Chart - Pronunciation of "Choisser"


History of the Name's Pronunciation



(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 pronunciation.
(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.


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