By MARY PILON
Pinky Thakkar (silent "h"), an engineer from Mumbai, started the Web site www.pronouncenames.com after she moved to San Jose, Calif., and mispronounced the "J" in "San Jose," not giving it the "H" sound used in Spanish words. Properly pronouncing person and place names proved nearly impossible for Ms. Thakkar and her friends from abroad, she says.
More than 75,000 entries, including 38,000 audio files, have been submitted to Ms. Thakkar's Web site since it launched in 2006. She manages the site with six other volunteers.
Ms. Thakkar is now working on an algorithm that would allow site users to record a name as they heard it and then have the site churn out a proper spelling based on the audio submission. She also is looking to expand the site's ability to provide audio pronunciations based on a user's typed-in guess. For example, if a user heard the Indian surname "Sridharan," but had no idea how to pronounce it, he or she could enter a guess such as "shree the run" and the accurate spelling would appear.
Web sites offer text-to-speech conversions:
Pronouncenames.com's followers include teachers, graduation speakers, sports announcers and foreigners trying to improve their English.
The new technology could help people such as Vathanyu Chaipattanawanich. The 19-year-old mechanical-engineering student at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania is regularly greeted by flustered faces when he swipes his credit card, fills out forms and wins awards. He says that although his 25-letter Thai name has been an ice-breaker for years, "everyone calls me 'Tab.'"
Mr. Chaipattanawanich joined the 600-plus member Facebook group, "Nobody Can Pronounce My Last Name," one of several on the site organized around that theme.
... Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page A11