How do you pronounce that?

My lack of planning has caused me a lot of problems during the writing of my book. One of the most difficult has been the name of my protagonist, which is also the name of this blog, and my Twitter  and Facebook names. It was to be the name of the book – until I discovered a problem.

Nobody knows how to pronounce it – and that includes me!

Why did I pick on Byrhtnoth? Why not any of the other versions of his name? To be honest, I don’t really remember. Perhaps I thought it more “authentic” than the more common Britnoth. More likely, it was easier to grab a unique name for the blog etc.

ANNAL 991 IN MS D OF THE ANGLO-SAXON CHRONICLE. © THE BRITISH LIBRARY, COTTON TIBERIUS B.IV, FOL. 33V

There are several different ways of writing the name – here is how it was written in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The crossed d is an Old English letter called Eth and is the equivalent of th. Don’t ask me about the other letters!

Byrhtnoth’s Memorial in Ely Chathedral.

 

 

 

In Latin, inscribed on his memorial in Ely Cathedral it is Brithnothus.

J. R. R. Tolkien wrote a play called The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son, describing the aftermath of the Battle of Maldon, so we know that he thought it should be written Beorhtnoth.

Britnoth, Byrhtnoth, Beorhtnoth and probably several others. Really, it doesn’t matter how you write it, as long as you know how to pronounce it. That is the problem. Since Britnoth seems to be the usual “modern” spelling, I assumed that was how it should be pronounced. So when anyone looked at my version, tried to read it and ask “How do you pronounce it?” I tell them Brit-noth.

The name itself Byrhtnoth means something like bright courage, so should it be Brite-noth? At least this gave me a new name for the book – Bright something, and since it is about a search for a sword, it became Bright Sword (after checking that there wasn’t another book of that name – surprisingly there wasn’t.) As the book became a series, I can use it for Bright Axe, Bright anything!

While we’re here, have a look at that word “Bright”. If you hadn’t come across it before, probably at school singing “All things Bright and Beautiful” wouldn’t you stumble over how to pronounce it?

Returning to my problem. My book is nearly published – less than a week to go!

Sooner or later, I will be asked to read something from it. Can I get away with a piece that doesn’t mention my protagonist’s name? After all it is written in the first person. No, sooner or later I am going to have to face up to it, I will have to stand up and say “His name is – What?

I have asked people I would have expected to know, they declined to commit. I can find nothing on the internet to tell me.

But wait. The Battle of Maldon is a poem – a famous poem. There must be a recording of someone reading it. There are several.

See here for a reading of Byrhtnoth’s speech. You can compare the Old English words with the modern version and hear the words. “Byrhtnoth” is the first word spoken , so you may have to replay it several times to hear how it is pronounced.

Here, is another, more dramatic rendition, with subtitles so you can follow the words. I find it fascinating that in places the words are so similar, you can almost understand it, the next sentence is incomprehensible.

What conclusion have I come to? I think the correct pronunciation should be something like Birrt-noth. This fits the old versions, but not the modern Britnoth. Why? Is it something to do with the Great Vowell Shift, when there were big changes in the pronunciation of the English language between 1350 and the 1600s and 1700s. See here for more information – I don’t know enough to explain it!

What do I do now? Change my version of his name? Could you, having known someone intimately for five years, suddenly call them something different? Or do I stick with what I know and risk being told I’m wrong?

Please, if anyone knows the correct version, tell me, before it’s too late!

In other news, the cold I started last week didn’t develop into anything serious, but at least it gave me a bit of spare time to write. I managed 5,429 words last week.

I will be blogging more this week, every day, up to publication day – 28th January.

I will start later today with an interview with Byrhtnoth – however you pronounce it!

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