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How should we pronounce Trindade?

In the 2015 version of the annual Check-list Redux article in Birder’s Guide to Listing and Taxonomy, one of the changes I listed was a split of Herald Petrel. The species found in the northern Atlantic Ocean (and, thus, in the Gulf Stream) is now called Trindade Petrel. Trindade isn’t a word most of us come across every day.

So how should Trindade be pronounced? (I know that some of you are thinking, “Who cares?” That’s fine, and I recommend clicking on to find a more interesting blog post. But to the rest of you, please read on.)


Trindade, which means “trinity” in Portuguese, is the name of a Brazilian island in the southern Atlantic Ocean. It is from this island, on which the petrel breeds, that the species gets it name. Within my article, I suggested a pronunciation for Trindade that is based on an easily-executed approximation of what Brazilians call the island. Should it not be as easy as asking what the people who live there call it, and then trying our best, within reason and within the constraints of English phonology, to match what they say? That’s my simple belief.

But Harry LeGrand disagrees. After reading my suggestion (magnified in the graphic above), he wrote me with the following:

[Y]ou have written that “‘Trindade’ is pronounced ‘treeng-DAH-jee‘.” This is certainly the correct Portuguese pronunciation, as Trindade Island is part of Brazil, which speaks Portuguese. However, we readers in the United States, Canada, etc., want and need to know the English pronunciation.

Here is what I found online, from Bob Flood, a noted pelagic birder and author:

“There is some debate concerning the most suitable vernacular name for Pterodroma arminjoniana, and the pronunciation of the vernacular name. Here is my take.

I use the name Trindade Petrel following Leandro Bugoni, a Brazilian ornithologist who has undertaken extensive research on the petrel on Trindade Island, the only known breeding location in the Atlantic. Other names used include Herald Petrel, South Trinidad Petrel, and Trinidade Petrel.
The Portuguese named the island Trindade, which is Portuguese for Trinity. In English, then, it is Trinity Island, but the name Trinity Petrel has never been used. Trinidad is sometimes used in Spanish, being the Spanish word for Trindade or Trinity, but this name would cause confusion with Trinidad and Tobago (in the Caribbean). Trinidade is a word that does not exist. It is a mix of Portuguese and Spanish and so is an invented or misspelled word.
So, how should we pronounce ‘Trindade’? I went back to Leandro, a native Portuguese speaker, and posed this question. He said transcribing it phonetically in English is hard, but would be something like ‘Treendádee’ . So there you go.

I [LeGrand] agree with Leandro [Bugoni], and support Bob [Flood]. The English pronunciation should be treen-DAH-dee or the very similar trin-DAH-dee…

Note that, in a similar vein [Mexico] is pronounced “MEH-hee-co” by the Spanish speaking people there, but here in the U.S. and Canada, we use the English pronunciation of “MECKS-i-co”.

The quote LeGrand lists above by Bob Flood is from a listserv discussion. In response to Flood, Stan Walens said, “Several years ago, I was at an anthropology conference with several Portuguese speakers, two from Brazil and one from Portugal, and we discussed the pronunciation for this species’s vernacular name. Their conclusion was that it should be trin-da-dzeh, as the final written ‘d’ is a soft ‘j’ sound, sometimes written in English as ‘dz’, softer than the ‘j’ in French je.” It’s worth noting here that the English sound “j” is actually a combination of two sounds: “d” and “ezh” (ʒ), the latter often transcribed as “zh” and sometimes referred to as “the French J”. So in English, “j” essentially represents the same sound as “dzh”.

Flood replied to Walens by saying, “Indeed, and Leandro [Bugoni] pointed me to this link where the guy pronounces [“Trindade” with a final -jee] twice in the first four seconds. My gringo pronunciation is more like Trin dah dee.”

In effect, Flood stated in his last sentence that he is mispronouncing the word. Change the last syllable from “dee” to “dzeh”, as Walens’s Portuguese-speaking colleagues suggest, and you have something very similar to what is heard in the video linked to above and to what I initially suggested.

