MadameNoire Featured Video
1 of 16

Once upon a time, “unique” names got a bad rap. When “Orange Is The New Black” Star Uzoamaka Aduba begged her mother for a new name, she said change for what? “If they can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo and Dostoyevsky, they can learn to say Uzoamaka.”

That’s the most sense we’ve heard in a long time. So in honor of Uzo holding on to her heritage, here are a few more Hollywood names that can call “BS” on being too hard to pronounce — and set the record straight for a lot of us who are pronouncing them wrong.

Sanaa Lathan

Actress Sa-NAA Lathan has been telling people for years that it’s “like Sinatra without the tra.” It’s a beautiful name that means “art” in Swahili.

But fans have been calling her Sa-NAI for as long as we can remember. Maybe it’s time to finally get it right?

Chiwetel Ejiofor

That’s CHOO-ih-tell EDGE-ee-oh-for and the “12 Years A Slave” star says you better get it right because he hates being called “Chewy” by fans who can’t be bothered to get it right.

Uzoamaka Aduba

Crazy Eyes may seem easier to pronounce than Uzo Aduba, but that’s just because you need a little practice. Play this pronunciation guide a few times over. We have a feeling you’re going to be needing it next Emmy season.

Quvenzhané Wallis

Everybody though Quvenzhané was too much of a mouthful until everyone’s favorite Beast of the Southern Wild was the next Annie.

“Quven” is a blend of Qulyndreia and Venie, her parents names. And “zhane” is Swahili for “fairy.” Together they make Kwuh-VEN-jah-nay which is easy enough once you sound it out.


Everyone on planet earth knows how to pronounce bee-YON-say by now, but Bey hasn’t forgotten the days from the “Haunted” intro when folks were still calling her bee-YONS. The world has changed a lot since then.

Gabourey Sidibe

That’s GAB-or-ay SIH-dih-bay. The “Precious” star says “People
tortured my name my whole life and so around junior high I let people call me Gabby.”

But we’re going to call her Gabourey because her Sengalese name is beautiful when you pronounce it right.


No list of names would be complete without pioneers like Sade, Oprah and Denzel who gave “unique” names their foothold without bending under the pressure to change — even when folks keep calling you SAY-dee.

Lupita Nyong’o

That’s lew-PEE-tuh NYONG-oh and the Oscar winner went to Instagram to teach her fans how to say it in anticipation of her super stardom.

Djimon Hounsou

A lot of us have been pronouncing JEE-mahn hahn-SOO wrong for a long time. But the Beninese actor voiced Drago in “How to Train Your Own Dragon” and is slated to star in half a dozen movies between now and 2015 so you’ll have lots of practice in the near future.

Barack Obama

The President has done a lot to give people around the world pride in non-Western names. When the POTUS was younger, his friends and family used to call him Barry. But when he got serious about being a leader, Barry started setting a precedent by making people call him Barack.

Saoirse Ronan

Before SEER-sha was an Oscar nominee for “Atonement,” she didn’t like her name. The star told Yahoo! Movies:

“I didn’t like it when I was younger because nobody had that name … but I like it now. It’s like my own little stage name that no one can pronounce!”

But now that we can get our mouths around it, it’s one of our favorite Irish names.

Jurnee Smollett-Bell

Back when JER-knee SMALL-let had a bit part on “Full House,” no one knew how to pronounce her name. Now that she’s been in everything from “Eve’s Bayou” to “True Blood,” Hollywood has been forced to get it right.

Danai Gurira

It’s dun-EYE goo-REE-rah. It’s beautiful, Zimbabwean, and it’s going to become a household name as “The Walking Dead” star keeps killing them in Hollywood with her acting skills and writing chops.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau

We love Jamie Lannister from “The Game of Thrones.” But the actor’s real Danish name is a little harder to pronounce.

It’s NICK-oh-lie KAH-ster VALL-dow. But don’t be afraid if you mess it up at first. Nikolaj told The New York Daily News,

“I have heard every pronunciation of my name possible. The ‘J’ in Nikolaj confuses people — it’s pronounced as an ‘I.’ Sometimes they skip the end and just say Nicola, which is a girl’s name. Not good.”

We’ll try to avoid making that mistake.

Taraji P. Henson

Tara‐ji P. Hen‐son‘s role on “Person of Interest” was the first time some people learned to tackle the Swahili name Taraji, even though Ms. Henson has starred in everything from “Baby Boy” to “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” And her star keeps rising so fans should learn to get it right.

Comment Disclaimer: Comments that contain profane or derogatory language, video links or exceed 200 words will require approval by a moderator before appearing in the comment section. XOXO-MN