Colbert. Pronounced “bert” or “bear”?
Elizabeth Colbert Busch is the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert and is also running against former Gov. Mark Sanford for South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District.
But despite her high profile, an awful lot of people in South Carolina don’t know how to pronounce her name – and may not even know she’s running for Congress.
“It sounds like a funny story!” said Peter Hull, a media relations contact at Clemson University, where Colbert is the director of business development for Clemson’s Restoration Institute.
The Colbert family, many of whom are residents of Charleston, are well-known and well-liked in the area, according to Robert Behre, a reporter for Charleston’s Post and Courier. But he said some residents still get confused about how to pronounce Elizabeth Colbert’s last name.
Ten Columbia residents – Randy Wash, 33; Randi Cogswell, 49; Frank Franci, 66; Rosalin Harris, 34; Sean McCrossim, 47; Michelle Schreiner, 28; Wesley Martin, 23; Anthony Carbone, 31; Louis Richardson, 54; and Robert Smith, 37 – who were walking, grabbing lunch or sitting down for a coffee in the Vista gave it a go when asked to pronounce her name.
Most of them pronounced it as “cole-bear,” and only a few said “cole-bert.” Martin, an employee at Drip on Main Street, said he knew how to pronounce it because he read an article about it on the CNN website.
Elizabeth Colbert said in an interview with MSNBC that she pronounces her last name as “cole-bert,” with an emphasis on the “t.” But her brother, Stephen Colbert, pronounces it “cole-bear” with a French accent. She has nine other siblings, each of whom pronounce it one of the two ways.
According to the MSNBC interview, the family name is linked to a distant French relative named John Baptist Colbert, who pronounced his last name as “cole-bear.” She said their father told them they could choose which way they wanted to say it. So some of them pronounce it “cole-bert” while others, like Stephen Colbert pronounce it “cole-bear.”
About a dozen businesses in the Charleston and Greenville area, none of whom wanted to be identified, didn’t know she was on the ballot and when given the choice, pronounced her name the way her brother does.
“People don’t understand that her brother has changed the pronunciation to this French version,” Behre said. “But I think people are quickly catching on because her family is very involved in the county.”
He said that everyone agrees that the race will be an “unusual” event, as the 1st District normally leans on the side of Republicans.
Colbert may have a leg up because of the “baggage” that Sanford carries and because the Colbert family knows a lot of people, according to Behre. The “baggage” includes the affair he was caught in with the Argentinian woman who is now his fiancée.
Colbert’s brother, Stephen, is also helping her campaign by holding fundraisers.
Haley Willard, 949-554-4460, firstname.lastname@example.org.