Reince Priebus is the new RNC chairman. How do you pronounce that?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Jan. 18 2011 4:13 PM

What Kind of a Name Is Reince?

Or, for that matter, Priebus?

Reince Priebus. Click image to expand.
New RNC Chairman Reince Priebus 

Republicans elected Reince Priebus as head of the Republican National Committee on Friday. The current head of the party's Wisconsin chapter, Priebus will replace outgoing chairman Michael Steele. As the relatively obscure operative steps onto the national stage, pundits and fellow politicians have stumbled all over his name. How do you pronounce Reince Priebus?

Think Northern Europe. Campaign materials from Priebus' failed 2004 Wisconsin state senate bid note that his first name "rhymes with 'Heinz.' " That's somewhat misleading, though, since Americans really stretch out the z at the end of their favorite ketchup, while Reince concludes with a harder, German-sounding tz. His last name is fairly straightforward. The ie makes a long e sound, and carries the emphasis. Click here to listen to Priebus pronounce his name.

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You aren't going to meet a lot of Priebuses. The Social Security Administration's death index, which records U.S. deaths back to 1962, includes just four people named Priebus. To put that into perspective, 880,661 Smiths and 483,864 Joneses have passed on during the same period. In addition, the index lists 38,739 Reids, 31,591 Steeles, 15,692 McConnells, 518 Pelosis, and 294 Boehners. (Eight of the Boehners were named John.) There is only one Obama.

Reince is a very rare first name, although a few immigrants from Flemish Belgium have brought Reince to the United States as a last name. Forty-one people with the last name Reince have died in the United States since 1962. When he passes on, Chairman Priebus could become the only person with the first name Reince in the death index. But it's not clear that Reince is, in fact, his given name. His name sometimes appears as Reince R. Priebus, and other times as Reinhold R. Priebus.

Fred Priebus, the family patriarch, came to the United States near the turn of the 20th century. In census interviews, family members alternately reported their country of origin as Russia or Germany, although they consistently stated that they spoke German in their homeland. Today, there are more Priebuses in Germany than in any other country, with the largest number inhabiting the Thuringia region.

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Explainer thanks Drew Smith of the University of South Florida.

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Brian Palmer writes about science, medicine, and the environment for Slate and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Email him at explainerbrian@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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