09 December 2009

How do you pronounce "Luebker"?

I was talking to my cousin a couple of weeks back. Somehow or other we got around to talking about our grandparents and great grandparents, and I was surprised to hear him pronounce my last name as "lip-ker."

Now that shouldn't surprise me--it's the way my dad always pronounced it and the way I pronounced it up until I went off to college, and decided I'd start pronouncing it the way it looks--"lube-ker"--and stop confusing people who couldn't figure out how "lueb" would end up being pronounced "lip."

Actually, even that pronunciation was a compromise. Back in the old country, the name was spelled "Lübker" (when you transliterate the "ü" into English, it becomes "ue") and the "ü" is pronounced as though you're trying to say "eeee" with your lips set as though you meant to say "oooo."

When my dad would go all German on me and pronounce it that way, I noticed that the "b" also got sharpened and sounded more like a "p" and the "k" got softened and sounded more like a "g"--something I later discovered was basically pushing the pronunciation of those letters back through two Germanic consonant shifts.

However, my guess is that my immigrant ancestor (Johann Hinrich Lübker) pronounced the sharpened "b" but not the softened "k," since in the 1860 census the person transcribing his name wrote it as "Lipker." (I'm assuming the "u" with the umlaut must have sounded like a short "i" to the census taker as well, hastening the Anglicizing of the name, or at least how people said it.)

So it was pronounced "lip-ker" by the next three generations, still is by most of my generation, and continues to be by my nephews among the next generation. I'm apparently the only renegade, at least as far as I know.

To further complicate things, when I refer to my grandparents, it's still "Grandma Lipker" and "Grandpa Lipker," since that's the name (or version of it) that I knew them by.

Maybe I'll e-mail some of the other Luebkers I've encountered around the country and ask them how they say it.

Then there are the Lubkers who are descended from my immigrant ancestor's brother--he simply dropped the umlaut and never added the "e." So now I'm wondering if maybe they pronounce it "lub-ker," with the first syllable rhyming with "glub."

Finally, family legend has it that Johann Hinrich Lübker and his brother lived up in Schleswig-Holstein and got caught up in the excitement of the First Schleswig War. Johann supposedly threw an ax at a local official and missed, and they both had to leave the country in a hurry, allgedly on Danish passports. I've never found anything to confirm that, and I've also been unable to find any reference to either of the brothers on the other side of the ocean.

And that makes me wonder whether "Lübker" was even their real last name, or if it might just have been the name on the passports they used.

So the whole question of pronunciation might be moot--it may not even be my real name!