How would the author of The Rise of Silas Lapham have pronounced the last name of his title character? Please provide supporting evidence for your answer.

  • 1
    Like Chatham, only with a /p/ instead of a /t/. The "ham" is a suffix on "lap" and "chat", so the "ph" and "th" are pronounced like "uphill" and "courthouse".
    – Peter Shor
    Sep 22 '19 at 0:54
  • 1
    @PeterShor: how do you know that is how the author would have pronounced it?
    – rlandster
    Sep 22 '19 at 1:20
  • I don't know how the author would have pronounced it. I just know this was the traditional pronunciation of Lapham. So either the author pronounced it this way, or he was pronouncing it "wrong".
    – Peter Shor
    Sep 23 '19 at 10:45
  • 1
    One can similarly ask how Dickens pronounced the first name of the heroine of Bleak House, Esther Summerson. Since "Ester" was the standard English pronunciation at the time (it still is), one would assume that he used /t/ and not the spelling pronunciation with /θ/. Otherwise he would have been pronouncing it "wrong". I think in both cases the assumption that the author used the standard pronunciation is the only reasonable one to make.
    – Peter Shor
    Oct 22 '19 at 13:10
  • @PeterShor A final /əm/ is plausible in a British English context, but are American names ending on 'ham' consistently pronounced with the same ending? See How is the name of the town Hingham, Massachusetts, pronounced?.
    – Tsundoku
    Apr 4 '20 at 13:08

When we look at British place names ending in 'ham', we see the following:

  • Allingham is pronounced /ˈælɪŋəm/.
  • Altrincham: /ˈɔːltrɪŋəm/.
  • Birmingham: /ˈbɜːmɪŋəm/.
  • Buckingham: /ˈbʌkɪŋəm/.
  • Cunningham: /ˈkʌnɪŋəm/.
  • Chatham: /ˈtʃætəm/.
  • Clapham: /ˈklæpəm/.
  • Evesham: /ˈiːvʃəm/.
  • Gillingham: /ˈdʒɪlɪŋəm/.
  • Heysham: /ˈhiːʃəm/.
  • Immingham: /ˈɪmɪŋəm/.
  • Newham: /ˈnjuːəm/.
  • Nottingham: /ˈnɒtɪŋəm/.
  • Oldham: /ˈoʊldəm/
  • Sandringham: /ˈsændrɪŋəm/.
  • Tottenham: /ˈtɑtənəm/.
  • Wrexham: /ˈrɛksəm/.

When we look at British family names, see see for example the following:

  • Bentham: /ˈbɛnθəm/.
  • Botham: /ˈbəʊθəm/.
  • Gresham : /ˈɡrɛʃəm/.
  • Pelham: /ˈpɛləm/.

When we look at American place names, we see a different pattern:

  • Bellingham: /ˈbɛlɪŋˌhæm/.
  • Framingham: /ˈfreɪmɪŋˌhæm/.
  • Bingham:/ˈbɪŋəm/.
  • Waltham is pronounced /ˈwɔlθəm/ or /ˈwɔlˌθæm/.

When we look at American family names, we find the following examples:

The noun gingham is pronounced /ˈgiŋ-əm/.

(Source for the phonemic transcriptions: Collins English Dictionary, except where I have included a link to Wikipedia or Merriam Webster.)

One thing that is very consistent is that names consisting of two syllables end on /əm/; the only exception is Waltham. So unless William Dean Howells intentionally wanted to diverge from this pattern, the name of the character Lapham was pronounced /ˈlæpəm/.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.