How to teach Siri to pronounce a name correctly

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siri pronounce
Siri will teach you how to teach her.
Photo: Cult of Mac

Siri is great for setting reminders and timers, but in recent times Apple’s AI assistant has gotten a lot better at other things, too. For instance, sending iMessages to folks via your EarPods or AirPods, with your iPhone still in your pocket, works well enough that you can use it reliably all the time.

However, if Siri can’t pronounce the names of your contacts, then it’ll drive you crazy. Luckily, you can teach Siri to say these names correctly.

How to teach Siri to pronounce a name

Whenever I send or receive a message from my famous celebrity football friend Xavi Hernández, Siri gets it wrong. Or rather she would, if I actually knew Xavi. But his name serves to demonstrate today’s lesson — teaching Siri to pronounce names.

Xavi, short for Xavier, is pronounced “Chabi” in Spain, and “Chavi” in most other places. Siri says “Zarvi,” so I set out to school her.

Siri will guide you through the teaching process.
Siri will guide you through the teaching process.
Photo: Cult of Mac

Step one. Say to Siri, “Let me teach you how to pronounce Xavi’s name.” Despite not knowing how to say it, Siri did know who I meant (I added Xavi to my contacts for this article). Siri will then tell you that she didn’t recognize the name, as seen in the leftmost screenshot above.

She will then ask you to teach her how to say it. Agree, and then say the name. Siri is listening.

Options

After speaking the name, you’ll see a column of possible pronunciations, based on what you said. Tap the little play icon to preview them. If you like one, tap Select. If Siri still hasn’t got it right, you can tap Tell Siri again, and do just that, until she gets it.

In my example, Siri also asked me to clarify the surname, Hernández. After several tries, I gave up and let her use the Americanized version of the Mexican pronunciation, her-NAAN-dess, because she just couldn’t manage the correct Spanish er-NAN-deth. It was close enough.

Now, whenever Siri has a need to say Xavi’s name out loud, she’ll pronounce it the way you taught her. It also seems to help her recognize the name when you are speaking to Siri, which is handy if she often confuses the names of your husband and your lover, for example.

Siri’s hidden improvements

Siri gets better all the time, but most of us will never know because we gave up trying years ago.

Which is a waste, because Siri’s skills are improving, and many of us are missing out. I ask Siri about little things like the weather, or to set a timer to brew tea (four minutes, no more, no less, and make sure the water is still boiling when you pour it onto the leaves). Maybe it’s time to give Siri another chance.

  • Darren McCoy

    Is there any way to do the same with places? I live near a town called Lisburn and she always thinks I’m saying Lisbon.

    • Tim Nicholson

      I don’t think there is a way to do that. There are various ways you can correct Siri’s pronunciation of people (and tell her who your family members are, etc.), but that is because she’s updating an actual contact record. In your example, Siri understood me perfectly, so perhaps just over-pronunciate the city names.

      • Tim Nicholson

        Actually, now that I think about it some more… I know that in iOS 11 Safari and Siri are supposed to be better about recognizing place names, medical terms, basically other words that aren’t in a common dictionary based on your search history. I’m guessing that if you searched for Lisburn in Safari first, then asked Siri for directions there she might get it right. I’ve been running the iOS 11 beta haven’t yet had enough experience with yet with that particular feature (and again, she understands me already in the case of your particular example so can’t really test it).

  • Cai

    I was just doing this yesterday with Siei, because while my name is usually pronounced /Kay/, usually kids pronounce it as /ky/.

  • aardman

    Tried that a few tears (years, but tears of frustration work too) ago. Didn’t work. Maybe this time Siri’s smarter.

  • Tim Nicholson

    Another way to do it is to simply add the phonetic spelling of the person’s first and/or last name to the contact record. Select “Add field” and then choose “Phonetic First Name” and/or “Phonetic Last Name”. Then you just type it in how it should be pronounced. In your example you should be able to key in exactly how you wanted it pronounced… er-NAN-deth.

    But also realize that there is a nickname field too and sometimes you may prefer to have Siri use that because you can also set contacts to “prefer nicknames”. Then it will show in messages and FaceTime. For example, if you have several “Elizabeth”‘s in your address book and you call one “Liz” then set that as a nickname and Siri will understand that and say her name that way and it will appear as such in various apps as well.

  • niceee

    Actually, now that I think about it some more… I know that in iOS 11 Safari and Siri are supposed to be better about recognizing place names, medical terms, basically other words that aren’t in a common dictionary based on your search history. I’m guessing that if you searched for Lisburn in Safari first, then asked Siri for directions there she might get it right. I’ve been running the iOS 11 beta haven’t yet had enough experience with yet with that particular feature (and again, she understands me already in the case of your particular example so can’t really test it).

  • adil

    Actually, now that I think about it some more… I know that in iOS 11 Safari and Siri are supposed to be better about recognizing place names, medical terms, basically other words that aren’t in a common dictionary based on your search history. I’m guessing that if you searched for Lisburn in Safari first, then asked Siri for directions there she might get it right. I’ve been running the iOS 11 beta haven’t yet had enough experience with yet with that particular feature (and again, she understands me already in the case of your particular example so can’t really test it).