8

I live in Australia and I had a big family gathering over the weekend. We know that our ancestors moved to Australia from Germany in the late 1800s.

There was a big argument over how to properly pronounce our surname Ruhle. Most people say it like the English word rule but some insisted that it is pronounced like the English word really.

I was wondering if anyone would know how to pronounce the name properly

EDIT - The name was originally spelt Rühle.

EDIT - I found a pronunciation website with Rühle pronounced: http://forvo.com/word/Rühle/

  • 1
    Note that the 'h' makes the preceding vowel "long" and "stressed", irrelevant of it being 'u' or 'ü'. – Stephie Nov 29 '15 at 4:59
  • The pronounciation is ok-ish, she just puts an almost-'ö' at the end where I'd put a 'schwa' with a quite distinct tendency to a clear 'e'. – Stephie Dec 9 '15 at 7:53
14

If the original form of the name was Ruhle without an umlaut, its German pronunciation would be very similar to the word ruler in non-rhotic accents of English (which include Australian English), i.e. with two syllables, unlike rule. In the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), the pronunciation would be represented as [ˈruːlə].

If, on the other hand, it was Rühle, then it would be more like an English reeler; however, the first vowel would be spoken with rounded lips, a sound that doesn’t exist in English: [ˈryːlə]. This version is of course close to really.

In both cases, there are additional minor differences between English and German in the way the r and l sounds are pronounced.

The spelling Ruhlë is unlikely because German really only uses ä, ö, ü. Of course, nothing is impossible with names; quite likely, if it indeed was Ruhlë, that would have been pronounced the same as a plain Ruhle.

  • 7
    And let me add that "Rühle" is pretty common in SW Germany (Swabia). – Stephie Nov 29 '15 at 4:52
  • 1
    A trema on the letter e (ë) are not a standard feature of German language. A trema is not an Umlaut! (Umlauts are only ä, ö and ü). But a trema can appear in rare cases on i or e (ï, ë) to mark that the letter with the trema is not part of a diphthong. – Hubert Schölnast Nov 29 '15 at 8:54
  • 2
    Without trema the name of the German commedian Bernd Hoëcker would be pronounced like Höcker (oe=ö in German), and the group of islands Alëuten would be pronounced like Aloiten, because eu is normally spoken as oi. But the e in Ruhle does not stand next to another vovel with wich it could be interpreted as part of a diphthong. So there can not be a trema on this e. – Hubert Schölnast Nov 29 '15 at 8:54
  • 3
    @Hubert Schölnast: The word trema is rarely used in English. Unlike the German word from which it is derived, the English word umlaut does mean ‘the two dots on a letter such as ä’. Some people distinguish it from a diaeresis (for them, umlaut is the dots indicating a sound change and diaresis the dots indicating a separate syllable), but others don’t. – Wikipedia claims that the diaeresis in Bernhard Hoëcker is not part of his official name. – chirlu Nov 29 '15 at 10:13
  • 1
    @chirlu names or not, the point still stands — German doesn't generally use ë or ï, and when it does, it isn't umlaut (instead, it's for purposes of separating vowel sounds, as in naïve or the archaic spellings coöperation or reëducation). So Ruhlë isn't a reasonable candidate here. And when discussing German I think it's reasonable to call umlaut umlaut, and call not-umlaut not-umlaut. – hobbs Nov 30 '15 at 4:48
6

The names Rühle/Ruehle do seem to be a bit more common in Germany than Ruhle. On the other hand, if your ancestors spelled their surname Ruehle there was no reason to change it, and if they spelled it Rühle they would most likely have transcribed this as Ruehle right upon entering the country. (PS: But as hobbs pointed out in a comment, it’s quite possible that someone else with no knowledge of German transcribed the name from German passports.)

For now, let’s assume the original name to be Ruhle without the umlaut.

What you want is probably not an accent-free German pronunciation but an English one that is conscious of the name’s origin. That would be like the English word rule, but with the final e pronounced (without giving it any stress). Sort of like pronouncing the words rule export, stressing the first word, and stopping right before the x.

Now if the original name was Rühle, after all, then only the quality of the u sound would be different. Since most native English speakers can neither produce a proper ü sound nor hear the difference, you needn’t worry about this. But if you can speak French, it’s almost exactly the same as the French u sound, as for example in sûrement.

By the way, ë only appears in German in the same way and for the same reasons that some people write the English word co-operation as coöperation. (The only exception is Luxembourgish, which might be called a national language that is also a German dialect. In Luxembourgish orthography, ë denotes a sound somewhere between e and ö and is transcribed as eo when the letter is not available. But this is not relevant to your name as it has no common variant of this kind.) It is conceivable that upon entering Australia your ancestors might have changed the spelling of their name to Ruhlë in order to indicate that the last syllable should be pronounced. But even this doesn’t seem very likely.

  • 3
    I don't know about Australia, but immigrants to the United States historically were at the mercy of immigration officials for the recording of their names, and a lot was often lost in the process. Especially when the immigrant couldn't spell their name to begin with it might be changed radically, but even if they were literate an umlaut could be lost because "we don't have those here" and no one thought to use the ue-convention. Either is certainly plausible in my opinion. – hobbs Nov 30 '15 at 4:54
  • 2
    @hobbs: Thanks for the correction. As a European I didn't think of that possibility. – user2183 Nov 30 '15 at 7:18
  • the English word rule, but with the final e pronounced makes no sense. – Walter Nov 30 '15 at 10:29
  • 2
    @Walter: If this sentence in the explanation doesn't help you, you are free to ignore it and concentrate on the next one. But most native English speakers are somewhat used to the idea of pronouncing word-final e from pronouncing French and Spanish words such as paso doble, and may even be able to do it without undue stress and without turning it into a diphthong. (In Middle English, word final e was still pronounced this way in most English words, at least optionally.) – user2183 Nov 30 '15 at 11:09
0

I have the last name Ruehle and we pronounce it "Really" (MN, USA)

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.