French Language Blog

Gee Or Jay – Why I Struggle To Spell My Name In French Posted by on May 16, 2018 in Vocabulary

One of the first things covered in most French classes is, reasonably, the alphabet. L’alphabet français (the French alphabet) is almost the same as l’alphabet anglais (the English alphabet), but that similarity hides some easy mistakes, especially when you need to spell something out loud.

Image from Pixabay. Licensed under CC0.

After learning l’alphabet français, I didn’t pay much attention to it. Those first few French lessons are filled with confusing things like l’accent aigu and les genres des mots (the gender of words) and if I only had to remember how to say i-grec et zed (y and z) then I was good. Anything that seemed to be the same as l’anglais was mostly forgotten as something unimportant.

Jusqu’au moment où je devais épeler mon prénom.
Until the moment I had to spell my name.

Au début (at the beginning), I could largely get by with la prononciation anglaise (the English pronunciation) of letters. It may sound funny or weird to les francophones, but I was mostly understood. Except je m’appelle John (my name is John) and la lettre J (the letter J) is very important for my name, especially on official documents where it really needs to be recorded correctly.


Le problème (the problem) is that la prononciation anglaise of J sounds like la prononciation française of a different letter:


To make the whole thing more confusing la prononciation française of G sounds like la prononciation anglaise of J.

Bref (in short), the confusing pairs end up sounding like this:

French: G – Jay, J –  Jee
English: G – Gee), J – Jay

Or if you prefer l’Alphabet phonétique international (the International Phonetic Alphabet):

French: G – /ʒe/, J –  /ʒi/
English: G – /dʒiː/, J – /dʒeɪ/

So if I think in English mon prénom sounds something like:

Jay Oh Aitch En

Which un francophone hears as:


The best solution is, bien sûr (of course), to learn the correct French pronunciation of l’alphabet français. In time that’s what I did and now I can confidently tell people that my name is spelled:

Ji Oh Ache Èn : John
Jee Oh Ash En: John

Small things like la prononciation des lettres (the pronunciation of letters) and l’alphabet français may not seem like they are very important, but they are a key part of the bumpy road to learning a language. It may be awkward at times, but with every malentendu (misunderstanding) comes a new lesson in how to properly parler français (speak French)!

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About the Author: John Bauer

John Bauer is an enthusiast for all things language and travel. He currently lives in France where he's doing his Master's. John came to France four years ago knowing nothing about the language or the country, but through all the mistakes over the years, he's started figuring things out.