SERIOUSLY, NOW: Beto O’Rourke is probably going to be out next US senator from Texas. With that in mind, I think we should make certain we all pronounce his name correctly. Not O’Rourke. As weird and as complex the last name is, most of us know how to pronounce it. It’s the simpler, shorter Beto that has non-Spanish-speaking people perplexed.
Beto is short for any of the numerous Spanish names ending in “berto” (Alberto, Roberto, Norberto, Gilberto, Humberto, Dagoberto, Rigoberto, etc.), and it has a simple pronunciation. Yet, over this past year, I’ve heard many different versions.
Let’s start for how it’s not pronounced. It’s not BAY-toe or BEH-toe or BAY-dough. It’s not BEET-owe.
So here is the correct way: you stress the first syllable, which is pronounced “beh,” as in meh, or heh. There is no “y” or “i” sound at the end of that “e.”
Then the second syllable is “toh, with the “o” sound similar to what you find in “tortilla” or “pork” or “snort” or “torque.” Notice: there is no “u” sound at the end of the “o”.
Now let’s turn to the consonants.
If you don’t get these exactly right, you’ll still be OK, unlike with the vowel sounds, but if you want to sound authentic, remember this about the “B”:
It’s a softish “B,” kind of halfway between a “b” and a “v”. Start by pressing your lips together, as you normally do when beginning a word with the letter b, then quickly open them and slide your upper teeth against the inside of your lower lip as if you had a change of heart and decided to go with a v instead. If you do this long enough, eventually you might get skillful enough to skip the “b” part altogether.
And know this about the “t”: it’s a hard “t.” Don’t glide over it, or pronounce it like a “d,” the way most English speakers pronounce the t in the word “veto” or “Velveeta” or cheetah with the tongue barely touching the top of your mouth. It’s more like the “t” in “bet” or “vet” or “cat.” Pretend you’re British and don’t just tap the tip of your tongue to the top of your mouth. Flatten much of the tongue against the top of the mouth.
So, there you have it: an easy guide to pronouncing the first name of our next president. Excuse me, I meant senator. I’m sure there are plenty of Spanish linguistic experts out there who will find fault with some or all of this, and I welcome their input. We need to get this right!