Originally published on JRR Tolkien Examiner on 8/6/09.
There are two main camps. One insists on “tol-kenn,” which is the most common American pronunciation. The other will argue that “Tolkien” is a German name, properly pronounced “Tolk-een.” This seems to be the most popular pronunciation in Britain.
They’re both wrong.
Just as New Line Pictures ignores the actual Tolkien family (allegedly), so do those participating in this debate. Check out interviews with Tolkien’s descendants, and listen to how they pronounce their own family name: “Toll-kee-en.”
It’s three syallables, but the last two are run together. It’s almost how a Japanese person would say “kyen” – “Tol-kyen.”
This site gets it right — listen to the audio file.
You can hear Tolkien’s grandson Adam pronounce his name on this video, at 00:01:50. It sounds almost – almost – like “Tol-keen,” but the third syllable is there. Note that the newscaster at the beginning says “Tol-kenn,” but gets it right at 00:04:37. The woman doing the voice over says “Tol-keen.”
Unfortunately, everyone in this video (discussing the release of Children of Húrin) mispronounces “Húrin.” Sometimes you just can’t win.