Anthony Albanese is Australia’s first PM with a non-Anglo surname. So how do you pronounce it?

·5 min read
<span>Photograph: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Anthony Albanese has officially been sworn in as Australia’s 31st prime minister, marking the first time a person with a non-Anglo surname has held the office.

The incoming parliament will be the most diverse in the nation’s history, and comes at a time when half of Australia’s six state premiers have non-traditional western names.

Despite more than three decades in public life, the pronunciation of Albanese’s Italian surname remains a thing of controversy. Let’s clear it up.

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How do MPs say ‘Albanese’?

In short, Albanese has used, and answers to, multiple variations of his surname. In interviews, he’s told reporters it’s easier to just call him Albo.

Speaking on Channel 10’s The Project in 2019, Albanese was played a clip of politicians pronouncing his surname in alternate ways, including members of his own party.

Related: SBS presenter Lucy Zelić hits back at abuse for World Cup pronunciation

Labor MPs Tanya Plibersek and Penny Wong have been known to pronounce his name like “Al-ba-neez”, rhyming with cheese.

Alternately, in a recent press club address, the Nationals leader, Barnaby Joyce, pronounced Albanese as “Al-ba-nays,” rhyming with mayonnaise – a version Albanese has never used.

Christopher Pyne, Albanese told The Project, had the best pronunciation, orating with a soft “s” and strong vowel at the end like “Al-ba-nay-zee”, rhyming with lazy.

“But you don’t say spaghetti bolognes-ey, do you?” Albanese said.

“So I’m not terribly precious about it, which is why Albo is a lot easier; you can’t get that wrong.”

How does Albanese pronounce his name?

Early in his parliamentary career, Albanese pronounced his surname “Al-ba-neez”, rhyming with cheese.

In her 2016 biography of Albanese, the Saturday Paper journalist Karen Middleton said that gradually the pronunciation of his name became “more flexible”, as a form of political convenience.

These days, Albanese has evolved to pronounce his surname like al-buh-nee-zee, rhyming with easy.

In a 2019 2GB interview, the former opposition leader was asked if it would simply be easiest to call him Albo, like Scomo.

“Absolutely Alan, that’ll do me,” he replied.

“Correctly in Italian … it’s Al-ba-nay-zee, but I’m not precious about it, Al-ba-neez is the real anglicisation of it but al-buh-nee-zee is pretty close.”

Why the confusion?

It’s been hypothesised the prime minister may feel a sense of conflict about fully embracing his Italian surname as he was brought up by his mother and only met his Italian father, Carlo, after his mother’s death in 2002.

But Italian isn’t an inflexible language and has various regional differences and dialects.

According to ancestry.com, the title Albanese hails from southern Italy and is an ethnic name for “an Albanian”, describing someone from Albania or one of the Albanian settlements in Italy.

Albanese’s father, Carlo, lived in Barletta, a city on the Adriatic coast in Italy’s south-east. Barese dialect is spoken in the region across the Apulia and Basilicata. It’s one of the most distinct Italian dialects phonetically, with influences from Arabic, Spanish, French, Latin and Greek.

Other key Albanese figures also muddy the waters. The Emmy-winning comedian Rory Albanese pronounces his name Al-ba-neez, as does the former Rio Tinto boss Tom Albanese.

So what’s the verdict?

Annabelle Lukin, an associate professor in Linguistics at Macquarie University, said it was likely the majority of people would address the new PM using the anglicised version of his name – which rhymes with easy.

She said while Albanese did have an Italian pronunciation based on the phonetic style, the prime minister had been quite comfortable with various iterations in the past.

“The Italian pronunciation [“Al-ba-nay-zee”] is not too difficult for English speakers, compared with names in languages that have different sound patterns to English [like] Arabic or Mandarin,” she said.

Related: World leaders respond to Anthony Albanese’s Australian election victory

“[But] the prime minister grew up in Australia, where many non-Anglo names have been anglicised, and this is likely to be the way the surname has been pronounced by many of the people the new PM grew up with.

“Going forward, it is likely the majority will address him using the anglicised version.”

What does it all mean?

We’re going to get used to pronouncing a whole spectrum of surnames as our parliament becomes more representative of what our nation looks like.

Prior to the election, more than 90% of Australia’s federal lawmakers were white.

Australia still has a long way to go, but newly elected MPs – including Labor’s Sally Sitou, Sam Lim, Zaneta Mascarenhas, Michelle Ananda-Rajah and Cassandra Fernando, as well as the independent Dai Le – will provide some much needed representation.

Which means getting the name right.

In an address to Italian-Australian group the Marconi Club, Albanese purported the Coalition’s “won’t be easy under Albanese” advertisements were racist for mocking his Italian surname, while journalists have been criticised for failing to pronounce the names of candidates with non-Anglo names.

“If you want to be inclusive of people around you … don’t be shy to ask how they pronounce their names if it’s a new one for you,” Lukin said.

“Get your ears ready to listen to new sounds – and practice it in front of the person who the name belongs to. Ask if you’ve got it right.”

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