As we all know, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, a seminal figure of Modernism as well as our lovely school, has a notoriously difficult to pronounce last name. Furthermore, it seems everyone has strongly held opinions about the proper way to pronounce it. Within a week at ID I heard it pronounced at least two completely different ways, and not just by students. Some said Laszlo Moholy-Nagie, while other said Laszlo Moholy-Nawdge. Thus, I decided to resolve this conflict once and for all.
Naturally I first turned to Wikipedia, figuring that a name this frequently mispronounced would get some special mention. Alas, they made no special mention, saying only that it is pronounced [ˈlaːsloː ˈmoholiˌnɒɟ] in Hungarian (the ‘gy’ of Nagy being pronounced like the ‘gy’ of gyár). If I knew how to pronounce that, this wouldn’t be an issue now would it?
Digging a bit deeper, I discovered on phantomranch.net that ‘gy’ in Hungarian is pronounced like ‘du’ in the English word adulation. Forvo.com helped clarify (ahem, obfuscate) this by providing both Hungarian pronunciation by a German female and the pronunciation in German by an anonymous male. I can’t say this helped much, but feel free to listen to them if you are trying to learn Hungarogerman.
Both Infoplease.com and Dictionary.com confirmed Phantomranch.net’s Hungarian pronunciation of Nagy but pointed to a discrepancy with pronouncing Moholy as well. At least the dictionaries agree.
Mo•holy-Nagy (mu-hō’lē-noj’; Hung. mō’hoi-nod’yu)
Mo⋅holy-Nagy [muh-hoh-lee-noj; Hung. moh-hoi-nod-yuh]
Turning to the art historians I found two references, which seemed to reference a single definitive interview. First, Christopher Knight of the LA Times references an interview with Hattula Moholy-Nagy, Laszlo’s daughter, that was included as part of a centennial show of L M-N’s work at the Getty Museum.
“The centennial show also clears up some confusion about the difficult pronunciation of Moholy-Nagy’s name. An edited transcript of a 1994 colloquium printed in the small catalogue explains that, although usually pronounced by English-speaking scholars as “Moholy-Nawdge,” the Americanized version that followed his 1937 arrival in Chicago has typically been “Moholy-Nagie.” The original Hungarian is actually “Mo-hoy-Neug.”
The artist’s daughter, archeologist Hattula Moholy-Nagy, does the explaining, so it’s probably definitive.” http://articles.latimes.com/1995-07-01/entertainment/ca-19034_1_laszlo-moholy-nagy?pg=2
Then I found Hattula’s actual quote in Getty Museum catalogue.
From page 87 of the Getty Museum’s IN FOCUS, LASZLO MOHOLY-NAGY:
Katherine Ware: Hattula [daughter of LM-N], you pronounce your last name differently than the rest of us have been pronouncing your father’s name-you’re saying “Moholy-Nagie” rather than “Moholy-Nawdge.” Could you explain?
Hattula Moholy-Nagy: Well, I am sometimes corrected about it! The Hungarian pronunciation is “Mo-hoy-Neug.” Hungarian is a very logical language-its orthography follows its pronunciation, but it’s different from English. So when we came to this country, we settled on the mispronunciation “Moholy-Nagie.”
Amazing! This is really shaking things up. Not speaking Hungarian, I’m willing to accept that “mō’hoi-nod’yu” is the equivalent of ”Mo-hoy-Neug.” As for the English version, ”mu-hō’lē-noj’” is clearly much different than ”Moholy-Nagie”. In fact, this is just the discrepancy I had been hearing in the halls of ID. How to resolve this? I am willing to give Hattula the final say, but can I trust a single interview, that may or may not have captured her pronunciation accurately? No.
So, I emailed The Moholy-Nagy Foundation, the group responsible for Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s estate, to get their take on all of this. I never would have guessed, but I received a response directly from Hattula Moholy-Nagy.
“In Hungarian, the name is pronounced MO-hoy NODGE. This is a challenge for English-speakers, so we are not rigid about it.”
There you have it. “We are not rigid about it.” I guess I won’t worry about getting it right, and if anyone ever gives you trouble about it, just tell them that you have Hattula’s permission to pronounce it any way you like.
If you are still wondering how to pronounce it, I suggest: the English mu-hō’lē-nogē or the Hungarian mō’hoi-nod’yu. At least these two are internally consistent, as opposed to mu-hō’lē-noj’ that is widely accepted but is also a complete fabrication. Then again, if Hattula doesn’t care, neither do I.