Respell In A Nutshell (Part 2)

By Matthew C Wallace


In our prior article, Respell In A Nutshell, we dug into the why, the what, the options and so forth of respelling.  What we really did not do is get into making it work.  In part 2 of our discourse on phonetic transcription, we will get into the mechanics of respelling.  Our method will aim to keep it as simple and brief as possible with the intent of helping those who deal with pronunciations become faster and more accurate.  Again, the whole purpose to respelling is to help speakers pronounce names of people, places and things.

We must tell you, however, there are no shortcuts. You cannot fake respelling and expect the job to get done right or your announcer/broadcaster to do his best work on your oranization’s names. They do NOT know your players; therefore, pronunciation guides are their only hope and that is up to YOU!

Public Address Announcer KISS

I know everyone knows this already but, I’ve gotta say it, Keep It Simple Stupid.  I know, I know.  You’re not stupid so, why make respelling more complex and painful than it needs to be.  Most of you doing it for your organizations don’t have time anyway.  The goal is to write out the most accurate pronunciations in the simplest, quickest possible way such that a speaker or announcer can say them out loud with a precision to the satisfaction and delight of the owners.

Public Address Announcer Softball Player

Caveat emptor: Regardless of what anyone thinks, there are still 100 ways to pronounce Andrea.  The ball player on the left has been called Andrea her entire life; however, do YOU know how she says it and hears it?  Do you know her preference?  Your announcer will want to say it the way she wants it.  Simple and quick does not mean be sloppy.  With a bit more effort, you can make a huge difference for both ball player and speaker.  Why?  Your speaker wants to pronounce perfectly.  With good phonetic transcription, you help to give them their best shot of meeting this objective. 

Consider your own name?  If you were under pressure to get a hit in front of a thousand adoring fans, would you want your name said wrong in front of everybody, one cleat before you stepped in the batter’s box.  Think about it.

Don’t Panic

Public Address Announcer Don't Panic
Public Address Announcer Names

Read the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy if you haven’t.  You will understand totally.  If you use one of our posted tools and a whole lot of sense, you’ll respell well with time to spare.  Remember, names are everything to people and organizations so, getting them as right as we can shows respect to those that own them. 

Wanna know how important?  Click the basketball.

Use A Tool

Public Address Announcer PAA Respelling

For heaven’s sake, use a tool.  For the purposes of this article, we will be using the tool on the left.  This is the respelling chart designed by Public Address Announcer to simplify respelling to its absolute basics.  Know this, the best respelling tool produces transcriptions which allow a speaker to quickly decipher the pronunciation of a name with minimum effort.  Use whatever tool you want but, use a tool.  Would you hammer a nail with your fist??  No.  So, don’t do it with this either.  Pick a tool.  One page of paper.  Stick it on your tack board.  When you’ve got a new roster or list of names, your tool is at your fingertips.  Refer to it when needed.  One page!  How hard is that?!  Easy!!!

We’ve got really good news!!!  Your tool will not change hardly ever.  Why?  Major portions of phonetics simply do not radically change often.  I have every confidence you will say, “Uh”, the same way most of your life and so will everyone you know.  Print one tool, one time and you’ll be set veritably forever.  Again, easy!!!

Keep it in the back of your mind!  You need to work quick.  You’ve got bigger and better things to do.  You’re announcer/speaker needs to work quick.  They’ve got their share of things to do.  You wan’t accurate results.  Your announcer/speaker wants accurate transcriptions.  Tools, of any kind, are about efficiency.

Get Organized

Get Your List of Names

It is likely you already know some of the folks on your list of names.  This helps; however, read your entire list out loud to yourself.  Doing this gives you a frame of reference for the work in front of you.

Mark the Challenging Ones

It is likely you already know some of the folks on your list of names.  This helps; however, read your entire list out loud to yourself.  Doing this gives you a frame of reference for the work in front of you.

Review All Names with their Owners

Ok.  Depending on who you work for, this may or may not be realistic.  Maybe you have to talk to a couple of people that know everyone.  Ideally, you want to hear the people pronounce their own names.  Why???  It’s what they will want to hear coming out of the speaker.

Some folks get really upset when their name is spoken wrong in front of a crowd of onlookers.  Some get just as upset when their hometown is mispronounced.  These are sensitive issues to many so be wise about it.

Review every single name. Remember, Andrea.  Even names obvious to you will have surprises.  Review them all!  Why not?!  It truly does not take much time.  Let’s be sure you know what you’ve got on that list.  It goes miles towards aiding your speaker in doing the best possible job.