I have great respect for Flood and the work he’s done with tubenoses in the Atlantic. But when creating a North American English transcription of a Brazilian Portuguese word, why we should take as gospel advice from an Englishman with a self-described “gringo pronunciation” who is a native speaker of neither North American English nor Brazilian Portuguese? At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, we might all be walking around asking for more jall-uh-PEE-nohs on our tor-TILL-uh chips if we followed that model. You may laugh, but I have heard those pronunciations used sincerely by speakers on both sides of the Atlantic. Most native English speakers in the ABA Area don’t pronounce jalapeño and tortilla as a fluent Spanish-speaker would, but we get it pretty close without it managing to sound affected. And neither do we sound like this or this. We approximate the Spanish sounds as best we can with sounds that already exist in North American English. It’s possible–and easy to do–with Trindade, as well.

This might be a good time to point out that most forms of British English pronounce quite differently many words recently derived from Spanish and Italian than do most forms of North American English. Pasta, taco, junta, Rioja, risotto, mafia, and paella all come to mind. In these examples, the standard American English pronunciation is much closer to that of the language of origin. Indeed, as one British author states, “Most of us [Britons] are particularly rubbish at Spanish pronunciations”. It would stand to reason that this phenomenon extends to the closely-related Portuguese.

I asked Rich Hoyer, a birder who is a native speaker of North American English and a fluent speaker of Brazilian Portuguese, for his take on the pronunciation of Trindade. He offered up “trin-DAH-dgee, with a soft dg” as an English approximation. As you can see, there is a “zh” or “g/j” sound in the final syllable–not a lone D, as LeGrand and Flood advocate.

Besides LeGrand and I simply disagreeing on the larger issue, I do not believe that Mexico is a good analogy for this situation. Mexico is a word that almost every single native English-speaking adult knows how to say. Millions upon millions of us say “MEHKS-ih-ko” every day. It’s an established English pronunciation, far from controversial, and there is no alternate English word for it. At least, not since New Spain disappeared from the map in 1821.

Which brings us the the other reason it’s not a good analogy: We have a perfectly good English-language alternative for Trindade. When the British administered the island toward the end of the 19th century, they called it South Trinidad (to avoid confusion with Caribbean Trinidad). Before British administration, the island was the self-declared Principality of Trinidad. (Click the link for some trivial, if comical, history.) In any case, it’s pretty clear to me that South Trinidad is the English-language name for the island of Trindade. The AOU could have used an English-language term and called the bird South Trinidad Petrel (or, opting for a direct translation, Trinity Petrel). And perhaps that would have been a good idea, but it’s not what happened. We are left with a bird whose “first name” is in Brazilian Portuguese.

Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 10.21.11 PM

Trindade Petrel. Photo © Michael Sammer

Rather than Mexico, I think a much better analogy would be to compare Trindade with Côte d’Ivoire. That country also has a perfectly good, easily pronounced and understood English name: Ivory Coast. Do you know how to pronounce Côte d’Ivoire? If you don’t speak French, I’m going to guess probably not instinctively. There is, however, a handy English-language approximation that tries to mimic the French pronunciation (KOHT dee-VWAHR). I would argue that this is how we should try to pronounce the name of the country, and, indeed, this is how Ivorians ask that we do so. But if in doubt, why not just call it Ivory Coast? It is, after all, the (unofficial) English name for the country, and people will definitely know what you mean. What good comes of manufacturing a hybrid pronunciation? KOHT DIE-vree? KOHT-ee dee VOY-ree? Let’s not make this more complicated than it needs to be. The Ivorians won’t understand you, and probably fewer English-speakers will understand you than would have if you’d used either the French-to-English transcription or the English translation. The whole point of language is to be understood, right? If that’s your goal, I content that you should either try to pronounce Côte d’Ivoire as closely as you can to the original French, or you should use the English name.

