While this answer talks about how the names of letters are pronounced, my question is how we came up with this way of naming consonants. Is there an official term for the standard vowels used in the names of the consonants? Who decided which vowel to use in the name of each letter, and whether to place it at the beginning or at the end?

I know you need a vowel to pronounce a consonant, but we could've chosen any other vowel in each case. In Romanian, for example, the names of consonants normally end in /ɨ/.

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    What might an "official term" mean? Which body is capable of determining such a thing?
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 28 at 23:34

1 Answer 1


The names of letters in the Classical Latin alphabet are given here, along with proposed pronunciations in Classical Latin. The names of these letters in a given modern language are generally close to this, after you run the names through historical sound changes for the language. In the case of English, there were some substantial vowel changes, where e: → i: hence "bi:", not "be:", "aɪ" not "i:". There was not a separate letter "j", "v" or "w" in Latin, and the name "Greek i" was replaced in English with "waɪ", whose source is not well understood. The US pronunciation [zi:] instead of [zɛd] is older than the US. The vowel supplements don't have names, they are just part of the name of the letter.

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    Nothing to object, but as the question mentions it, it might be worth pointing out that (however that arose), the consonants that have a vowel before rather than after them are all not plosives, and I think I remember a hypothesis that in Classical Latin or possibly earlier, those were simply the sound itself sustained for a short while (as sustaining those sounds is possible, unlike plosives), and the epenthetic /ɛ/ may just have arisen naturally from this earlier, "cruder" way of naming continuants/sonorants. I don't have a source for this.
    – LjL
    Dec 29, 2023 at 17:10

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