How do you pronounce Rasmussen?

November 06, 2009 By: erik Category: Complaining, Denmark, Family, Spain, USA 3,818 views

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For my entire life I’ve had to live with a last name that no one pronounces like I do. I’ve lived in four different countries, and practically no one says my name correctly to my ear. There is only one correct way to pronounce “Rasmussen” in American English! Why is it so hard? Because so many Americans don’t understand the pronunciation rules that guide the phonetics of English.

American English

The rule for how to pronounce a U in English is based on the consonants that follow it. If there is a single consonant followed by a vowel after the U, the U is pronounced with a “long” sound. But if the consonant is double, it’s a “short” sound. It’s pretty easy. Let’s look at the following short and long examples:

  • butane – butter
  • mute – mutt
  • fuse – fuss
  • cuter – cutter

Are we seeing a pattern yet? Is there any way at all that the U in Rasmussen could possibly be long? No, of course not. It’s a short U.

This is how I say my last name:

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All professional speakers, like news anchors, pronounce it properly. You can hear more examples in every video over on the Rasmussen Reports site.

The American South

I grew up in the southern United States, where people have their own dialect of English. But the same rules above apply! Even in the Southern dialect, no one says the second word in the pairs above with a long U. So why do they insist on mispronouncing my name? People see the U, and, with no solid understanding of phonetics, assume that it must be a long U. You’d think that with no rules guiding them, they’d go 50-50 for long and short, but no. It’s always assumed to be long. And worse than that, they add in a Y sound, so it sounds like Ras-myoosen. Huh?

This is how my name was pronounced by all teachers and friends during my childhood.

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When I lived in Denmark for six months, I had to get used to not having to spell my last name all the time. Normally when people ask me for my name, I say, “Erik Rasmussen, R – A – S …” and immediately begin spelling my surname. But the Danes always stopped me, since Rasmussen is such an extremely common name there. One of the first people I met in Denmark was a lad named Rasmus, which I was surprised to hear pronounced with a long U, like Ras-moose. So here I am in Denmark annoyed that for my whole life the US Southerners have been mispronouncing my name with a long U and it turns out that the country my name originated from uses a long U! Ugh!

Here’s my attempt at a Scandinavian pronunciation of Rasmussen. The guttural R is tricky.

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And in the end, I’m here living in Spain, where, for phonetic reasons (Spanish has a third of the vowel sounds English does) I am forced to mispronounce my name and hear it pronounced differently from how I have said it my entire life. Even so, most people I say my name to, so they can look me up in the banking or medical database, say, “Um, can I just see your ID card?” The surname Rasmussen is so completely foreign here. A few days ago, someone thought the word I was saying started with a G! Hopefully my bilingual daughter will be able to say it in a way that can be understood by Spaniards, because I can’t.

Interestingly, the Spanish pronunciation is almost identical to the Scandinavian one.

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So there you have it, a Spanish twist on how to pronounce Rasmussen in American English.

See also: Fafmuffem

  • Hahahahaha. Ras-myoosen. I’m a southerner but I would never pronounce your name that way.

  • Paul

    I am reminded of something I heard my Dad say to someone 30 years ago, and which I have since said myself several times – “Rasmussen, Ras-myoosen, either way is fine”.

    I never mind any result which stems from a sincere attempt to work out the pronunciation. What drives me crazy is the fact that, in the United States at least, “working out” pronunciation of anything is almost a lost art. Instead, people have memorized words. If they look at “Rasmussen” and don’t recognize it, they ask if my name is “Ramseur” or some other name they have heard of.

  • We did have an Erik Rasmussen on the Wichita Wings soccer team when I was a kid (I had his ‘card’, his autograph, was a bit of a preteen stalker if I’m being honest) – Erik “The Wizard” is what we called him, and I do believe we said ‘Ras-mew-sen’. I apologize on behalf of all Wings fans. Were you named after him?

    And as a Pedroja, I totally feel you. (It’s from the canton Ticino in Switzerland, so not Spanish, Slavic, or anything else. Hard J. Three syllables.) And in Scotland, people can’t get Kristin. It’s Krrstehn, Keyrstehn. Can it really be that difficult, people?