Public Address Announcer Listening Woman

For really difficult monikers, insist, and i mean insist, on talking to the owner.  Listen to they way they say it.  You want their eardrums vibrating the right way over the PA system.

Make notes on everything.  Leverage your fancy phone.  Your fancy phone will have a voice-memo app.  Good grief, use it!!!  Record them speaking it.  When you return to your desk, you can listen to it over and over until you have it down on paper the right way.

Note: Let’s talk teams only here.  Please, realize and understand, your team will go on the road and will be subject to, who knows what kind of, announcers in other locations.  You want your players hearing their names correct wherever they go.  Pardon the pun, it will speak volumes of you and your organization when your respelling effort is pristine.

Respell Away

The tool makes things easy and, soon you’ll have a whole host of phonemes memorized so, you are hardly even looking at the tool but, keep your chart hanging on the tack board.  A question always arises.  You want to be able to slide your eyes up, see the answer to your question and get right back to finishing your transcriptions.

Let’s Get Started!!!

Andrea Gonzalez

You’ve done your homework and discovered she pronounces her first name kinda the old-fashioned way by emphasizing the first syllable and saying it using a nasal eastern U.S. style.  Meanwhile, she speaks her last name in the more traditional Mexican Spanish as opposed to Spain Spanish which utilizes a breathier style which almost sounds like a lisp.

Here we go:

Our handy dandy chart tool has been mock circled up to show the appropriate parts utilized to break down Andrea.  The sample words on the right of the vowel or consonant provide examples to help you sound things out.  On more manageable names, this chart is no different than firing Confucius’ cannon.  On the other hand, the chart yields invaluable guidance on complex monikers.

aghn-dree-uh gohn-zah-lehz

Good job! The aghn rhymes with van which is exactly what you were after.  She definitely enunciated the “z” sounds in her last name.  Some people with this last name will pronounce them as an “s” but, Andrea does not.  She uses the z and it’s what she wants.  Her family will be most pleased when the “z” comes through on the PA system.

You did it!  But wait.  What are the stresses? Ok.  Before we go any further, let’s casually talk about what they are.

Andrea 1

Look at the notes above.  Yes, you see music.  People don’t realize this but, we all sing our languages.  Everything has a pitch and a timing.  Dr. Seuss knew this the best.  Languages like Japanese are a bit different but, I can explain that later.

Look at the above.  Believe it or not, that is the music notation representation of Andrea Gonzalez.  Each note is a syllable.  The two elevated notes are the stresses or accents.  Look at the notes above and say her name out loud.  Listen really carefully.  You will hear it all.  The timing will be obvious to you.  You will hear your voice go up on the two stress points.  Try it.  Hear the inflections?  Yes, that’s right.

What this means to you is changes in pitch are the syllables you capitalize in your respelling.  So now, take your respelling, apply what you have just learned about stress points on syllables and finish your transcription of her name.  With a little effort on your part, you will slam-dunk it quick!  Go ahead, try:

AGHN-dree-uh gohn-ZAH-lehz

Public Address Announcer Woman

Hey hey!  Look at that.  You just Respelled in a Nutshell.  Where do you go from here?  Well, read your respelling out loud nice and slow.  Afterwards, read your respelling at a normal pace.  If you, generally, match the way she does it, you’ve hit your first phonetic home run!!!  Congrats!

OMG!!!  Another Andrea is on your list:

Andrea Mitchell

Andrea 2

In both music notations, if you know music, the rhythm matches the flow of the name as well.  Rhythm is a red herring in this piece so, we are not going to torture you with it.  Just recognize, rhythms in speech are tantamount to pronunciation and stresses.  We will leave it at that.

So, you take a swipe at it.  Notice, the phonetic change in the first and second syllables.  Way, way different than the other.  The stress points land such that this lady’s name is considerably dissimilar to Andrea Gonzalez.  You are truly getting the process down.  Boy, just look at you go!

ahn-DRAY-uh MIH-chul

Check how strange to the eyes.  Notice the T is nowhere in the last name.  Peculiar, right?  Mitchell should have that biting “T” uttered.  Common sense or is it?  Well, you spoke to her.  You took notes.  Frankly, it’s how she says it and, don’t forget, it’s her eardrums that are our top priority.  But, the big idea is a speaker can look at your transcription and know exactly what to do!  You win!!!!

