It’s ‘Cole-bert,’ if you please

USC School of JournalismApril 4, 2013 

Colbert Busch Congress

Elizabeth Colbert Busch poses on a street in Charleston. The sister of comedian Stephen Colbert is one of two Democrats seeking South Carolina's vacant 1st District congressional seat.

BRUCE SMITH — the ASSOCIATED PRESS

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 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.”

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, host of “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central, 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 pronounce it “cole-bert” while others pronounce it “cole-bear.”

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