Mispronouncing them can be a grievous faux pas.
In the delicate world of diplomatic protocol, mispronouncing a foreign leader's name ranks among the worst of faux pas. But that is lost on many Americans.
Or recall the guffawing last September after a draft of President Bush's speech before the United Nations included the phonetic spellings of several names of foreign places and leaders. Among them: Harare (hah-RAR-ray) and Mugabe (moo-GAH-bee).
At a time when the United States is trying to improve its image abroad, mangling the names of foreign dignitaries does not help. Nowhere is this issue more sensitive than at the United Nations, where diplomats view the mispronunciation of names as a subtle if passive-aggressive form of UN bashing.
Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the Egyptian former secretary-general whose name launched a thousand jokes ("The man so nice they named him twice," David Letterman quipped), wrote in his memoir that he resented Republican Sen. Bob Dole's "mocking pronunciation of my name – Boo-trus, Boo-trus –" during the 1996 presidential campaign. It "sounded like a jeering crowd," he wrote.