From Nen to Neen - controversial river rename for Northamptonshire waterway as computer says no

The pronunciation change comes in today

Thursday, 1st April 2021, 6:30 am

It's been one of the most contentious topics that has divided residents of neighbouring counties for generations - should the River Nene be prounounced 'Neen' or 'Nen'?

But now council chiefs have discovered that new voice recognition software designed for automated calls has been programmed to only recognise one pronunciation - 'Neen' of next door Cambridgeshire.

Due to a streamlining of shared services, as a result of today's switch to two unitary councils, the River Nene will now be known across its 91-mile length as the 'Neen'.

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The River Nene - or is it Nene?
The River Nene - or is it Nene?

Speaking on behalf of the Northamptonshire Official Tourist Trust Rivers & Uplands Executive, Avril Fish apologised for the loss of the part of Northamptonshire oral history.

She said: "Due to the change of the computer systems, the centralised call centres used to take calls automatically dealing with anything to do with the River Nene will only recognise the non-Northamptonshire way of saying Nene - to rhyme with 'teen' not 'ten'.

"We think the programmer must have been from the other side of Thrapston because during testing the computerised menu just would not recognise the 'Nen' way."

Another theory is that the person who set up the system may have watched the February episode of BBC TV's Countryfile when presenter Tom Heap made the trip to East Northamptonshire to see various projects along the length of the valley.

The Northamptonshire's 'Nen' way might be sold down the river

The opening narration on the programme had told viewers: "I'm exploring the 'Neen' Valley, a landscape with the river of that name at its heart."

He continued to use 'Neen' throughout the broadcast, only at the end declaring the river is "pronounced 'Neen' or 'Nen' depending on where you live".

At the time Northamptonshire residents laughed off the mispronunciation but it looks as if the gaff might have a long-reaching impact with the cost of re-calibrating the software too great for cash-strapped councils tightening their belts in the pandemic.

Not only will the Nen change to Neen, but residents using the automatic phone services to reporting problems may also find it necessary to change how they say other place names.

How ever you pronounce it the River Nene is a great place to visit

Boffins have yet to devise an app to recognise the notoriously difficult and phonically challenged Cogenhoe with residents having to take a Catchphrase 'say what you see' approach to 'Cog-En-Ho' as opposed to 'Cuck-Ner'.

People in Kettering will be advised to use all three syllables of the place name rather than the customary two of 'Ket - Rin' and residents of Bozeat may also suffer the same fate unless they clearly state Bo - Zee - At.

Nenescape, a five-year National Lottery Heritage Fund initiative, has been delivering a number of partnership-led projects tasked with promoting and protecting the heritage of the Nene Valley. Projects include working with farmers and landowners in the Nene Valley to help restore and create meadow and wetland habitats, as well as undertake vital infrastructural improvements to tackle diffuse pollution and aid water quality.

Amanda Johnson, project manager at Nenescape, commenting on the renaming of the river, said: “As an Earls Barton girl I'm disappointed that 'Nen' could go.

The River Nene at Beckets Park, Northampton

"It always has been tricky for us. We have half of our staff saying 'Nen' and the other 'Neen', we even have badges letting each other know which we say, but I think there's room for both.

"The Nene Valley is an amazing place full of rich heritage, history and a great place to visit and explore and however you say the name of the river, I call it one of Britain's great places to visit."

It's not the first time Northamptonshire and nearby Peterborough have been at loggerheads, as county historian Amonli Pullen-Legge explained.

"Historically, Peterborough was part of Northamptonshire, but when county councils were created in 1889, Peterborough was made part of the Soke of Peterborough administrative county, nominally still part of Northamptonshire, but independent of Northamptonshire County Council.

"It could be there's a long-held grudge between the Nen and Neen factions. It was hoped that was water under the bridge but now it could open the floodgates."

For more information about the Nene Valley visit