BBC News Magazine

Page last updated at 12:11 GMT, Thursday, 25 February 2010

How do you pronounce 'Cheryl'?

Cheryl Baker and Cheryl Cole

By Elizabeth Diffin
BBC News Magazine

It's a name on many lips. But how do you correctly say Cheryl - is it CH-eryl or SH-eryl?

Cheryl Baker. Cheryl Cole.

Past and present British pop stars with identical first names. One is pronounced with the decidedly English -ch of church or chips. The other's a bit more Continental, employing the French -sh also found in chivalry and chandelier.

But which is the correct pronunciation - and why does such a difference exist?

The name Cheryl first became popular in the UK and US in the 1920s, along with other fashionable monikers like Cherise or Cherry. It blends the French word cherie - meaning dear or beloved - with Beryl, a common British name of the time and a type of precious stone.

Sheryl Crow
Sheryl Crow avoids confusion with a transliterated spelling

Name scholar Julia Cresswell says Cheryl grew in popularity through the 1930s and 40s before peaking in the 60s. The timing of its popularity coincides with the publication of Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette's novel Cheri, a tale of a young man and his older female lover, first published in French in 1920.

In France, Cheri remains a male name, although Cherie Blair has increased the notoriety of the female version in the UK. Cheryl's French origins are equally clear.

"In French, they don't have a -ch sound, except in borrowed language," says Mark Huckvale, a senior lecturer in speech science at University College London. "That's how they encode the -sh sound."

There are signs that Cheryl existed before 1920, but its usage was infrequently. Cheryl Crawford, a Broadway director and producer, was born in 1902. Her name, however, was pronounced with a -ch, generally accepted as a more English articulation.

Personal preference

In English, words that begin with ch followed by a consonant - such as chronic - or em - as in chemistry - take a hard k sound. Other than that, the default rule is to use the -ch sound, says Dr Huckvale.

The pronunciation confusion may be one reason why some who bear this name - including the US singer Sheryl Crow - have a transliterated spelling.

The BBC Pronunciation Unit asks person in question, or close acquaintance, for their preference
Linguist Jo Kim says this can be highly idiosyncratic: "The same name can be pronounced in several different ways by different individuals"
Parents typically choose pronunciation, but Colin Powell famously prefers COLE-in - not COLL-in - after WWII hero Colin P Kelly Jr
Surname pronunciation can vary within a family - Lord Neuberger uses NYOO-bur-guhr, while sister-in-law Dame Julia Neuberger prefers NOY-bur-guhr

Some people think the -ch pronunciation of Cheryl is due to earlier origins as a feminine version of Charles. Although Charlotte and Caroline are the commonly accepted feminine versions, says Ms Cresswell, the perceived link between Cheryl and Charles might have lead to some parents choosing it instead.

"Everybody has a different reason for choosing the name," she says.

And the pronunciation of Cheryl has shifted as its been naturalised, she says, just as the French word garage now has an Anglicised pronunciation when used in English-speaking countries.

Then there is the difference between seeing a word and hearing it - names like Yvonne and Siobhan have a multitude of spellings and pronunciations for that very reason.

People who read Cheryl and automatically associate it with French might naturally say SH-eryl. Those who don't might choose naturally to say CH-eryl.

"If you think of it as French, you read it as French," says Mr Huckvale. "Or if you think of it as English, you read it as English."

In other words, it really does depend on who you ask, and whose name it is.

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