Friday, January 12, 2018

Анна Курникова album

Анна Курникова (Anna Kournikova) album

Until I saw this, I didn't realize that her last name has been improperly transliterated from Russian. There is absolutely no justification for that first "o." I wonder why it is there.

Note how it is spelled in Spanish, and German, and Italian.

OK, I guess nobody would be curious about that except me (because of my family).


  1. There is plenty of reason for the first o. The Russian 'y' has a strict "oo" sound. Kour would typically be pronounced look "pour" or "poor". Without the first o, Kur would be pronounced like "purr," and would use a different Cyrillic vowel.

    1. I'm afraid it's not obvious at all, Captain Obvious. The reason it's not obvious is that the strict "oo" sound is how her name is actually pronounced.

      Her name is not KORE-nee-ko-va.

      It's KOOR-nee-ko-va. (Koor in my phonetic simulation rhymes with poor)

      There are many, many different ways to transliterate Russian-English because there is no official system as there is with German-English.

      But every single one of them, without exception, converts У to u.

      The correct transliteration from Russian would be Kurnikova. The o is an error which caused everyone to mispronounce it in English. That I know.

      What I don't know is why the error is there. That is the story I'm after.

    2. My guess would be that it was intentional in order to make English speakers pronounce the name more accurately. Almost any English speaker, when reading Kurnikova, would be inclined to pronounce the u with a 'ə' sound, as in "turn," which would likely have become the default pronunciation. I would imagine that it isn't unheard of for Russians to make slight modifications to the Latin spelling of their names in order to ensure proper pronunciation, though I don't know that to be the case.

    3. Also, I believe the most common pronunciation I hear used of the first syllable is KOOR, not KORE, but I haven't taken a survey.

    4. One reader e-mailed me to say it is because Anna's family came to the USA through France. In French the letter combination "our" is pronounced OOR so Cour or Kour would be COOR, like the beer, so Kournikova would be the correct French orthography to represent the pronunciation of her Russian name. The spelling just got picked up from her French documents to her English ones.

      While I find that explanation to make sense (I can remember how the French pronounce "Agincourt" and the "cour" sounds exactly like the beginning of Anna's last name in its original Russian form), I could not find any corroboration, so at this point I'd say it's just some guy's working hypothesis.

      I have to say I have never heard any English speaker call her anything other than core-nikk-O-va (stress on the "O"). My Russian family members, having first seen her name spelled in English, call her co-OOR-nee-ko-va, adding an extra syllable to attempt to sound out the "ou" combination.

      The Cyrillic "oу"combination is almost unknown in Russian except to substitute for a "w" when transliterating foreign names. (Russian has no equivalent of the letter "w", either in the written or the spoken language, even though some of the other Slavic tongues do have a rough equivalent). For example, the name Michael Owen would be written "Майкл Оуэн" in Russian Cyrillic. (This kinda-sorta estimates the sound, but frankly they really struggle with pronouncing the name "Owen")