American in Spain

How do you pronounce Rasmussen?

November 6, 2009

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:


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.



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.



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.


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

See also: Fafmuffem