemism for a brothel – Mary Magdelene was reputedly a prostitute before she met Christ!

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