The Voigtländer brand name has a long history that dates back to the mid-18th century. It was only in the late 20th century that Cosina of Japan acquired the rights to use the name for their products, chiefly their line of Bessa M-mount cameras and lenses, SLR lenses and photographic accessories such as viewfinders and lens adapters. Bearing one of the oldest names in the photographic business, the brand is known throughout the world. However, being of German origin, its handling proves somewhat difficult to non-natives.
The name Voigtländer, which was the last name of the company’s founder, relates to a geographic region in Germany, the Vogtland (which was historically written Voigtland, with an i). The Vogtland region is situated in eastern Germany, and spans across the three Federal Lands Thuringia, Saxonia and Bavaria. The derivation Voigtländer designates a person coming from that region. The rule for deriving a designation of origin from a place name in German is to add the suffix -er plus Umlaut in the last syllable of the stem word. Thus Voigtland -> Voigtländer.
Etymologically, the place name Voigtland is a compound word consisting of the two bases Voigt and Land. The German word Land has the same meaning as its English counterpart, land. The word Voigt, which ultimately comes from Latin advocatus, is the historic title of an “overlord (mostly of nobility) exerting guardianship or military protection as well as secular justice (Blutgericht) over a certain territory” (Wikipedia). Hence the name Voigtland — it designates the region once ruled by the Vöigte (plural) of the cities of Weida, Gera, Plauen and Greiz.
On the internet, one often finds the name Voigtländer spelt in various interesting, but altogether incorrect ways. Most popular is leaving out the double dot (called trema or diaresis) on the a, since the letter ä is lacking on most international keyboards. Since the letter a is pronounced more like “ey” in English anyways, we can live with that. More creative, yet also even more incorrect, is the spelling Voightlander, with an additional h behind the g. My only explanation for this is that speakers of English tend to pronounce the name like “VOYT-lander”, with a silent g as in eight or straight. In analogy to the orthography of these words, the h was added, reflecting the commonplace pronounciation of the name Voigtländer.
However, the name Voigtländer is not pronounced “VOYT-lander”. Firstly, the g is not silent. Secondly, the i does not denote a diphthong (a double vowel), but is used to indicated a long o. (This is a so-called “Dehnungs-i”, similar to the use of a “Dehungs-e” in place names like Soest, or the more regular “Dehnungs-h”, which is very frequent in German orthography and marks a preceding vowel as long.) Thirdly, the initial V is pronounced like F. Accordingly, the name Voigtländer is pronounced thusly:
FOHKT-lander (with a silent r, like in British pronounciation.)
Or, for those more proficient in phonetics: ['fo:ktlεndɐ]
So, next time you think of the Voigtländer brand, I hope you will remember this little writeup on its origins, orthography and pronounciation. And even if you do not pronounce it correctly in conversation — to avoid people not getting what the heck you’re talking about –, at least you will know that you know a little more than everybody else.