THUR-oh or Thor-OH? 
And How Do We Know?

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The most common pronunciation of  "Thoreau" in the United States is as a French name, with the accent on the second syllable. Of course there is no recording from Henry's time, but there are written records of how the name was pronounced from when the family was still in Concord. Fortunately, the residents of Concord are proud of their place in American literature, and they have preserved a long-standing oral tradition, where school children are taught to say the name properly. 

Emerson wrote that "Henry David Thoreau was the last male descendant of a French ancestor who came to this country from the Isle of Guernsey," and there are still relatives of Henry in Europe today. Jean Thoreau, Henry's grandfather, arrived in America after a shipwreck, served for a time under Paul Revere, and became a merchant in Boston. Jean Anglicized his first name to John, and at some point, in an apparent attempt to Anglicize his last name, the accent was moved to the first syllable. 

Bronson Alcott noted the pronunciation of "thorough" in his journal, and Thoreau's aunt also wrote that their name is pronounced "thorough." The Concord schools teach their children that "Thoreau" rhymes with "furrow," which can be just slightly different, depending on how you pronounce "thorough," but either variation with the accented first syllable is acceptable.



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