Perhaps one of the most difficult things for both native and non-native speakers of English to get right is the pronunciations of someone’s last name. English spelling, as you know, is not always easy to match to a pronunciation. The problem is even more acute (serious) in the United States, where there are people who come from all over the globe (world) and who bring their own non-English names.
The rule in the United States is that (usually) you can pronounce your name however you’d like, even if it doesn’t seem to “match” the spelling. This is very different from other countries and languages, where the rules for pronunciation leave little room for variation. But in the US, perhaps because of our individualist spirit, you can pronounce your name however you want to. In fact, sometimes people in the same family pronounce their common last names differently! (I know a couple of cases of this.) There is no “right” or “wrong” way to pronounce most last names, although of course there are more common and less common ways. The differences can be with the vowels, the consonants, and/or the syllable(s) stressed.
Differences in pronunciation can also depend on the person you are talking to, and if you are talking in English or another language. One professor in Florida found that many of his students had dual (two) pronunciations: one version for their family (often in their home language), and another anglicized (made to sound like English) version for school and work. You will often see the pronunciation of unusual last names given in newspaper articles, especially if it does not seem to follow the expected pronunciation pattern.
You really can’t be completely sure how a name is pronounced unless you talk to the person who uses it – especially for last or family names. Unfortunately, there are more than six million different last names in the United States, so it is unlikely you will be able to get all of them correct! Don’t worry about making mistakes, however. Even native speakers make mistakes about last names and place names (streets, cities, etc.). When I first moved to Los Angeles almost 20 years ago, I pronounced the name of a famous street here, Wilshire Boulevard, “WILL-shy-er,” with the last syllable having a long “i” as in “tie” or “pie.” But someone corrected me and said, no, it is pronounced “WILL-shur,” with the last syllable sounding like “sure.” There is no rule that can help you with that sort of problem. You just need to hear it.
Fortunately, there are now websites that will help you pronounce difficult last names and place names in English, and even let you listen to the correct pronunciation. One is called PronounceNames.com, which is organized by a woman from India who had difficulty pronouncing place names when she first moved to the United States several years ago. You can go to the site and look up words, although their database is not complete. You can also add pronunciations of names that you know how to say. (I just added “Wilshire” for all the other people who come to LA and get it wrong!)
Even when you think you have figured out a “rule” for certain names, sometimes you will still be wrong. For example, here in California, there are many place names that are from Spanish, such as Los Angeles, San Jose, San Pedro, etc. We “anglicize” the pronunciation of many of these, but not all. “Los Angeles” is anglicized (the “g” is soft instead of hard, as it is in Spanish), but “San Jose” is not (the “j” is hard, not soft as it could be in English). San Pedro is pronounced “San PEE-dro” and not “San PEH-dro” as it is in Spanish. All very confusing, I know.
P.S. So how do you pronounce “Teixeira,” which is the name of a famous baseball player in the United States (first name: Mark)? Teh-SHARE-uh. Now you can impress your friends.