In yesterday’s post, Bell’s addressed an issue that I have long wondered about. How do you pronounce “Faneuil?” (Peter Faneuil was the Revolutionary-era merchant who funded its construction). Here is a taste:
One clue to how people of the Revolutionary period pronounced the name “Faneuil” is how they spelled it, In particular, people who had less formal education or hadn’t seen the name on paper might have written it phonetically. Eighteenth-century folks weren’t shy about respelling words to their liking.
In looking at period sources, I found most people used the spelling “Faneuil,” but “Fanuel” was also common. I’ve seen that variant in a 1734 Massachusetts General Court resolution, the record of Boston town meetings, reports to Customs officials, an itinerary of the Rev. Ezra Stiles, the orderly book of Gen. William Howe, and letters by Dr. Thomas Young, Henry Pelham, John Adams, Joseph Barrell, Belcher Noyes, and others. In the early 1800s “Fanuel Hall” was printed in guidebooks, town directories, and advertisements, suggesting that it was widely accepted….
I didn’t find anyone spelling “Faneuil Hall” as “Funnel Hall” except in post-Revolutionary newspaper articles that were obvious political parodies. That’s not to say people didn’t pronounce the name like “funnel,” especially when they referred to the Faneuil brothers decades before the Revolutionary War. But it makes it less likely.
The much more common “Faneuil,” “Fanuel,” “Fannel,” and the like suggest to me that most Bostonians pronounced the first vowel in “Faneuil” as an A, and then disagreed about the rest of the word. The same way we do today.