I’ll close with my belief that, just like “proper” grammar and syntax, “correct” pronunciation changes over time. While there may be a preferred or even nearly universally accepted English-language pronunciation for some words (e.g., swift, goose, Canada), there is anything but that for others (e.g., pileated, plover, skua, parula…even wren, flicker, and scarlet). I would argue that the only words with an absolutely proper pronunciation are names. We can ask a person how ze wants zir name to be pronounced. In most cases where that’s not possible, we can look into the literature or ask a family member to see if there is any record of that pronunciation, as is the case with Bachman’s (BACK-muhnz) Sparrow and Vaux’s (VOKS-uhz) Swift.

Anyway, my point is that–as with scientific names–there really is no correct or incorrect way to pronounce most English-language bird names, and Trindade Petrel is no exception. That won’t stop people from trying to establish one, though, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Communication is what it’s all about. When the shout goes up that the bird is below the horizon and crossing the bow to port, we all want to understand and to be understood. With that in mind, maybe a change to “South Trinidad Petrel” is in order. I could get behind that.

What’s your take?

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Michael Retter
Michael L. P. Retter is the editor of the ABA's newest magazine, Birder's Guide. He also wears his ABA cap while working as a Technical Reviewer for Birding magazine. When not at home, Michael is often leading tours in Middle America (Mexico through Panama). He currently lives with his fiancé, Matt, in Fort Worth, Texas. In his fleeting free time there, he pursues interests in horticulture (especially orchids), music, cooking, and numismatics. Michael also runs GBNA, the continent's informal club and email list for LGBT birders.
  • Rick Wright

    Yes, South Trinidad Petrel is far the better name; I never thought I’d miss the days when the ABA had its own set of English names distinct from that promulgated by the AOU, but I do. Until then, if I ever have reason to speak the bird’s name out loud, I’ll call it TRIN-dad.

    Michael, what’s the capital of Portugal, and how “should” a native speaker of English pronounce it?

    • Walter of England

      Seriously, Rick? Even though you’re aware of the correct pronunciation,
      and it’s perfectly easy to say, you’re going to make a point of deliberately
      mispronouncing it out of stubborness, or spite, or to express your
      disapproval of the AOU? You surprise me. Why would someone with such broad linguistic training, and one who on his
      own blog is so obviously comfortable with 18th- and 19th-century avian
      scholarship in languages other than English, adopt such a churlish and parochial attitude toward such a trivial matter?

      • Rick Wright

        Well, amice Gualtere, it’s clear that no one is aware of the “correct pronunciation” of the word in English, largely because there isn’t one. My pronunciation has the advantage of following an English pattern — compare the perfectly good English words “forbade” and “bade” — while what we are told is the Portuguese pronunciation appears to have not a single sound shared by any English word. As I understand it (and I know precious little about Portuguese, so corrections welcome), the t is unaspirated, the r softly rolled, the i higher, the n velarized, the d’s simply bizarre, the a broad and open. I’d cut a pretty sorry figure if I were to try to pronounce that or any other word as if it were Portuguese, and I think anyone who wants to do so should be obliged to pronounce every single letter as a native speaker of Portuguese would.
        As to the AOU, you’ll agree that the committee’s strength over the past decades has most decidedly not been in coming up with sensible English names. That observation is not the same as disapproval.
        And last, I’m happy to give you the benefit of the doubt about “churlish.” I’m sure that’s not what you meant.
        Looking forward to our next pelagic trip together, when I hope we can argue this with the bird itself in sight!

        • Walter of England

          “I think anyone who wants to do so should be obliged to pronounce every single letter as a native speaker of Portuguese would.”

          So your argument is that if you can’t pronounce a foreign language precisely like a native speaker, you shouldn’t even try? That’s rubbish; it’s an impossible standard no matter what your native tongue is, and I’m sure you don’t actually believe it. Any English speaker who can pronounce the word “pelagic” can approximate the correct pronunciation of the Portuguese name Trindade (trin-DA-je: three syllables, accent on the penult, second d pronounced as a soft dzh/j). It won’t be perfect, but it will certainly be closer than TRIN-dad, and close enough for most Brazilians to understand you. To insist on using an entirely different pronunciation, one that ignores not only the sounds of the individual letters but also the number of syllables and the placement of the stress in the language of origin, and to justify it by claiming that at least it follows the pattern of unrelated (Germanic!) words in English, all because the AOU failed to come up with a name that you find more “sensible” — this just baffles me, especially coming from a well-traveled polyglot like you.