Public Address Announcer Prepared

Hold on.  Slow down.  Put on your seat belt.  Sharpen that pencil.  You’ve got a freshman catcher from American Samoa:

Falepolima Tautalafua

Oh, crap!!!  Time to pull your hair out!  I don’t think so.  You’ve got tools and skills now.  You were smart.  You used the voice-memo app on your phone and got her to speak it once fast and once slow.  So, you sit there and play it a few times for yourself to break it down.  Wisely, you tackle the first name only.  You, also, cleverly focus on the respelling portion and save the stresses for later.  After listening carefully, you come up with:

Public Address Announcer Falepolima Respell


Amazing!!!  You are astonishing at this.  Notice your respell tool leads you right down the pike.  You say it out loud and compare with the recording to make sure you’ve laid out the syllables as sweet as her name.  Now, you tune up that ear for the stress points, listening carefully to where her pitch changes.

It sounds like she goes down on the poh and up on the lee.  You listen again and conclude that she really only changes on the lee so, you capitalize it and review what you have:


You read your transcription over and over out loud.  You replay her recording again.  Something is just not right.  You can distinctively hear the “poh” go down in pitch.  This indicates the “fah” and “lay” are up like the “lee”.  You make the adjustment:


You lean back in your chair and stare.  You listen to the recording.  You recite what you transcribe out loud and get a grin on your face.  You figured it out!  And, all on your own!  You are super good at this now!


Public Address Announcer Overwhelmed Woman

Egads!  Seriously?  You look at that name thinking about where to even start.  Some of these names are just over the top.  You stop yourself right there.  You put your hands together and whisper, “Ok...” 

Taking the recording of her last name, you close your eyes and open your ears.  You’ve become quite capable.  You can do this.  You follow the practice by breaking down just the syllables.  The more you work, the less daunting it appears.  After changing and scratching out a few times, you end up with:


You look at your tool to be sure on the t-o-w part.  You see ow is used for transcribing words like about and flour.  The oo is leveraged for boot and you.  Per the tool, you are perfect!!  I mean dead-on.

Alright, time to wrestle the stresses.  Based on how she says it, you’ve got more than one.  You, now, naturally consider the pitches and musical nature of the name.    You go ahead and take a cut because it’s complicated.  Nothing wrong with mistakes when you are trying to figure things out, right?  Take a look:


You stare long at hard at it.  You say it out loud.  You listen to her recording.  You tilt your head left, lean back in your chair and give it the big eye.  Nope, nope, nope, not right.  You become pensive for a few moments.  If a tough name begins to use too much time in your opinion, stand up, walk down the hall, get a drink of water and come back.  Clear the ol’ noggin. 

Returning, what bothers you becomes clear.  Nodding, you make the appropriate adjustment then stare at it again:


Yep.  You decide she truly does not emphasize that second syllable.  When you start reading it out loud over and over, you get excited because you hear yourself starting to sound just like her.  Wow!  What a mouthful but, you did it!  So, the big step is to put it all together to see if it works:

FAH-LAY-poh-LEE-muh TOW-tah-lah-FOO-uh

Sakes alive!  You are amazing at this!  You’re ready for the mic yourself.  This was a monster name and you nailed it!  Any announcer and broadcaster will be able to speak this with little difficulty thanks to your diligence!!!  Think about how this young lady’s family will feel when someone finally, after all these years, pronounces their daughter’s name correctly.  It will be cake and balloons that night.  Honestly, you will give yourself a medal for this one!

And so… You’re not one for particularly resting on your laurels so, your next big question pops up.  What’s next?

Review Your Work

So you’ve respelled every single name.  That’s really terrific!  You’ve done the right thing. Every name counts.  Let the announcer/speaker figure out for themselves which names to earmark.  This individual, probably, has done this for a while; therefore, they will scan the list and quickly identify which names will give them fits.

Public Address Announcer Grumpy Cat

If your situation is a team, don’t forget to respell the coaches and assistant coaches.  That’s right.  It must be done. Coaches names are recited/spoken by announcers and broadcasters alike.  Oh you bet coaches can be cantankerous cats when their name is not spoken to their liking.  Actually, they are far worse than the players when their names get mispronounced.  They send grouchy text messages.  So, yes, proper phonetic transcriptions for those folks, too.

If you’re hankering to do this really well, you should go back to the team or group and read off your pronunciations.  Realistically, you will not garner your captive audience in whole but, you must try.  It only takes a few minutes to mitigate a season of nuisance.  Think of it this way.  This is your Once and For All moment.  From here, your transcriptions will go land in the media guide/quick facts/roster sheets for all to see.  This is your work.  I am sure you want to be known for excellent work, right?  Excellent work builds reputable careers.  Phonetic transcriptions are simply one more reflection on you.  I recommend it not be a pockmark on your resumé.


