I'm running the AD&D module "Ravenloft," and I was wondering how I should pronounce the name of the main character, Count Strahd von Zarovich. Is his first name pronounced "strahd," or "strad?" Is Zarovich pronounced with an "itch," or an "ick?" I want to get it right for my players, so that the atmosphere isn't broken by my poor pronunciation.
Strahd's name is of generic Eastern European inspiration. He rules Barovia, his brother is Sergei, the woman in their love triangle is Tatyana — all extremely Eastern European names by the standards of Midwest America in the late 80s.
So, there are some points of commonality among Eastern European languages — or, more to the point, points of commonality in the American stereotypes of how Eastern European names are pronounced and written. (They're not actually that inaccurate, based on observed naming patterns and all, but the name almost definitely came to the game via “what sounds suitably Eastern European and vaguely vampiric?”, not rigorous linguistics research. So, 80s American stereotypes about Eastern European names is it.)
First the easy part: von is a nobiliary particle that attaches a noble's given name to their House name. (Like Madonna, nobles only have one name!) That makes Strahd specifically “Strahd of House Zarovich”, not to be confused with some other Strahd. It's spelled a bunch of different ways depending on the language, but this particular spelling is from German. So, it's easy enough to pronounce von — you can go Movie German Accent and just pronounce it how it looks (which is probably how the designers pronounced it and how your players will expect it to be pronounced), or if you want to get slightly more technically accurate, make the v really soft, almost an f sound, like “fon”.
Zarovich should be pronounced with an English ch sound. -vich/-ovich is a common suffix on surnames in Slavic languages, which means “son of”. It's interchangeable with -vič/-ovič, that háček on the c literally meaning “pronounce this which a ch sound.” (So Strahd's dad should be named Zar? … Not a very Slavic name, that, but I bet they didn't realise that's they were writing a patronymic and just kinda made it up to sound “vampire-y.” Nevermind that modern ideas of vampires came from Hungary and Hungarian is a completely non-Slavic Eastern European name. Oh, and it may be a coincidence, but it's cognate with tsar or “king”, which would make more sense, assuming they put research into the name instead of random Eastern-y syllables. And it's also after a “von” so it's not his dad's name/title, Zar is from his great-great-great-…-grandfather, who founded a dynasty named “Son of Zar” or “Son of the Tsar” and it calcified like that. As names are wont to do. But I digress.)
To pronounce Zarovich right, just give it a bit of a movie Russian accent. Yeah, I know, a bit of a letdown, isn't it? But apart from Slavic names having sometimes a tongue-twisting number of syllables for a typical English speaker, the pronunciation is often pretty straightforward.
Strahd is the hardest part to nail down an origin for with certainty, because it seems to be completely made up just to sound and look good on a vampire lord. Making up names was really uncommon in Slavic languages until recently (there are very few first names in Slavic languages and they just get recycled a lot, because the Orthodox Church didn't like pagan names and for centuries mandated everyone taking the names of Saints), and it looks really Germanic, so we can go with the trend set by the “von” and say it is a German name, albeit made up.
In German, Strahd would be pronounced with a very long, “aaaah” sound, like an upper-class British accent would say it. The str- is a bit fussy though, when said by/to English speakers. Depending on whether the designers were being accurate when figuring out his name's canonical pronunciation, it could have an authentic German pronunciation (“shtr”), or it could have a lazy American approximation (“str”, the way it looks). To English speakers, the accurate pronunciation will be more foreign and harder to say without practice — the foreignness might be a pro, or it might suffer the fate of funny/hard-to-say names in RPGs and get mocked by the players. Since presumably your players will be using his given name more than his full name, you may want to simplify it to the English approximation of a plain “s” to avoid that fate and maintain the Count's gravitas. (Even if you say “Shtraaahd”, they might say it “Straahd” anyway, too.) It's your call, as you know your players best.
So, most accurately of the points considered, Shtraaahd fon ZAAHrovich.† I vant to suck your bluuud. Etcetera, vampire noises, etcetera, with Eastern European aristocratic gothic aesthetics.
It's not 100% accurate, but we've put far more thought into the name by now than I suspect the designers ever did, and it's far more authentic-sounding than Straahd von ZAAHrovich—which for most audiences would still be just fine.
† Before the students of linguistics in the audience object that this should be in IPA — if you already know enough about languages to be able to read IPA, you don't need to ask how to pronounce Strahd's name!
I'm assuming that "Count Strahd von Zarovich" is supposed to be a German noble name or of German origin, because of the dark and gothic setting and the fact that "von" was a German nobility title in earlier times and still exists in many older German names.
Strahd is pronounced with a German long "a" (which would probably be like an English short "a"). Note that we pronounce this letter quite open, more like in "car" than in "care".
von is pronounced with a hard "v". Not like in "view", but more like in "few". Just with an "on" instead of the "ew" obviously.
Zarovich should probably be pronounced as Germans do. However, the name itself is from farther east. Maybe Poland, Hungary or Romania. A lot of back and forth conquering and persecution moved a lot of people around in Europe, so it's also common in Germany, but it's pronounced using Slavic pronunciation, not plain German. Or at least Germans try to use slavic pronunciation and probably fail. Anyway:
Zar is the same word and pronunciation like "tsar" Link with pronunciation. "ovich" would actually sound the same as if you said "o-witch". With a "t" in it like "itch".
Actually, you should be fine if you put it into Google Tanslator and heed my attempt to explain the "tzar" in Zarovitch. It's too nice in Google, too english. Think of it as "Tsarowitch". It could well be hissed like a snake if the Count is sufficiently evil. Tssss.
