Ngaire, Nyree, Na-ree, Ngai-reh

I’ve had a few queries about the pronunciation of my grandmother Ngaire’s name.

Apparently my great-grandfather wanted a ‘proper New Zealand name’ for his first-born and asked a missionary friend for her advice. She suggested the Maori name Ngaire, meaning ‘flaxen’.

Sorting out the pronunciation is a bit tricky. I can’t ever remember Ngaire saying her own name (she was always Granny or Mrs Mottram) and Mum’s recollection is that her father only ever called his wife ‘Mother’. All the more reason for getting it right, though I am prepared to give my grandfather the benefit of the doubt here. I’m hoping that, at least in the privacy of their own home, they called each other Ngaire and Gerald!

I always think of Granny as ‘Na-ree’ (with not too much ‘e’ at the end) because that’s what Aunty Phyllis called her, but ‘Nyree’ is the more popular way of saying it.

I’m sticking with ‘Nar-ee’, but am going to work on getting the Ng sound right.

The sound at the end of sing (ng)  cannot begin an English syllable, but in Maori, it can occur at the beginning of a syllable. English speakers therefore find it very hard to pronounce such words as ngaio, Ngaire, Ngauruhoe, ngata as they would be pronounced in Maori. They use their nearest phoneme box, which is n.

More here.

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