It has a nice ring to it

Politics: If Kweisi Mfume pronounces himself interested in entering the Baltimore mayoral race, the least folks can do is pronounce his name correctly.

April 24, 1999|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

In hindsight, changing his name all those years ago certainly made political sense. Frizzell "Pee Wee" Gray doesn't sound mayoral -- sounds like an old-time shortstop. But the name Kweisi Mfume -- regal and exotic as it sounds -- continues to trip tongues.

Mfume, born Frizzell Gray in Baltimore 50 years ago, appears interested in running for mayor of his hometown. He hasn't declared his candidacy. But a big Draft Mfume rally is set for today at Mondawmin Mall. Plenty of people, including three former Baltimore mayors, want Mfume to succeed Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who will leave office in December.

Whether he runs or not, people should know how to pronounce Kweisi Mfume, a West African name reportedly meaning "conquering son of kings."

Mfume is, after all, president of the NAACP, a former Baltimore City councilman, a 10-year Maryland congressman, a Hopkins grad, broadcaster, author and really smart dresser. He doesn't deserve to have his name mangled.

In the name of pronouncing his name, we asked the NAACP to fax over Mfume's biography, which includes the official pronunciation. And it's a double whammy, all right. Just when you think you've mastered his last name, Mfume's first name sinks you.

Case in point. Former mayor Thomas D'Alesandro III, at a press conference this week, issued a fine endorsement of Mfume. But D'Alesandro's delivery of "Kweisi" came out sounding more like "quasi." Kweisi is not pronounced "quasi," which would mean, "in a sense like Mfume."

("D'Alesandro" isn't so easy to say, either.)

Neither is Kweisi pronounced like Weezie, George's nickname for his wife Louise on TV's "The Jeffersons." Kweisi, in fact, has a sneaky second syllable: Kwah-EE-see. And note the "wah" in "Kwah."

Once you master the "Kwah," move slowly to the heavily accented "EE" sound. You are then rewarded by a simple "see" sound. Kwah-EE-see. Kwah-EE-see. Say it out loud until you feel comfortable enough to continue.

Time to tackle Mfume. It does not sound like Mufasa, the king lion in Disney's "The Lion King." The opening and daunting "M" actually makes an "oom" sound -- not a "moo" sound. There is no "moo" in this man's name. The "oom" sounds like a Zen chant. Find a quiet place to sit cross-legged, burn a stick of incense, and say to yourself: "Oom ... Oom ... Oom."

The peaceful Oom is followed by the pay-off syllable, "FOO." Not FUME, as in gasoline fumes. And as with his first name, we're pitched a softball for a last syllable: "may."

So, repeat after us: "Oom-FOO-may."

Put it all together and what's that spell? Kwah-EE-see Oom-FOO-may. Kweisi Mfume. Mayor Mfume, perhaps.

Sounds about right.

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