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Names are so Tough for Hitchmough and Rough

by Eric Shackle

Pity the plight of Peter Hitchmough, of Disley, Cheshire, England. "We Hitchmoughs, Whatmoughs, Oughs and Roughs find our names doubly cursed: you can't say it and you can't spell it," he wailed in a letter to The Times (London).

"I was given a difficult start by my father Mr Arthur Hitchmough who, having the benefit of a Lancashire accent, always gave his name as 'Itchmoor'. I find that pronunciation is no problem. However, I must spell my name many times a day in conversation."

Then there's Eric Rough, of Shrewsbury, England, who has only a rough idea of how to pronounce his name. It could rhyme with TOUGH, THOUGH, THROUGH, BOUGH, COUGH, HOUGH, or even LOUGH. In other words, he could call himself Ruff, Roe, Rue, Row (rhyming with cow), Roach, Roff or Rock. "Would someone be kind enough to tell me how to pronounce my name?" he pleaded.

Another correspondent, Nicholas Pritchard, of Southampton English Language Centre, wrote: "My late grandfather used to tell me that while there were only 36 words in English containing the letters 'ough', there were nine different ways of pronouncing it, all of which could be found in the following rather obscure sentence: Though a rough cough and hiccoughs ploughed through him, he houghed the horse with thorough thoughtfulness. I wonder, however, where this leaves Lough Neagh, the largest lake in the United Kingdom?"

Ipswich English teacher John T. Goodhand said that three decades of his pupils had enjoyed and, he hoped, benefited from these verses by Bennet Cerf:

The wind was rough
And cold and blough;
She kept her hands inside her mough.

It chilled her through,
Her nose turned blough,
And still the squall the faster flough.

And yet although
There was no snough,
The weather was a cruel fough.

It made her cough,
(Please do not scough);
She coughed until her hat blew ough.

After reading all those letters on The Times' website, we asked New Zealand writer Helen Ough Dealy, of Russell, about her name. "I like it," she replied. "It's one that people remember. It really doesn't worry me whether they mispronounce it at first. It's often a conversation starter which in my area of business – writing and interviewing – can be very useful.

"Ough is easy to pronounce once explained. It's 'Oh!' At my graduation ceremony from Auckland University, the MC called out 'Helen Ruth Off Deeayelee' which after a glance at my sniggering relatives in the audience I realised was me! Not an auspicious way to start a capping ceremony. Complete strangers have been distracted by the pronunciation of my name and said things like 'Oh dearly beloved...'

The Ough family even has its own web page. Micheline Ough says: "I'm a Canadian Ough, and our family pronounces it 'O'. I have heard of other pronunciations, though – most commonly 'off.' I, for one, prefer 'O', despite the confusion it can cause at times. The French-speakers here find my name quite perplexing. I'm so excited to have found this web site – I've long been considered a weird-ough. Now I've found my kin."

Another entry reads: "Hi I am Douglas William Ough, Pronounced OH. I was born in the Lambeth district of London England. Now living in southern Ontario Canada, on the north shore of Lake Erie. I never encountered the name Ough in any way while living in England; however I have come across the name many times in Canada."

The ROUGH family, too, has is own genealogy forum on the Internet. A message posted by William Rough reads: "The surname Rough comes from the French la Roche, i.e., the rock. In the United Kingdom it was probably brought in about the time of the Norman Conquest. In Scotland there used to be a Rough castle down on the Borders. The Roughs also adopted a tartan which I have only seen once long ago. I believe that a Rough was Bishop of St. Andrews in Scotland in the 1300s. Variations of the name can be Roche or Ruffe."

Billy Rough wrote: "Very interested in trying to establish a link from my Roughs at Glamis. To Couper Angus and Dundee: I would like to hear from you, and any other rough characters out there."

© 2002 Eric Shackle (
This article is reproduced with the kind permission of the author.

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