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Who Will Solve The Mystery Of How To Say Ghislaine Maxwell's Name?

A new Peacock docuseries takes aim at the British socialite accused of helping billionaire sex criminal Jeffrey Epstein abuse young girls for years.

By Leah Carroll
Ghislaine Maxwell Sentenced To 20 Years For Sex Trafficking Teen Girls

Ghislaine Maxwell has been many things at different times: a spoiled child, an heiress on the international party circuit, a scrappy social climber in New York City, and an inmate at a vermin-infested federal jail. But she's most likely to be remembered by history as the partner of the now-deceased billionaire sex criminal, Jeffrey Epstein, a man by whose side she was photographed hundreds of times around the globe. 

And yet, despite her infamy, Ghislaine Maxwell remains a mysterious presence. As her November trial for sex trafficking looms – she stands accused of recruiting and grooming girls as young as 14 years old to engage in sex acts with Epstein – there are still more questions than answers. How do we talk about her in the context of the #MeToo movement, how did she escape blame for so long, how...do you say her name?

The last one has an (unsatisfying) answer: It depends.

The name Ghislaine is of French origin and in that language is pronounced with a soft G, like in the words 'general' or 'magic', a hard and audible S like "sack" or "sorry", and hard A like "gate" or "aim". The phonetic French result: JIS-LANE.

But of course Ghislaine Maxwell is British, not French, and uses an entirely different pronunciation. The most common anglicized version is said with a hard G, like "grab" or "gift", a hard E, like "keep", and a silent S. It's generally agreed upon that the first part of her name is pronounced GEE, and the second half LANE, though some people say it with a soft I like "give" and a vaguely European flourish on the back half: GI-LAHN. You can hear a version of all three in this video

The upcoming Peacock docuseries, "Epstein's Shadow: Ghislaine Maxwell," which also airs on Oxygen on Tuesday, August 10 at 8/7c, sheds new light on the many facets of this mercurial woman's life, a woman whose motivations are so seemingly impenetrable that even her name is a kind of mystery. In interviews with those who know her, studied her, or say they were abused by her, a portrait emerges of a chameleon. She's a person who would do or change anything about herself to maintain a foothold in the world of the lavishly wealthy and elite in which she was brought up. 

Ghislaine was the youngest of nine children – her father was the billionaire publishing tycoon Robert Maxwell and she was his favorite child. As an adult she became his unofficial aide de camp, often standing in him for him at public events and functions. It was Ghislaine, in fact, who addressed the press the morning after her father fell from his yacht and died, his body found floating in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean near the Canary Islands. She was devastated by the loss of her father, a man with a tendency towards cruelty, even with his favorite child. Still her identity was wrapped up in her father's legacy. She considered herself, as "Epstein's Shadow" shows, a "Daddy's girl" well into adulthood. 

It's not so surprising then that she'd forgive the various mispronunciations of her name, keeping as silent about them as she did about Epstein's crimes and the role she allegedly played in them. It was just another bit of intrigue, a name her father had bestowed upon her, and years later, the name he gave his yacht, the vessel from which he'd fall to his death: The Lady Ghislaine.