A-listers have made a reputation for themselves in the entertainment industry; yet, many actors, singers, and models have struggled with their names being mispronounced regularly.
Some celebrities do have names that are really easy to pronounce for the average person (looking at you Ben Stiller). On the other hand, some celebrity names are so intricate that we feel tongue-tied merely describing their most recent film role. We can see that the respect for a star does not often include recognition of the proper pronunciation of their names, which is kind of sad.
But today, we’re going to put the record straight. We’re breaking down the phonetic pronunciation of those famous names you’re having trouble pronouncing. Below is a list of 20 superstars whose names you’ve most certainly misspelled. Some of the celebrities whose names are frequently misspelled on the list are Timothée Chalamet, Maksim Chmerkovskiy, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Saoirse Ronan.
#1 Barbra Streisand
Who requires an extra vowel? Certainly not Barbra Streisand. At the start of her career, the legendary singer changed her name. Instead of changing anything, Streisand just omitted the third “a” from Barbara. “I was 18 years old and wanted to be different, but I didn’t want to alter my name since it sounded too phony. People were telling you that you could be Joanie Sands or something “In an interview with CBS News, Streisand, whose middle name is Joan, said, “And I said, ‘No, let’s see, if I remove the ‘a,’ it’s still ‘Barbara,’ but it’s unique.”
#2 Scarlett Johansson
The Lost in Translation star is of Danish descent, which may explain why her surname has caused reporters to double-check their work throughout the years. Karsten Olaf Johansson, Johansson’s father, is originally from Copenhagen, Denmark. In neighboring Sweden, the most prevalent surname is Johansson, which translates to “son of Johan” or “Johan’s son.” Scarlett Johansson maintains dual citizenship in the United States and Denmark. We’re still attempting to get those double consonants correct to this day.
#3 Jake Gyllenhaal
As Jake Gyllenhaal and Maggie Gyllenhaal demonstrate, double letters are frequent in Nordic languages. Because they hail from a long line of Swedish aristocracy, no one in Sweden would dare to misspell their names. Both actors are descended from Lieutenant Nils Gunnarsson Haal, who had his surname altered to Gyllenhaal after being ennobled in 1652.
#4 Maksim Chmerkovskiy
Source: Kathy Hutchins/Shutterstock
Maksim Chmerkovskiy goes by Maks on Dancing With the Stars, where he has been a pro for 17 seasons. However, his entire first name is taken from something longer: The Latin family name Maximus was turned into a first name (common spellings also include Maxim and Maksym) over generations, and it is now popular in various nations, including Chmerkovskiy’s home Ukraine. In 2014, the dancer delivered on his moniker’s promise. It means “the greatest,” and he won the DWTS title with ice dancer Meryl Davis in Season 18.
#5 Timothée Chalamet
Some of his fans call him Timmy, however, it is not an abbreviation for Timothy. Timothée Chalamet’s mother is American, but his father is French, which is how he obtained both his last name and his first name—the French version of his name that is more usually heard in the United States. Chalamet spent his childhood in France and New York and is fluent in both English and French. According to IndieWire, this has resulted in “a little bit of uncertainty in the idea of self-identity, which helps a lot creatively because I don’t feel as restricted by who I am.”
#6 Nicolas Cage
The nephew of legendary director Francis Ford Coppola, born Nicolas Kim Coppola, wished to escape the impression of nepotism by changing his name to Nicolas Cage. According to USA Today, the actor’s new moniker was inspired in part by the Marvel Comics superhero Luke Cage. Because of his Italian ancestry, his first name lacks the customary English “h” between the “c” and the “o.”
#7 Nathalie Emmanuel
She was a fan favorite on Game of Thrones and is now officially a member of the Fast and Furious crew. Nathalie Emmanuel, a British actress, is also notable for her surname. Natalie is spelled in French, which could be related to her father’s origin. Her father is half Saint Lucian, and while English is the island nation’s official language, the majority of citizens also speak Saint Lucian Creole French or Patwa.
#8 Saoirse Ronan
Unless you’re from Ireland or have a strong connection to your Irish background, you might find it difficult to spell Saoirse Ronan’s name correctly on the first try. Her initial name’s vowel combination also causes many mispronunciations. When the Lady Bird singer went on The Ellen Show in 2016, she donned a sign around her neck that read, “Hello, my name is Sur-sha.” (It rhymes with inertia.)
