Pasifika Pronunciation

In the previous two sections of this module, we examined a few examples of culturally-responsive frameworks. In this section we will cover a more practical aspect of engagement – pronouncing Pasifika names!

Pronouncing a person’s name correctly is simply a mark of respect. For non-Anglo names, correct pronunciation also shows a willingness towards cultural competence. Watch this video filmed here in Australia which outlines how important the correct pronunciation is for people of various backgrounds:

What’s in a name?

For people not versed in Pasifika languages, reading and pronouncing Pasifika names can be tricky and tongue-tying. Most Pasifika peoples acknowledge this. However, making your best attempt to pronounce names correctly is extremely important for a variety of reasons. Most Pasifika people will not correct you directly if you mispronounce their name; mispronunciation is commonplace and is somewhat accepted given the context they are living in. However if someone tries to pronounce their name correctly, or takes an interest in getting it right by asking how it is pronounced, they will surely know you have respect for them and everything their name stands for.

Watch this light-hearted video of how NRL players’ names are commonly incorrectly pronounced, and how they should be pronounced by the players themselves.

NRL players – say my name!

Pasifika names, especially surnames, are often tied to a person’s genealogy. It can encompass and signify who they are descended from, which village and kinship group they belong to, and oftentimes which chieftain title they are affiliated to. Therefore, a surname is a critical and treasured part of a Pasifika person’s identity, and should be treated as such.

It is often said within Pasifika communities, that a difference between Western and Pasifika cultures can often on display when meeting strangers. It’s generally accepted that in Western cultures one of the questions that often arises early in a conversation between strangers is “what do you do?” – which may signify that ones job is a symbol of status or class or likely-networks and mutual acquaintances? In Pasifika cultures, one of the main questions that arises between strangers is “what is your surname?” or “where are you from” – meaning which island/village are you from. This generally helps to locate a person in the Pasifika circle of time and space. Again, this highlights the value of names, and therefore the correct pronunciation.

Check out these charts that explain how vowels, and some of the more peculiar pronunciations can be sounded out.


Some general notes ( 

Cook IslandsTe reo Maori Kuki Airani is very similar to Te reo Maori of Aotearoa.
‘R’ Pronounced as a soft ‘rolled’ R.
FijiB’ is pronounced ‘MB’
‘Q’ is ‘NG’ with a released G sound like finger
‘G’ is pronounced like NG in sing
‘C’ is ‘TH’ (‘then’) The word Moce would be pronounced ‘Mothe’
‘D’ is pronounced ‘ND’ for example Nadi would be pronounced Nandi
Tonga‘NG’ is pronounced like the English ‘ng’ in “Sing”
‘T’ is pronounced with as little sibilant sound as possible almost like the
English ‘D’
SamoaUnlike the Tongan T the Samoan ‘T’ has a strong sibilant sound
‘G’ is pronounced like the English ‘NG’ in “Sing”
TokelauF’ in Tokelau is pronounced like the English ‘W’
The ‘F’ sound pronounced in this way is accompanied by an ‘H’ quality.
This ‘H’ quality is more noticeable in front of the vowels A, O and U.
The Tokelauan H is a glottal fricative, and before the vowels ‘I’ and ‘E’ it
sounds the same as English.
An ‘H’ before an A, O or U is pronounced as if it were spelt with an HY. For
example the word Huke would be pronounced Hyuke or Heeyukeh.
NiueG’ is pronounced like the English ‘NG’ in “Sing”
‘T’ when followed by an E or an I is pronounced like an S. For example Mate
would be pronounced Mase.

Think of some of your clients or families you work with, and check against these principles to see if you’ve been pronouncing their names correctly (and don’t stress if you haven’t, they will most likely be really grateful and full of admiration that you have corrected yourself!).

If you can’t think of someone, try these names and scroll down for the answers:

Salote (Tongan)

Tenkyu Tumas (PNG)

Papatuanuku (Maori)

Fonofale (Samoa)

Tuqiri (Fiji) 

Salote – Sar-loh-teh

Tenkyu tumas – tenk-you too-mars

Papatuanuku – Papa-too-ah-noo-koo

Fonofale – Faw-naw-far-leh

Tuqiri – Toong-geh-dee (rolled “r”)

How did you go on the above exercise?

However you went, the main point is you gave it a try – this will be appreciated by the Pasifika communities you engage with. It is a sign of respect and curiosity which fosters trust and respect.

Now that you have the chart, you have a pronunciation guide you will be able to refer to – if you are still unsure, simply ask the person or someone else.

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