Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Pronouncing Conan

Stills & Analysis of the Conan the Barbarian Trailer, Part 4 by Al Harron, linked in my updated Conan trailer post, addresses the pronunciation of the name of Conan of Cimmeria.

"I’ve seen more than a few comments on the internet which are dismayed that the pronunciation doesn’t match that of the 1982 film, but this is another occasion where Conan the Barbarian was inaccurate. Conan’s pronunciation is, and always was (until 1982), meant to be pronounced the same way you pronounce it for other peoples with the name: emphasis on the first syllable, not the second. It should be pronounced as one would say 'bowman' or 'omen,' or other Gaelic names like Ronan or Logan, as opposed to 'no man,' 'whoa ma’am,' or 'go Nan.' Thus, the Conan in Conan the Barbarian, Arthur Conan Doyle, Conan O’Brien, Saint Conan, Duke Conan of Brittany and Detective Conan would all be pronounced more or less the same way."

I agree. When Kimberly Rae and I were deciding on names, we agreed on Conan, and, as I've noted, after Conan of Cimmeria, we never considered the latter pronunciation.

And, yes, I considered Robert E. Howard. As Harron also notes, in One Who Walked Alone by Novalyne Price Ellis says Howard pronounced the name "'CAW-nin,' rhyming with 'lawn in'", however Kim and I agree - and she was raised in Texas small towns - that is basically the lazy Texas accent version of "COH-nun".

Ultimately, unlike the preceding Kull of Atlantis stories, the Conan stories were written so that the fictional nations and cultures are transparently based on an historical nation or culture. This is something that some schools of criticism hold against them, although I can't say I agree. In this, the Cimmerian culture from which Conan comes is based on the Celts, surely in some part because of Howard's great pride in his own Irish heritage. As such, it's clear that Howard intended Conan to be named the Irish name Conan, and it's pronunciation should fit that tradition.

Mind you, even I thought "cone-ANN" was the correct pronunciation for the Cimmerian, I may have considered pronouncing my son's name "COH-nun", just because that's the way it's pronounced as a name.

I do feel the need to note that the "cone-ANN" pronunciation preceded 1982's Conan the Barbarian. It was pretty well established, in my experience, in the Marvel Comics age. If anything the movie is confused about how to pronounce the name, as movies about The Three Musketeers are all confused how to pronounce d'Artagnan.

I'm not sure if "cone-ANN" came from the rhythm one tends toward in saying Conan the Barbarian or if it's simply the inclination to pronounce the names of fantasy characters to sound "fantastic" rather than real world.

I do hope that the new Conan the Barbarian does use the correct pronunciation consistently and perhaps will help bring that into the public conciousness as correct, although I can't imagine it won't be anything but a slow process.


Taranaich said...

The Texas drawl has been pointed out to me since making that original post: I can imagine if you said "COE-nin" to Howard, he's say "that's what ah said, CAW-nin." Gotta love those Texans.

I didn't realise the Marvel comics had established this pronunciation: can you think of any particular examples? I remember "Son-Ya", but not "Cone-ANN."

Neil Sarver said...

I don't know that Marvel Comics established the pronunciation. For all I know, everyone at the Marvel offices from Stan and Roy on down pronounced it correctly.

I do know that people on the street tended to say "cone-ANN the Barbarian". I'm not sure where it comes from. My guess remains some combination of making it sound like a "fantasy name" and the rhythm people want to fall into when saying "Conan the Barbarian", which didn't originate with Marvel as a title, but certainly was placed into the public consciousness by them.

But I'd certainly welcome any alternate theories out there.

Peter Nellhaus said...

I feel relieved knowing I've pronounced it correctly, and without seeing any of the Conan movies.

Neil Sarver said...

Happy I could help with that, Peter.

Unknown said...

Hi, this issue has been a thorn in my side since I was a little kid!! I always (or at least for a very very long time) knew of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and when I got into the Marvel comics in 1980, I just called the character the same name. I lived in a rural setting, so nobody was talking about Conan (or anything much for that matter) and I was surprised when I went to see the movie how the actors pronounced the name- wrongly in my mind.

I still get chafed when I hear podcasters or even common people say coe-NAAAN. I hate it, and it is so totally anti-reasonable. It is a pure example of compartmentalizing; when pressed they know the name to exist, but they think of the Cimmerian as having a different name! Totally mad as far as I am concerned.

I have come to think that the Milius movie didn't set this in motion though... I believe it may have popularized the wrong name, but I think some of the Marvelites called him coe-NAAN before the movie like you say. I think this because I have met some of the Silver and Bronze age illustrators of the popular comic.. some said the name right ( Rudy Nebres, John Buscema) and some wrong (Ernie Chan,) Where did the wrong conception of the name come from? I think you have some good instincts in pointing to the 'fantasy tendency' to make the name sound more 'barbaric' -but where does that come from? Why does it sound better, or more fantasy to some people to say 'coe-NAAN'?

I think the false pronunciation is more about people associating the primitive, essential-man quality that Conan has, with the antecedent character of Tarzan, who has similar traits.. and his name is pronounced tar-ZAAN.

Both characters are ostensibly savage strong men, who use their primal spirit to overcome odds, and people just automatically conflate the two because Tarzan came first, and the name is in the unconscious already.

That is what I think.

BTW I don't see the rhythm argument as likely b/c it is hard to justify why the particular cadence of the words "coe-NAAN the barbarian" is more satisfying than it is to say the phrase with the correct pronunciation. There is a case to be made that the wrong pronunciation is connected with that phrase, but that is again on account of the popularizing nature of the movie, not the primary behind the mispronunciation imho.

Keep it up!

Anonymous said...

Hi, Irishman here. This name is indeed pronounced Coe nin. Kaw nin is essentially Conn in and personally I think Howard might have mistakenly arrived at his pronunciation by equating it with the similar Irish name Conor. The names are pronounced differently though, Conan(little hound) is derived from the singular word for hound "Cu" as in Cuchalainn and Conor(lover of hounds) is derived from the plural word Coin.

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