How to pronounce my name

If you don't bother to read my exaggeratingly long explanation below, you can just listen to a self-made recording of my name (mp3, 53.5 KB).

Stijn

People who don't speak Dutch commit all kinds of blasphemies when they attempt to pronounce my name. They promote the jn of Stijn into a separate syllable to make it sound like Sti-dzjen (wrong!). Or they try to say the German word stein with a German ei-sound and a shabby, shocking and shameful sh in the beginning; quelle horreur!

Although the Dutch ij-sound is related to the German ei, it is certainly not pronounced in the same way. In Norwegian the ei-sound is much closer to the Dutch ij. In fact, the Norwegian word stein (meaning stone) would be an acceptable pronunciation of my first name. But this is unlikely to help most people...

In fact, there is no unique correct way of pronouncing the ij. In Flanders, where I am from, is resembles the ai in the French word maison, so my name sounds a bit like the English name Stan but with a longer vowel. In the Netherlands it is much more a of dipthong. Either way, people get horribly misguided. If I introduce myself with a Flemish pronunciation, they think I'm called Stan which is a completely different name. If I try a Dutch accent, they get the horrid idea that my name is stain as in "the red wine left a nasty stain on your shirt". There's a significant difference in the pronunciation; stain contains an [e]-sound (which the French would write as é), whereas my name rather has an [ɛ]-sound (which the French would write as è); but this goes unnoticed every single time.

If you are an English speaker, I suggest the following trick to get my first name right: repeatedly say English verb stayin' (as in the Bee Gees song), and gradually morph towards the English name Stan. About halfway between stayin' and Stan is a perfect pronunciation of Stijn.

The name Stijn doesn't really have a meaning. Apparently, it is a shortened form of Augustine or Constantine. It's a relatively common name in Flanders and the Netherlands. In 2007, there were 13252 persons named Stijn in Flanders, making my name the 37st most common (80th in the whole of Belgium) [source]. In the Netherlands, the name Stijn is 51st most common among childeren born between 1983 and 2006 [source].

Vermeeren

It doens't get easier when you try my family name Vermeeren. The different ways of pronouncing the vowel e in Dutch are often a source of confusion - if not madness - to foreign learners. The e is pronounced sometimes as a long French é (such as in the English verb say when you say it slowly), sometimes as the French è (such as in the English word bed), or otherwise as a schwa (such as in heaven).

To confuse you a little more, let me add that if my last name were a normal Dutch word, pronounced in exactly the same way, it would be spelled vermeren with one e in the middle. However, the archaic spelling of my family name might actually help you to remember the correct pronunciation.

Indeed, both single e's are pronouned as schwas, and the double e in the middle is like a long French é. Put together, it sounds approximately like vr-ma[y]-run, with the y-sound of may omitted and with the stress on the middle syllable.

Meeren means lakes (the modern spelling is meren). Ver is derived from van der which means from the. It is common for a Dutch family name to start with Ver, but the name Vermeeren is quite rare. In 1998 there where 845 Vermeerens in Belgium [source]. In the Netherlands in 1993 there were 527 Vermeerens in the telephone directory [source]. Most of them live in the area around Antwerp (in the North of Belgium) and Breda (in the South of the Netherlands). Indeed, my father grew up in Meerle, between Antwerp and Breda. However, in my hometown Aarschot, more central in Belgium, my father, my two brothers and me are the only ones named Vermeeren.

There are also a few family names that are closely related to Vermeeren. Vermeersch is quite common in West-Flanders. Vermeiren is a common name around Antwerp. Vermeire is common around Ghent and Vermeir is common near Dendermonde. In the Netherlands there are also about 3000 people named Vermeer, like the famous 17th century painter. You might also come across Vermeren, with a single e in the middle, but this is even more rare than Vermeeren.