          You mentioned on your blog recently that you’ve been reading a lot of Vieillot. If I pronounce his name Vyay-oh in my spectacularly crappy French accent, I’m not going to fool any native French speakers. But just because I can’t reproduce the delicate combination of diphthongs and glides in the middle of that name in the manner of a native speaker, does that mean that I should just give up and instead say something like Vay-loh, or even Vie-a-lot, because those pronunciations are closer to familiar English patterns? For most people, apart from die-hard linguistic nationalists, surely the answer is no. We all do the best we can with names in other languages and trust the charity of our interlocutors to bridge any remaining gap.

          What I really don’t understand is why you view Trindade any differently. What do you actually LOSE by saying Trin-DA-je instead of TRIN-dad? Why would you NOT want to get as close as you can to the correct pronunciation of the Portuguese word that, for better or worse, is now part of the bird’s official English name (at least in North America)? I’m willing to bet that you say Vox for Vaux and Backman for Bachman and Cows for Coues, and that you’ve done so ever since you learned that the gentlemen in question pronounced their names that way, regardless of the fact that these unexpected pronunciations do not line up all that well with familiar English and French patterns. So why is Trindade the place where you feel you have to draw a line in sand?

          No matter. As Nick says below, call it whatever you like, if you’re lucky enough to see one; other birders will quickly figure out what you mean. I probably shouldn’t have posted at all, and I certainly don’t want to argue about it any further, especially with someone whose writing I genuinely admire. Peace and good birding to you!

    • Michael Retter

      The capital of Portugal depends on the language of the speaker, as does the pronunciation, since it has different names in different languages.

  • Matt Brady

    ‘trin-DAH-djeh’ isn’t difficult to say. Even someone who can’t manage Spanish’s ll or ñ can say it. If we’re willing to strive to pronounce the “English” names of Hawaiian birds, then why shouldn’t we strive to pronounce the far-easier Trindade Petrel’s name as close to the original Portuguese as possible? Alternatively, if we want to apply English names to this species, then why don’t we do that to every bird? Why are we still bumbling around with Akohekohe and Alauahio?

  • Jim

    Most English speakers attempt to pronounce foreign names as they are pronounced in the foreign language. There are other names that have official English alternates, like Mexico. In the end, you don’t have to follow either rule as English has no governing body for official words and pronunciations as French, Spanish and other languages do. Establish a pattern that is easy enough for an English speaker to pronounce, then repeat it enough and you can establish your own usage – just like the people who decided to go back to the Elizabethan pronunciation of ‘often’ in the 1980s (I first heard the ‘t’ pronounced in 1986. I was thirty. Watch old TV show or listen to old recordings. You won’t hear the ‘t’ pronounced much before 2000). Now the Elizabethan pronunciation seems to be the preferred pronunciation while the 20th Century pronunciation is fading fast. If a high usage word like ‘often’ can change its pronunciation so quickly, you shouldn’t have a problem establishing whatever official English name of this bird that you prefer.
    By the way, we have a preferred English pronunciation of the capital of Porchagul (or Portygul) – it’s Lizbun. Most people pronounce it that way and don’t worry about pronouncing the nasal consonants in Lizbwa.

  • Kevin Metcalf

    The official pronunciation should be however Brian Patteson says it over the loudspeaker on his boat. The vast majority of American (or British) English-speakers are only ever going to see the species out in the Gulf Stream off North Carolina, on a Brian Patteson pelagic trip. Brian is from Virginia, so it will will be tinged with a Virginia accent.

    • Michael Retter

      There is no such thing as official pronunciation in English. That’s part of the issue.

  • Michael Retter

    Paul Hess sent me the following comment via email and asked that it be shared here.


    Michael, I agree with you and Rich Hoyer, and not with Harry nor with one of my seabird idols, Bob Flood. Why not give the Brazilian suffix a best approximation? We do that with all other languages in daily speech. [I wrote] the following about nomenclature, not pronunciation, but it reveals a bit of history.

