Pure Daft

Steve or Stœv

29 Sep 2013

I keep on changing my name on Twitter. I love language and like playing with it.

Whilst Steve is an interesting word, with its split digraph (magic ‘e’), I wondered what might be an alternative way of spelling it.

Possible Alternatives

The ‘st’ and ‘v’ were fine, it was the vowel I wanted to sort out. I wanted to write the vowel in a way that it might be read the same in several different languages. Taking inspiration from the IPA, which normally uses common vowel sounds rather than the English vowel sound for its symbol representation, I tried using Stiv for a day. However, I found that people were pronouncing it /stɪv/ (ɪ being the vowel in “lid”).

I wanted something which would still pronounced as Steve normally is, /stiːv/. Steev would be quite unmispronouncable, but looks more like a spelling mistake.

In Hindi, Steve would be written phonetically, स्टीव (sṭīv) and would probably be anglicized to “Steev”.

I thought Stieve looked interesting, using a split trigraph, until I found it was the name of Hermann Stieve, who was an anatomy professor of questionable ethics in Nazi Germany. I did not want to be associated with this. I expect it was also pronounced differently.

Looking through Wikipedia’s page on English orthography, I found a lists of vowel letter combinations and sound to spelling correspondences. The vowel letter combinations that might work are:

Also, on an Latin digraph list is “ii”, although, again, this is likely to be pronounced as /stɪv/ in English (as in shiitake).

I was intriguied by Stœv, because it does not have a “minor” pronounciation to confuse things, and also it uses an old character œ which is becoming less common in English. Googling explicitly for “Stœv” returns a few webpages, but none with any sign that it has ever been used as a word. I expect this blog post will become the most sensible result after a few days.

One disadvantage of Stœv is that it is not read the same in English as would be in French, German or the IPA, where it might have a similar vowel sound as in the French neuf (nine). Why are English vowels so different to other Latin-alphabet-using languages?

Stiev is the only alternative that works in English and another major language, German. It apparently would also be read the same in Maltese.

Looking at alternatives to Stephen, you could infer that converting it to Steve is just removing the trailing ‘-en’. Therefore you could say that, in Scottish Gaelic, Stephen is Stìobhan, therefore Steve might be Stìobh. Maybe not.

Note that if you really wanted to make Steve unreadable, you might claim that the following is a phonetic spelling of Steve: Cedayf (c as in “city”, ed as in “topped”, ay as in “quay”, f as in “of”). Here, however, position-in-word conventions are being ignored.

Existing Usage

I was surprised to find so many of my imagined spellings are already being used. Note that, according to orthography pages on Wikipedia, all of the following spellings could be pronounced /stiːv/.

Ranked by number of LinkedIn profiles with first name on 29 September 2013:

I doubt that everyone on LinkedIn who use those spellings all pronouce their name the classic “Steve” way. Interestingly, Steve is almost twice as popular than Stephen (343,131 profiles) in the professional context of LinkedIn. There are also no Stìobhs or even Stìobhans.


I like Stœv, though I doubt many would know how to pronounce it. Otherwise, I like the fact that Stiev could be read with the same pronounciation in languages other than just English.