#9 Chiwetel Ejiofor
Chiwetel Ejiofor, a British actor who is the son of Nigerian immigrants, admitted that people in the film industry had encouraged him to change his name. “People were saying to me, ‘It’s going to be very tough for you to make any money as an actor,'” he told The Guardian in 2015. After decades of distinguished roles, the Oscar-nominated 12 Years a Slave actor is proud to still have his given name—and you should definitely learn how to spell it.
#10 Matthew McConaughey
Source: Shutterstock/PAN Photo Agency
Even if you’ve spent endless hours Googling Matthew McConaughey (and we don’t judge), you’ve probably relied on the internet to fill in the blanks until you got to his last name. McConaughey’s Irish ancestors are responsible for his difficult-to-spell surname (and his classic good looks, one might say).
#11 Hayden Panettiere
Hayden Panettiere’s Italian ancestry explains her perplexing surname, which translates to “baker” in that language. In 2018, Panettiere was on the verge of marrying Ukrainian professional boxer Wladimir Klitschko. (The ex-couple had a child together.) We can only imagine how tough it would have been to get that hyphenation perfect on the first go.
#12 Joaquin Phoenix
Source: Shutterstock/Denis Makarenko
Joaquin Phoenix has always marched to the beat of his own drum, and his name is only one aspect of his individuality. According to an interview Phoenix’s late brother, River, made to Premiere in 1988, Phoenix’s parents changed their last name from Bottom to Phoenix (the mythological bird that rises from its ashes) after they decided to leave a fringe religious sect called Children of God. Joaquin, like his older siblings, desired a more earthy name as a child. As a result, for a few years at the start of his career, the Walk the Line actor went by the stage name Leaf Phoenix. That would have been easier for many of us to spell.
#13 Arnold Schwarzenegger
It’s a little easier to spell Austrian-American bodybuilder-turned-actor-turned-politician Arnold Schwarzenegger’s surname if you go syllable by syllable. Although you’ll most likely need Google to help you fill in a few letters.
#14 Michelle Pfeiffer
Pfeiffer, despite having a pretty conventional-sounding name, is extremely difficult for many people to spell due to the repeated consonants. Michelle Pfeiffer, an actress, shares this German surname with a number of significant persons and institutions, including Johann Pfeiffer, a German musician and composer from the 18th century, and Pfeiffer University in North Carolina.
#15 Mayim Bialik
The Big Bang Theory actor’s first name translates to “water” in Hebrew, and her surname is well-known in Israel, according to the Jewish Standard. She is a descendant of the renowned Jewish poet Hayim Nahman Bialik.
#16 Djimon Hounsou
Djimon Hounsou, who was born in modern-day Benin, a West African country, admitted in a 2018 interview at the Miami Film Festival that he didn’t know the true origin of his name until he began working on In Search of Voodoo: Roots to Heaven, a film that explores the origins of the voodoo culture in West Africa. Hounsou found out after a thorough investigation that his surname originally meant “one born in the voodoo shrine.” And, after 30 years of performing, including appearances in some of the biggest films of all time (such as Amistad, Gladiator, and Guardians of the Galaxy), it’s about time we learned how to spell his name, too!
#17 Kaley Cuoco
Many people struggle to pronounce the Big Bang Theory star’s Italian surname, in addition to spelling it incorrectly. In 2018, the actor called into On Air with Ryan Seacrest to rectify the radio show’s pronunciation of her surname. To be precise, the pronunciation is “Kwo-ko,” not “Ko-ko” or “Koo-oh-ko.”
#18 Rachael Harris
Rachael Harris is most likely familiar to you from films such as That Hangover and television shows such as New Girl and Lucifer. However, if you write her name without checking, you might not get it properly the first time. Rather than the conventional Biblical name of Rachel, her parents chose a more modern spelling that ends in “ael.”
#19 Milo Ventimiglia
If you’ve ever tried to spell the This Is Us star’s name, you’ve probably added a few extra letters here and there. As you might expect, Milo Ventimiglia’s Sicilian origin is responsible for this difficult string of vowels and consonants. Ventimiglia literally translates to “20 (venti) miles (miglia)” in Italian.
#20 Rachel Weisz
Rachel Weisz, an actress, is proud to bear this name that holds so much meaning for her family. Her mother and father immigrated from Austria and Hungary to the United Kingdom in 1938 to avoid Nazi persecution during World War II, she explained in an interview with Tablet Mag.