This answer is based off actual experience (I asked this exact question in middle school).
I am basing this off of my German teacher's pronunciation whenever I showed her the module in 7th grade (1993) (yes, I was in 7th grade when I bought that box set - and in 8th grade when I bought I, Strahd. She said this:
Strodd fon Tsar Oh Vichks (She was a dual citizen German/American; name was Frau Patrick). She said, however:
This name isn't really German. It is more Slavic-Czech-Croat. But we in Germany know all the Europeans so we would pronounce it in their way.
CHKS is like combining the CH and the CK sound. It was taken from Old Germanic - and is now called High German. That is what they teach in German classes. Adolf Hitler - yes... that guy, didn't like his troops having trouble understanding each other. Whenever he unified 'Germany' he had one language instilled as the central language.
Now, I doubt that the CHKS sound would be prevalent in further Eastern Europe. Whenever I visited Serbia and Bosnia on vacation in 2006, every person that I met and talked to, and worked with prior to that vacation; whom 75% had a VICH in their last name, literally pronounced it with a CH, not a CK or a CHKS.
I worked with a Bosnian with the last name Tahirovic. I worked with a Serbian with the last name Filipovic. And I worked with an Albanian with the last name Ibrahimovic. All three of them, and literally every one else with a VIC in their name, pronounced it VICH.
I believe Strahd to be literally pronounced as it is spelled. Str-odd1. Von would be with a hard F sound or a V sound. Last name would be Tsar-OH-vich. All Bosnians I know emphasize the OH sound before the VICH. Zar would be as heavy as the O, and Vich wouldn't be as hard as the O either.
Hope this helps.
1North American (USA) pronunciation of Odd.
German pronunciation (must be German because of the von which is added, in this case to a Slavic patronymic, to denote nobility): /ʃtʀɑːt fɔn tsaʀovɪtʃ/ (see the IPA and its help for English on Wikipedia).
Zarovich is either an alternative spelling or a romanization from a different language of the Russian term Tsarevich (Царе́вич, "son of the tsar").
You can hear Tracy Hickman, one of the authors of the original Ravenloft module (I6) at the Established Facts podcast episode 103. At around 5:24, he pronounces the full name as follows:
Strad van (like the word "one") Zaro-witch
where all the "a" letters are pronounced the same way: as in "aaah". And Strahd starts with an "S", and not with the expected German-pronunciation, the "Sh" sound.
For fun, you can also hear Tracy and Laura Hickman sing the first name "Strad" in tune to the melody of the Phantom of the Opera around 6:08 of the Episode 2 of Hickman's Killer Breakfast series.
We hear a very similar/same pronunciation around 5:27 and 11:27 minutes into the interview with Chris Perkins (the designer of the 5e module Curse of Strahd) and Tracy Hickman on the official D&D podcast dated 01/21/2016.
This answer is based on how do we pronounce it in Russia -- based on how do other Russians spell the name in the Russian language. Let's look at this name, clearly based on Slavic and German roots, step by step.
We pronounce it as "Strad", "S" as in "Some", "A" as in "Calm", the Russian spelling in Cyrillic is "Страд". For example, in this text about a Ravenloft LARP game.
"Strada" (Russian "страда") is also a noun in Russian language, meaning the following:
- Hard work made in summer, such as mowing, harvesting, etc.
- A period of time when this work is being done.
- Figurative: any kind of hard work (you call it as hard as mowing/harvesting if you call it страда/strada)
- Period of making such work that is called страда figuratively
- Poetical: suffering, agony, torment, etc.
As you may notice, the fifth meaning is the most interesting here, possibly, but not necessarily hinting the nature of Strahd von Zarovich. The etymology comes from proto-Slavic language, and is connected with the word "страдати" (stradati, to work hard on something, to achieve something), is certainly connected with modern Russian verb "страдать" (stradat', ' marking that "t" sound is soft), the verb means "to suffer". Also might be connected with Latin word "strēnuus", meaning "brisk, nimble, quick, prompt, active", "vigorous, strenuous", all according to Wiktionary.
"Von" is the easiest, just as others said, it's a clear direct borrow from German, read more or less as "fon".
"Zarovich" is just a bit harder because of the first letter. Could be meant to be pronounced as "Z" in English, or as "ts" in "Tsar", I think, either way would go, but we can only guess about this. The ending "-ovich" is a clear borrow from Russian, the last sound is English "CH", not "CK", and it means "son of...". Son of Zar, in our case. If you decide to read "Zar" as "Tsar" (which could be intended by the developers, but we can't know exactly), then the "Zarovich" means "son of Tsar".
However, reading Z as in "Zone", not as in German language, is a norm established in the Russian community. This reading is also supported by russian RPG.wikia article about Strahd von Zarovich.
Combining things said above
If we combine what was said above, it is "Strad from the family descended from Tsar (or Zar)". We also can't know how long ago did it descend...
BTW, there is a long debate in Russian translators community about how should the "Russian-esque" names be translated. For example, in novels by Lois McMaster Bujold there is a planet called Barrayar. Even though it's sci-fi, life is feudal on this planet, and characters' names are often clear borrows from Russian or French, confirmed by the author. The official translation that I read, for example, directly transliterates the name Uri as "Ури" (U as un "purr", "I" as in "Intention"), while it is a clear reference to the Russian name "Yuriy". From one point, it was right, because it is not a direct use of a Russian name, from the other it was wrong, because for many Russians that reference was lost. I am not telling who is right or wrong, just that this debate exists, or at least did exist, and it makes decisions about "how do I read a Russian-esque" name hard.