    • Damn, I’m gonna have a really hard time teaching my Spanish neurons to not read your surname as “pe-DRO-ha”.

      My parents chose my name because they liked the name Eric, and they spelled it with a K to be more consistent with my Scandinavian last name. The problem is that everyone in the US spells my name with a C, and everyone in Denmark, because they knew I was American, also spelled it with a C. Fail-Fail. Oh well. If blogs aren’t about bitching about this sort of thing, I don’t know what they’re for.

      • Paul

        Also, since you were born on Columbus Day, we wanted to honor the first European to have landed in North America. We didn’t like the name “Leif” though, so we named you after Leif’s father.

  • michael

    yeah, i feel your pain too. despite ace, jesse, the blvd, the county, etc. all being pronounced almost correctly by 99% of the population, my name is still pronounced venchurra most of the time.

  • I’ve always pronounced your last name correctly in my head. The wonders of the bland Midwestern American accent.

  • I also just hand over my ID card. (I always thought my last name sounded a little strange, and that was BEFORE I heard Spaniards trying to say it.)

    Just for the record, when I read the name, I hear “RAS’-mahsun” in my mind. In Virginia, California, and Utah, I’ve know at least one Rasmussen family, and they all have pronounced it the same way, like you do.

    Ventura – venchurra, when I practice saying it out loud, I realize there is almost no difference in the sound I make. The “t” sound is way out towards the front teeth, but from me it sounds very similar to the “ch” sound I make, which is way back in the back-teeth. Sorry, if I try to say it too well, my brain flips to Spain-mode and it becomes a hard “d” and the “r” becomes a soft “d”

    – BEN -Doo -dah Hace Ventura, AH-thay Calor

    “Mountain” is one of those words that I pronounce one way one day, and another another day. “Mau’-in” when I’m not thinking about it, though. what a mess.

  • Uncle Neil

    Where I live everyone pronounces Rasmussen as I do. No problem. I do hear it mispronounced to me all the time over the phone from some other part of the country. I guess it makes sense as here along the Canada border of Minnesota the background of most locals is either Norway or Finland. I guess the countries have a lot of similarity to this rocky North Shore of great Lake Superior.
    Neil Ramussen

  • Erik: I’m sorry but i have to be a bit of a pedant and get all english teacher with you here… I’ve listened to your examples of the difference between how you pronounce your name and how it was pronounced in the south (i’m not going to get into how the spanish pronounce your name, nor the original scandinavian pronounciation here, because that falls outside the rules of english pronounciation [such as they are] and there are other factors at play there) and i disagree with your analysis.

    The example you gave of the difference between long and short sounds (butter vs butane for eg) doesn’t really stack up in your case, because nowhere do i hear you pronouncing the “u” in your surname like the “u” in butter, or any of the others cited. It’s a completely different vowel sound. (Unless you’re accent is completely different to how i remember it!)

    It’s not so much a question of how to pronounce the letter “u” but a question of stress… The sound you make with the “u” is exactly the same as that of the southern states, the difference (as i perceive it) is that the stress in the word is different. In your pronounciation, you place the stress on the first syllable, “Ras” which has the effect of shortening the vowels of the following syllables. Listening to your “southern” pronunciation it sounds to me like the stress is on both the first and second syllable (which doesn’t make sense to me) but which does give extra length to the vowel. The “u” sound you use in your surname (I don’t have the phonetic alphabet installed so i can’t type the symbol here, but check out this link if you like) is the long “u” sound, but placing the stress in another part of the word has the effect of shortening it..

    So to my ears the sound you make is the same as in “butane” but, with less stress, so therefore it sounds shorter. But it is not the same as the sound of the vowel in butter. Or perhaps you should send me a sound file of how you pronounce “butter”?!

    • blargul

      I’m curious how you pronounce butter and butane. As far as I can tell, he pronounces the name with a short “u”. Which is correct with the double consonant (“ss”) after it. He doesn’t say it with the “yew” sound that many people use. He definitely says “muss”.

  • Ha. This is a story close to my heart, but for a different reason. I’m going to try and explain this in a way that isn’t too confusing.

    Growing up, my name was always pronounced Graddy (rhymes with laddie). My dad use to joke (I think) that the Gradys (Gray-dees) had money and the Graddys didn’t. It wasn’t that big of a deal to me as I only travelled in “country” circles, so pretty much everyone pronounced it that way.