    From Pennsylvania Birds 11(1):2-5 (1997)

    I use P. [a.] arminjoniana for the taxon because it was formerly considered a separate species and possibly might be split again…The Atlantic form’s English name has at least six variants referring to its main breeding island, Ilha da Trindade in Portuguese, 700 miles east of Brazil: “Trinidad Islet” (Murphy 1914b), “South Trinidad” (Murphy 1936, A.O.U. 1983), “Trinidad” (Allen 1934, Alexander 1963), “Trindade” (Palmer 1962, Watson 1966), “Trindade Island” (Murphy and Pennoyer 1952), and “Trinidade” (Harper and Kinsky 1978, Harrison 1983, Brinkley 1996).

    Of the Anglicized versions, South Trinidad is best to distinguish it from the familiar Caribbean island. Of the versions with the final “e,” Trindade is preferable to match the official geographic name. In Brazil the bird is called Pardela-da-trindade (Sick 1984).

    All of that could be avoided by using the original name Arminjon’s Petrel, chosen by its discoverers to honor the “gallant” captain of their round-the-world voyage (Giglioli and Salvadori 1869); in fact, Murphy reverted to that name in one paper (1915). Marchant and Higgins (1990) have another suggestion: “These names are best dropped in favour of Herald, well established for the Pacific subspecies, pleasing, simple and unambiguous.” However, that approach misses the important distinction between the Atlantic and Pacific taxa.

  • Nick Bonomo

    Pronounce it whichever way makes you happy. Everyone is going to know what you’re talking/yelling about anyway!

    Now where is that eye-rolling emoji… 🙂

  • Nate Dias

    Here is a mispronunciation nearly as harmless as “gringo-izing” Trindade Petrel:

    If we are going to enforce pronouncing bird names according to “what the people who live there call it” – then people should stop mispronouncing Bachman’s Warbler.

    John Bachman, as well as his descendants, pronounced the name “Backman”. As do we Charleston natives.

    Also must be time for everyone to start using the Portuguese pronunciation of “Jacana” unless they want to run afoul of the Pronunciation Police.

    • Michael Retter

      Yes, I wish people would stop mispronouncing both Bachman and jaçana, and I said as much for the former in penultimate paragraph of the blog post. The funny mark under the C in jaçana isn’t there for decoration. Do you call a façade a “fuh-KADE” or an araçari an “ar-uh-KAR-see”? I hope not. And my friend François certainly doesn’t like being called “fran-KOYCE”.

  • Ted Floyd

    Can we say and write “Trin-Daddy”? Please?

    • Michael Retter

      I sure nope not.

      • Matt Brady


  • Bob Flood

    The Englishman Bob Flood recommended the pronunciation put forward by the Brazillian Leandro Bugoni. The blog comment relating to this is a bit misleading, if I may say so.

  • yoericd

    I don’t understand why some find “Trin-DAH-dgee” so hard to say. It isn’t. It’s easy! Here, say this: Trin. Dodgy. There, you’ve succeeded, and are plenty close to the Brazilian Portuguese.

  • I think the biggest strike against the “treeng-DAH-jee” pronunciation is that it makes communication about that species between birders and non-birders (or bird experts, and non-experts) more difficult. If you don’t know it has some funky pronunciation that is not evident based on the spelling, it will be hard to follow a conversation where people are using that special pronunciation. I think it unnecessarily draws a line between the elites who know the ‘correct’ pronunciation, and those that don’t. I know some people will smirk when I shout out ‘trin-DADE’ petrel, but everyone will likely know which species I am talking about.

    But honestly, its a pretty small issue to me. There are already so many species names that are pronounced differently in English, not even accounting for regional differences based on accents, that I am sure we’ll get used to multiple pronunciations.

  • Doug Santoni

    Hmmm…I think the Portuguese pronunciation would be best, as Mr. Retter suggests. (I also like to call one of my favorite salad ingredients a Belgian aahn-DEEV, but not everyone supports me on that!)

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