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Herman Van Rompuy: How's That Again?

By Kathleen Moore

"A quiet consensus-builder." "Soft-spoken." "Little known" outside Belgium.

Judging from these descriptions in news reports, the EU's first full-time president, Belgian Prime Minister Herman van Rompuy, doesn't exactly quicken the blood of the Brussels press pack.

But there is one thing at least about van Rompuy that people find worthy of debate: how to pronounce his name.

A sample of news broadcasts runs the gamut from "Rom-poy" through "Rom-Pay" to this correspondent's personal favorite, "Rompy."

Van Rompuy is Flemish, but a Francophile and fluent French-speaker.

As prime minister, he has won praise for bringing harmony between Belgium's two long-divided communities -- the Dutch-speaking Flemish community in the north and the French-speaking southern half of Wallonia.
Belgian Prime Minister and EU President-elect Herman Van Rompuy

But van Rompuy's name seems to cause problems even for French-speaking Belgians. A call to the mayor's office in Charleroi, a city in Wallonia, elicited the pronunciation "van Rompuyt."

The Associated Press pronunciation guide was no help -- "van Rompuy" is not yet listed.

Voice of America's pronunciation guide suggested something that sounded like "Roop-eye."

But that got the thumbs-down from one Dutch speaker, Geert de Proost, the representative of the Flemish government in the United Kingdom.

"No, that's not correct," de Proost said. "It's 'van Rompuy' -- it's '-uuye.'... 'Y' has to be read as an 'I' in Dutch. So that makes the sound 'Romp-uuye.'"

One final call, to van Rompuy's office.

Sadly, we didn't get to hear the pronunciation from the horse's mouth. Or from his spokesman, the splendidly named Dirk de Backer.

But his spokesman's secretary, Marie Claes, obliged.

Sadly, those Dutch sounds don't transliterate easily into English.

So van Rompuy's name is likely to continue to twist tongues in the EU and beyond for some time.

Antoine Blua contributed to this report

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