How Do I Pronounce Sotomayor? 5 Strategies For Addressing a Nominee

By Brian Kumnick on June 10, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Say what you will about President Obama's Supreme Court nominee. Really, go ahead and say what you will -- it's a free country. But whatever you say, you're going to have to say her name. And therein lies the problem, according to the blogging masses: how should you pronounce Sotomayor? Today we present a few suggested approaches to the issue:

1. Just wind up and give it your best shot at pronouncing it in Spanish. This was President Obama's initial approach at the press conference introducing Judge Sonia Sotomayor as his nominee. You can hear it at about the 3:15 mark of this clip: soft T, trilled R, accent on the final syllable: "so toe my OR."

2. Quickly tire of trying to sound like a native Spanish speaker and find some kind of English/Spanish hybrid pronunciation. This is what you hear more often from Obama in the clip after his initial efforts at pronouncing the name in Spanish (starting at around 4:40). Emphasis still at the end, but no more trilling and a different final vowel: it comes out something more like "soda my ER." Call this the bipartisan approach, maybe.
3. Fall back to "Sonia." Using the nominee's first name instead is Obama's final strategy for pronunciation-coping, and can be heard often as he recites Sotomayor's life story during the press conference. Note: this approach is not recommended unless you are the president.

4. Insist publicly on an "Americanized" pronunciation. Mark Krikorian of the National Review likes this idea. His suggestion is "SO duh my er" (rhymes with Niedermayer). The problem here (besides that "SO duh mayor," as in "the mayor of New York," would be more intuitive in English) is of course that it seems xenophobic to suggest that "foreign" names be arbitrarily Americanized. After all, as Salon points out, English is a tongue that has always been willing to adopt foreign words and sounds.  Why draw the line just for a certain liberal-leaning Supreme Court nominee?

5. Listen to the nominee herself and mimic. At around 12:50 and again around 13:20 in the clip above, you can hear Sotomayor herself pronouncing Sotomayor in Spanish. Why not, as a matter of etiquette, simply do your best to follow this as a guide? This seems the most obvious and correct approach, and as Lawyers, Guns and Money notes, gives the person whose name you are butchering an opportunity to tactfully ignore that fact.
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