Christiaan Huygens (14th April 1629 – 8th July 1695) was a Dutch mathematician and scientist known for his studies of Saturn and for the discovery of Saturn’s moon, Titan. He is also well known for having enormous hair (see Bernard Vaillant’s portrait, below) and for deriving the formula for the period of an ideal mathematical pendulum – a formula which has been a thorn in the side of many a high school physics student for years since his death. He also published studies on optics and is particularly well known for his wave theory of light which he published in 1690 in his Treatise on light (Traité de la lumière). Whilst Huygens is well known for his work in physics and mathematics he is also well known for having the most charmingly unpronounceable name in the history of science.

Christiaan Huygens giving it some serious blue steel.

Christiaan Huygens giving it some serious blue steel.

Paul Horowitz, a physicist who works at the SETI institute (Search for extra terrestrial intelligence) has bravely stepped into the breach and addressed the issue of how to pronounce Huygen’s name. He has also uploaded a recording of native Dutch speakers tackling the name here.

You can also watch Walter Lewin of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) fame tackling the issue of pronunciation in a lecture here.


1. John Herivel (05-15-2014) Encyclopaedia Britannica: Christiaan Huygens, Available at:http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/277775/Christiaan-Huygens (Accessed: 30-06-2014).

2. Wikimedia (30-10-2011) Wikimedia Commons: Bernard Vaillant, Available at:http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Bernard_Vaillant (Accessed: 30-06-2014).

3. Paul Horowitz (02-03-2003) How to pronounce “Huygens”, Available at:http://frank.harvard.edu/~paulh/misc/huygens.htm (Accessed: 30-06-2014).

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