Public Address Announcer Chess
Public Address Announcer Housecleaner

Just about kickin’ over the King, eh?  Everyone wants to go to the party but, not a sole wants to stay behind and clean up.  You’re a pro, though.  Housecleaning is just part of being professional about yourself,  There’s a just a few things to tidy up so, let’s get on it.  Whadda ya’ say?

First, use lower case letters for most everything and upper case letters for the stress points.  Do NOT use small upper case letters.  Why?  As humans, we are great pattern matchers.  We visually interpret patterns really quick.  The more upper and lower case combinations we see, the more efficient our brains interpret.  To add to this, I even suggest a serif font, Times New Roman or Garamond, rather than a sans-serif one, Arial or Calibri.  The little flourishes increase readability.  Why do you think newspapers use Times New Roman?  That’s right, readability.  Curious?  You are in luck.  We have an entire article just on legibility/readability.  Just click on the typography comparison below and pique your intrigue!!!

Public Address Announcer Arial vs Times New Roman
Arial vs Times New Roman

Announcers, broadcasters and public speakers need to work fast on their feet.  If materials are provided in lots of upper and lower case letters, these folks will be able to process your data efficiently with a heck of a lot more accuracy.  You, representing your team or organization, want your speakers handling your names and copy as impeccably as possible.  Therefore, upper and lower case letters always.  Believe it or not, the more lower case the better.

Not A Marketing Tool

Focusing on team sports a moment, your transcriptions/respellings are not advertisements.  Media guides, Quick Facts and other documents used for athletic events and contests all morph into a prettiness with a less than pragmatic flair.  There is nothing cosmopolitan about a written name pronunciation.  Public speakers save all the vogue for the microphone.  Your transcriptions should make it to paper well-organized and easy to read.

There has been a dangerous trend of late: folks try to get creative with their respellings.  By creative, they cleverly try to slip them in wherever.  They format them with sexy fonts.  They do funny little things to make them attractive.  Cute and fuzzy is a trend in society but, not altogether useful for your speaker.

Public Address Announcer Michigan State Softball Roster

Alright.  We’ve got a jersey-ordered roster with appropriate data and pronunciations down the right side.  Not bad.  Not bad.  If the respellings were done correctly, we’d be styling almost.  Agreed.  This is kinda-sorta usable. 

The coaching staff was printed in a different style, however.  This is a bad idea, guys.  Give everything the exact same style. 

Announcers/Broadcasters need to work quick.  Please, make it simple on them.  The other challenge on this roster is the visual distance from number/name to pronunciations is too far.  Now…, your speaker is using a ruler or dragging his finger.

Let’s take a look at another.

First, it is put at the bottom of an alphabetical roster.  This does not work.  Consider your true audience with these documents, ok?  Second, they’ve rewritten the name and embedded the respelling within this.  We realize this was an effort to be helpful but, it is not.  What will happen here is a speaker will take his pencil and start marking up his own roster to compensate for the intractable option presented.  Yes, this roster looks well-organized and formatted and pretty but, not particularly valuable for the challenging pronunciations you can see at the bottom.

Public Address Announcer Contemplating Woman

As you can see, respellings arrive on paper in all shapes and sizes and, on occasion, not-at-all.  Pronunciation Keys, as they are so often incorrectly labelled, even show up written like a paragraph from left to right and top to bottom as if we are supposed to read it like a story. 

Going back to the tools analogy, imagine having a nail to get in a board.  You request a hammer and get a screwdriver.  Rather than just hammering away, you are wasting time figuring out what to do.  Why?  You still have to get the nail in the board.  Pronunciations are no different.  Names still must be said at the game or event.

If pronunciations are really going to be useful in a format for the press box, they should appear pretty much next to a roster and organized as in this example:

Well, Ok.  Now, we’re talkin’. This is in 14 point Arial font.  It’s clean, tabbed and every name respelled.  Here are a couple of notes as you peruse.  This was done up using the PAA Respell chart.  There are various charts provided on this website to choose from.  We like ours because it is the simplest.  Definitely, ours is not the most precise, but the simplest and easiest to use.  …We are biased, though.

Notice Player #28 pronounces her name differently than we expect.  Yes, this is a real player from a real team.  It turns out she was named for her great-grandmother.  This is why it is a best practice to transcribe every darn name.  Then, there is no guessing going on.  