    When I got to college, it quickly became evident that my pronunciation of my name wasn’t the way the “rest of the world” pronounced it. When I would make reservations on the phone I would have to spell my name for the person because of the way I was pronouncing my name.

    My Great-Uncle Grady quipped while giving my Grandfather Grady’s eulogy that when a Grady (Graddy) moved more than 60 miles away from home, he became a Grady (Gray-dee). What?! Really? You can change the way you pronounce your name?! Well, my uncle did it. Why can’t I? So, I did.

    I think my mother is a bit upset with me over this change, but it is something that I’m not going to back down on. I may be wrong for turning my back on my heritage or something like that… but I don’t care. It’s kinda amusing when she answers the phone at my house with, “Graddy’s Residence… I mean, Grady’s Residence.”

    A couple of funny side-notes: When my wife attended nursing school in the county where my family is from, everyone called her Amy Graddy. Another funny thing is that my sister married a Braddy, who pronounces his name Bray-dee. So, she became Wendy Graddy Bray-dee.

    • That’s a good story. It also does a good job of illustrating how double consonants affect the vowels that proceed them.

      Your sister’s name is pretty funny. I don’t know anyone whose three names end with the same syllable like that.

  • Sara Rasmussen Weber

    Thanks Erik. I loved your travels and different ways to pronounce Rasmussen. My family is from Denmark and settled in Utah. They always pronounced it Ras-ma-sen. It’s interesting that different regions of the world all pronounce it differently. I guess next time I won’t be so picky how anyone chooses to say it. By the way, I also used to say it a couple of times when asked and then just spelled it. It was easier that way…:)

  • steve g.

    Excellent Erik. I just wish Sean Hannity would listen to this. I went to high school with some Rasmussen’s, pronounced as you do, and every time I hear Hannity butcher it on his show, it is like fingernails on a chalkboard.

    • <sarcasm>Finally! A reason to dislike Sean Hannity!</sarcasm>

      Thanks, Steve.

  • Josh

    What really bothers me is when you tell people how to pronounce and they still say rasmoosen or rasmewsen. Then when you correct them they try to tell you their way is how you pronounce it.

  • Chris

    I realize this is an old post, but just wanted to chime in.  I was searching on this because I grew up in a heavily Danish settled area in Iowa (I’m a product of a Jensen & Madsen marriage) and we always pronounce Rasmussen like you do in “American English”.  Often I’ll hear it on Television though and they will pronounce it more along the lines of your “American South” rendition.  I was beginning to wonder if somehow we were doing it wrong.  After hearing your pronunciation and many others I’m relieved to say we were pronouncing it correctly.  As far as the Danish pronunciation — yes, it is different but Jensen and Madsen are pronounced differently in Denmark too.  If southerners started pronouncing my last name of Jensen as Yensen, they’d still be wrong. 🙂

  • blargul

    Hahaha. Just found this blog post.

    My grandpa used to call me by my first name and then purposefully mispronounce it so it was Ras-mew-sen when I was in trouble, or he’d do it to irk me. It would drive me nuts. I’ve found lots of people don’t know how to spell it. I just shrug it off, I have a very difficult to pronounce first name as well (if you don’t understand English pronunciation rules) so I’m just really used to it. However, when I was in Spain no one had a difficult time pronouncing either my first or last name. Perhaps I just lucked out. Thanks for putting the Danish pronunciation up, I’ve always wondered what it sounded like in the homeland!

  • CJ

    I would guess that at least 99% of the people I have met in my life have called me Ras-mue-ssen. It’s definitely not just a southern thing and people struggle like hell to pronounce it without the long U to break up the word. This post was kind of refreshing because I was starting to doubt my pronunciation of my own last name!

    • dre

      I was as well CJ. Im in the military and I have people telling me all the time that I’m pronouncing my name incorrectly. Its very frustrating having to correct someone on a daily bases. After 4 years in the military I have finally got my commander to say it correctly and now he will correct people for me. Im glad to see i wasn’t the only one starting to doubt myself.

  • Wendy Rasmussen

    We’ve always said RASS-muh-sin. The “muh” is like “huh”