- (1) Historical French pronunciation.
- The name's original spelling was ChoissÍre. Those familiar
with French pronunciations in the 1700s tell us the pronunciation
of that spelling would have been best approximated in English by
the spelling SHOW ZAIR. Unlike English, French does not emphasize
one syllable over another, so we've shown both syllables capitalized.
- (2) English speakers poured into Illinois in the early 1800s.
- The family anglicized the spelling of the name to Choisser. The
"er" ending no doubt was instrumental in the shift of the last
syllable's pronunciation to "er", since many English words end in
"er". English speakers will generally emphasize one syllable in a two
syllable word and an "er" ending is not the syllable generally chosen.
It was thus most natural for them to emphasize the first syllable. The
pronunciation became SHOW zer. This spelling was documented
in a misspelling of John and Nancy Choisser's
marriage license in 1811 as "Shozer".
- (3) Lafayette goes west to California in the Gold Rush.
- Lafayette, one of John and Nancy's 13 children, went to California
around 1860 and settled near Mariposa.
- (4) Lafayette anglicizes the first syllable.
- Lafayette likely saw little reason to maintain the awkward first
syllable pronunciation of his first-generation immigrant father, who
Lafayette left with his mother and twelve siblings far away back in
Illinois. He anglicized the first syllable to conform to its
spelling of "Choi". He retained the pronunciation of the second
syllable which started with a "z" sound. His pronunciation thus
became CHOI zer. This pronunciation mostly died out
in the early 1900s but is remembered by older Choissers who heard
it from their grandparents. A few mostly-elderly descendants still
do use this pronunciation.
- (5) Anglicization completed in Illinois.
- At some time in the 1800s the name was anglicized further to its
present form. Lafayette's carrying to California of the Z pronunciation
of the second syllable leads us to believe this transition occurred
in the latter half of the 1800s rather than earlier. SHOW zer did
not play smoothly to the English speaker's ear, and in time all the
Illinois family members came to pronounce the name SO zher,
in effect shifting the H sound to the second syllable. This caused
the name to rhyme with several English words as well as several
common surnames, leaving us with a very comfortable pronunciation,
albeit one that had little correlation anymore with the spelling.
This was not a significant problem in a small town where everyone
knew how to spell and pronounce the name, and the name had come to
be as accepted with that situation as was the word "Wednesday". A
few other French names in Saline County at about the same time also
acquired pronunciations incongruous with their spellings. This
pronunciation of Choisser was firmly established by the late 1800s
and has been the predominant pronunciation of all branches besides
the Lafayette branch ever since. Of the family's thirteen children
only ten had offspring, thus leaving nine branches to be using this
- (6) Second syllable anglicized by the Lafayette branch.
- English speakers readily shift between an S and a Z pronunciation
of the letter S, depending upon the letters which surround it. It is
most natural to pronounce such a letter as a Z when it follows an O.
(Note the pronunciations of Santa Rosa and San Jose in California,
both of which are pronounced with a Z sound in English, although they
are pronounced with an S sound in the original Spanish.) Once the
first syllable of Choisser had been changed from "SHO" to "CHOI",
retaining a Z pronunciation at the start of the second syllable no
longer felt natural. In time, members of the Lafayette branch
shifted their pronunciation from CHOI zer to
CHOI ser. This pronunciation is shown on the chart
as CHOICE er, really the same pronunciation, to make
it most clear that an S sound occurs and not a Z sound between the
two vowels of the name in this pronunciation.
- (7) Family members isolated from others anglicize the name.
- Over the years, a few Choissers scattered among the non-Lafayette
branches have anglicized the pronunciation for convenience. They have
generally "gone all the way" and conformed the pronunciation to the
spelling, in effect taking the same pronunciation that today's Lafayette
branch uses. This has been most likely to occur where a few family
members live in an area far removed from other Choissers. This has
not been undertaken in southern Illinois. One Choisser who had made
this change and returned to southern Illinois reported he had to go
back to the traditional pronunciation to avoid ridicule, because "not knowing
how to pronounce Choisser" is one way locals there use to peg someone
as an outsider.
- (8) Occasional attempts have been made to make the name sound French.
- In modern French the current anglicized spelling would be pronounced
SHWAH ZAY. The name was not spelled its current way in French,
and so that was never the French pronunciation; however some isolated
members have briefly undertaken to resolve the incongruous spelling and
pronunciation by frenchifying instead of anglicizing, generally taking
this pronunciation, emphasizing it on the second syllable: Shwah ZAY.
To our knowledge this pronunciation has only been taken briefly by
individuals, has not been used in the long term, and has never been used
consistently among all members of any family in any branch.
Dealing with Two Pronunciations
We have come to realize that our two predominant pronunciations both
have historical significance. One traces its roots to the earliest
years of Illinois statehood, and the other traces its roots to the
earliest years of California statehood. From Lafayette's perspective,
he was the child of a first generation immigrant and changing the
pronunciation had little significance. To his descendants, that
pronunciation goes back to the Gold Rush. Similarly, to the
descendants of the other pronunciation, it goes back to Illinois's
earliest history. Our family thus treasures both pronunciations.
However, we've learned is that it is impossible for members who
use one pronunciation to call members who use the other pronunciation
by that pronunciation. It just counters human nature too much, to
"mispronounce one's name". Therefore, each Choisser calls all Choissers
using the pronunciation he uses for himself.