This is in numerical, not alphabetical, order.  Announcers/Broadcasters look at jersey numbers.  Especially with visiting squads, the names and faces will not be memorized.  They see numbers.  So what’s the best index then?  Numerical and, there you have it.

Public Address Announcer Japanese Softball Player

Take a peek at Player #12.  I alluded to Japanese names earlier.  In Japanese, syllables are not stressed.  Trust me, I know this for a fact.  They are, also, pronounced steady and even.  Yes, that’s right.  It will sound robotic.  Trust me, Koike-san is expecting to hear her name this way.  Recall, I recommended using lower case whenever possible for legibility reasons.  This is a good example.  When both first and last name are either unstressed, like Japanese, or one syllable each, lower case is the way.  No, it is not pretty.  Yes, it is very legible.  Which do you think your speaker prefers, pretty or legible?

Our first sample roster got typed up in a nice sans-serif font, Arial.  It’s tidy and straightforward.  In comparison, let’s take a look at a serif example.

Not as good in your opinion, I bet.  This is 15 point, Times New Roman.  15 point was chosen to give a similar size to Arial 14.   It has these little curly-cue flourishes on the letters called serifs.  This is not as cute and tidy as Arial so, you will immediately believe less readable so, not a good solution.


Not to hurt your feelings but, you could not be more wrong.  And, this is a debate that has be going on across centuries.  There was a time when serifs were considered the standard and considerably lovelier than sans-serif options.  Keep in mind, the human brain matches patterns extremely fast and at a level of detail that would shock you.  As you look around in your daily life with your eyes, your brain is sparking and flashing and firing all day long.  The more shapes and sizes seen, the more efficiently a person processes information.

Public Address Announcer Brain

Of course, there will be a few that disregard this discussion altogether.  They look at both and decide it’s neither here nor there.  Well, that’s ok, too.  However, we, at Public Address Announcer, are proponents of doing a top professional job so, for your edification, we are teaching you that there is a huge difference and, you should understand that.

Moving on, take a look at #91.  Her transcription was put on 2 lines.  When you get a really long name, best to break it up into two pieces for the announcer and broadcaster.  A long moniker is tough enough.  Any advantage you can provide to your speaker, please, do.  It will not go unnoticed.

Let’s go one extra fun step.

Public Address Announcer Respell Sample Table

Holy crap!  Times New Roman, bolded, numerical, in a table, green-bar method… Wow!  Know how much extra time it took to do this up in a table?  I timed myself making it from scratch: 94 seconds.  You got it, a minute and a half!!! Provide your announcer/broadcaster this and watch what happens.  Suddenly, they are giving you a high-five and buying you lunch.

Public Address Announcer High Five

Take in how the bold helps the mind scan the index and see the name quick.  Check how the gray lines contrast from the white using the old accounting green-bar report method for reading voluminous amounts of data.

Ladies and gentlemen, your speaker will NOT be able to move quicker if this is the tool provided at the work space.   Simply put, it’s awesome!

If you are going to provide a guide, why not go all in with one of the 3 provided samples.  It’s professional, accurate and effective.  These are samples.  Use common sense, please.  Take these ideas and go with works best in your organization.  The big idea in showing you this stuff is to promote thought and, we hope we have.

Bringin’ It All Together

With a tool, you can be a star.  Without a tool, you will struggle.  Why struggle?!  I don’t get it.  I’ve seen more folks prefer to struggle than I can shake a stick at. 

Top professionals across careers, unabashed, use tools to help them.  These same people ask questions, ad naseum.   These exact same people raise their hand constantly and proclaim, “I don’t understand.”  These very same people study non-stop, read all the time, take classes, diet, exercise, sleep well and make enormous amounts of time for loved ones.  Watch it quietly in your own work environment.  These folks stick out like a sore thumb.  If you’re in the restroom at work looking in the mirror and spot one there, too, guess what?!  

People’s names and their pronunciations are just one factor in public speaking, extremely important nonetheless, but one factor.  If this is part of your work to provide them, be professional about it.  Use tools.  Ask questions.  Raise your hand.  Study.  Treat it no differently than the largest project of your life.  Truth is, you never know.  A proper effort on something as fundamental as phonetic transcription might just open a bigger door than the largest project you ever completed.  Never underestimate anything you have to do.  This is why consistency and assiduousness in work ethic is paramount, my friend.

About Matthew C Wallace

Matthew C. Wallace is the owner of He is a public address announcer, writer, webmaster, historian, author as well as a former executive and musician. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and children.

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