How to Correct Siri's Recognition & Pronunciation of Proper Names

I am certain that most people have at least one family member, friend or associate who has an uncommon first and/or last name that is tricky to pronounce.

It would be considerate of everyone in our Contacts app to have easy names that won't flummox Siri. Not everyone has names that are a cinch for Siri to recognize and pronounce. You know, names like Pepe Roni, Tish Hughes, Douglas Furr, or Iona Ford.

When being asked for information about a specific person, Siri can indeed oblige, as long as the person in question has an entry in your Contacts app. However, Siri relies on built-in phonetics rules appropriate for the chosen system language in order to understand – and pronounce – proper names.

Here's the problem: most proper names of foreign origin contain elements of pronunciation that are not handled correctly at the local-language level. Let me show you how to configure contacts with the phonetic spelling of names so that they can just mellifluously roll off Siri's tongue.

Wait... Siri has a tongue?

Let's say that you have a good friend over in Italy called Gianvito Montelloncini. Gianvito is listed in your Contacts app on your American English, Siri-compatible iDevice.

An iPhone screen shows a typical record in the Contacts app.

By default, Siri on an American English iPhone cannot recognize or pronounce this very Italian name.

Let's also consider that you really enjoy having Siri do as much as she (or he) can for you, particularly when you are behind the wheel. Typically, with Anglo-American names, Siri has no problem uttering the name and presenting the requested information. Unfortunately, if you say to Siri, "What is Gianvito Montelloncini's address?" you get the digital version of a blank stare. Gianvito's first and last name don't fit the pronunciation "guidelines."

A screenshot of Siri saying she doesn't understand after the user inputs an unrecognized name.

It used to be that Siri did not understand when I asked about Gianvito. (Go To Guy? That's me!).

OK, let's fix this and give Siri some international savoir-faire.

1. Open Contacts, and locate Mr. Montelloncini's record.

2. Add a new field to this record by first tapping on the Edit button. The Edit pane is where you can add additional fields for each category (name, address, phone, email, etc) as well as create new and custom fields.

The Edit Contact pane is where additional fields can be added to a record.

The Edit Contact pane is where you can modify and add fields in the contact's record.

3. At the bottom of the Edit field, tap the Add Field button. There is a little "plus sign" in a green circle to guide you.

4. You are taken to the Add Field pane. At the top you will see the fields called Phonetic First Name and Phonetic Last Name. Tapping on one (or both) will produce a new field for the phonetic spelling back in the contact's record, with a blinking insertion point ready for your input. Your job is to figure out what to type here.

Two Edit Contact panes are shown side-by-side. These are where the fields with phonetic spelling are configured.

The contact's first and/or last name can be spelled out phonetically so that Siri can understand and pronounce the name properly.

5. Simply type the phonetic spelling of the name, that is, spelling out the pronunciation so that Siri can understand how to detect the name when you speak it, and how she is to pronounce it when asked to do so. Combining common words which, when spoken together, produce the same sound (pronunciation) as the word in question.

6. As seen in the illustration above, for Gianvito, I would suggest the phonetic spelling: GeeAhnVeeToe. For Montelloncini, I'd try spelling it this way: MontellOnCheeKnee. I capitalize each segment for my ease in reading only, but it's not required.

7. When finished, tap Done.

The edited record now shows the phonetic spelling directly beneath the normally spelled first and last names.

When all done, the Contact record for Gianvito shows his name spelled phonetically underneath his normally spelled name.

Finally, when setting up your phonetic spelling, it's going to be trial-and-error time. You may have to do some tweaking of the phonetic spelling to get it just right. Once you nail it, you and Siri are ready to roll.