How to say Lupita Nyong’o
Zachary Rosen | January 27th, 2014


Right now everyone seems to be obsessed with the stunning Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o. And for good reason. Her heart-wrenching performance in the film “12 Years a Slave” has won her critical acclaim, while her humility and beauty have won countless hearts. She’s been on most major talk shows and is lighting up every magazine cover possible. Yet for all the attention, many just can’t say her name right. Quite a few don’t even seem to care enough to try. With the Oscars just weeks away, please do your research, stretch your tongue and practice saying Lupita’s name. After all the butcherings of her name, Lupita posted a video on instagram of herself to guide you with the pronunciation, even saying it in an American accent. Look out for that soft “g”.

Ok, now that you’ve heard it direct from Lupita’s mouth and you’ve mastered it for yourself, let’s see if any celebrities and hosts did their homework before saying her name. Lupita has a tendency to kindly let poor pronunciation slide (she’s trying to not embarrass her host), but you can tell who gets it and who doesn’t. We’ve got some videos all cued up:

Craig Ferguson–he has a talk show on CBS long after most people have gone to bed–messes up Lupita’s name twice when she came to visit him on his show before asking if the name is African. Then he admits he’s never been to Kenya. We trust him on that one.

On Jimmy Kimmel’s show (for those who don’t live in the US, it’s another late night show), Jimmy repeatedly mishandles her name and seems not to care, even after she tells him how to say it:

The actor Matt Damon (remember when he saved South Africa in “Invictus”) just sounds clueless announcing Lupita’s win at the Screen Actors Guild Awards:

Jonah Hill’s corruption of her name at the Critic’s Choice Awards is so egregious it’s impressive.

Queen Latifah is so enthusiastic about Lupita’s visit that she taints the name with a hard “g”.

On ABC’s The View’s Sherri Shepherd gets rough with “Nyong’o” and fellow cast member Chiwetel Ejiofor’s name.

(BTW, remember when Matthew McConaughey either forgot Ejiofor’s last name or forgot how to say it?)

Finally, Jimmy Fallon admits to Lupita that her name can be tricky. She nods in agreement and tries to mask her fatigue before playing along and saying it once more for Jimmy to hear. Jimmy gives it another try and surprisingly he actually nails it. From Lupita’s shocked reaction you can tell that doesn’t happen very often.

* Stay tuned for more coverage of Lupita Nyong’o and the Academy Awards coming soon.

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Zachary Rosen

Photographer/Multimedia producer/Writer based in Washington, DC.

12 thoughts on “How to say Lupita Nyong’o

  1. As a compatriot from post colonial country I relate to Ms. N’yongo’s problem. My real name said in American, English sounds like vulgar word for sexual relations and people think they are being polite by pronouncing my name incorrect when I am introduced before talks. You haven’t a need to bodge my name, just widen your cultural horizons.

  2. I think it’s easier for Lupita to explain her name’s pronunciation to Spanish-speaking audiences. She once explained to a Mexican reporter that her name is pronounced with the sound of the letter “ñ” (the letter n with the squirgly line on top). Super easy.
    About time American media starts stretching their tongues with different sounds. They’ve butchered up most of the names of people from Latin America and the Caribbean.

  3. I’m sure that global ignorance is lessened by throwing another broad stereotype onto the heap.

  4. I understand your point, but I do have a little sympathy for those who would never have encountered such a name before. For example, I would have great difficulty pronouncing a Welsh name no matter how many times it was repeated to me.
    In addition, you seemed to have got so caught up in making your point about the mispronunciation of Miss Nyong’o’s surname, that you wound up stating that Chiwetel Ejiofor’s name was said correctly when in fact, I can confirm as a native of the same Nigerian tribe, it was also mispronounced. Are you then in the same boat as those you are castigating in light of this oversight? Or do you deserve sympathy for not knowing the correct pronunciation of a name you may not be familiar with?

  5. Having my Igbo name mispronounced is the story of my life! I still remember register calls back in my school days there was always that pause before my name. It is annoying, but this isn’t a unique issue for Lupita or even for Africans for that matter. Lots of people have their names mispronounced. I can sympathise with people that try to get it right but not with those that don’t bother and decide to call you whatever they want to.

  6. I think this is fairly overblown. I speak 4 languages fluently and I can’t make that soft G sound. It’s a sound that exists in non-African languages; my Slavic colleague has the same problem and introduces herself with a hard G in her name even though in Ukrainian it is soft. Similarly, when I travel to other countries I either change the pronunciation of my name or go by a nickname to adjust to the local language. Nyong’o with a hard G is as close as you can get in English.

  7. @Erin I disagree with you. The word “Song” is English, ending with a “soft G” as Lupita has clearly told us in numerous interviews. So as you can see clearly there is a soft and hard G in the English language (no excuses please). Lupita does not have to change OR go by a nickname to adjust to the local language. The American media and public relations sector is very strict about being able to pronounce client names correctly. They a aware of the fact that it can be offensive when people do not make an effort to pronounce names correctly. I just think some people need to put a little more effort and preparations into their “laissez faire” attitudes when interviewing anybody period.

  8. Seems to be if that apostrophe was not there it would not change the pronunciation. what is the reason for the apostrophe?

  9. Which Americans are you referring to? I’m African American, who’s history, 12 Years A Slave is about.

    I would have difficulty saying Ms. Nyong’o name. I would ask again and again – until I learned how to say it correctly. Some people have difficulty pronouncing words or names they are not use to. It’s ignorant and down right silly to assume Americans would know how to pronounce it.

    Be careful making prejudiced blanket statements about people you KNOW nothing about (except for the media – who is often VERY biased. I mean, look at how they’ve misrepresented African Americans) but take

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