I know, I know, tomato-tomahto, but I’ve had people tell me I say it wrong when said each way, which has left me rather confused, so I decided to do some research and figure out how SQL is actually pronounced. SQL is the language used for querying and managing data in a relational database system. Some people say S-Q-L and some people say “sequel”. This difference in pronunciation also effects the writing of documentation. The indefinite article that’s used before the term (a or an) is based on how it’s pronounced (try saying “a SQL” and “an SQL”). No one wants to sound ignorant, so which way is correct? It turns out they’re both correct/acceptable, but that the S-Q-L way of saying it is more “official”.
SQL was initially developed at IBM by Donald Chamberlin and Raymond Boyce. It was initially called “Structured English Query Language” (SEQUEL) and pronounced “sequel”, though it later had to have it’s name shortened to “Structured Query Language” (SQL) due to trademark issues. It was created to supplant the then popular QUEL database language, and the name “sequel” was meant as a pun (it was the sequel to QUEL) . However, this leads to the big question – was language still called “sequel” after the name change?
If you look at Oracle’s official documentation on SQL, it says it’s still pronounced “sequel” . However, if you look at MySQL’s official documentation, it says “MySQL” is officially pronounced “‘My Ess Que Ell’ (not ‘my sequel’)” , and Wikipedia says SQL is officially pronounced “S-Q-L” and references an O’Reilly book on the subject . So this is no help, the major sources aren’t agreeing on the way it’s “officially” pronounced.
Then a thought occurred to me: SQL was created in the 70’s, the creators are probably techies, I can probably just email them and ask them how it’s pronounced! Ray Boyce had passed away at a young age, but Don Chamberlin was alive and now teaching at a university. I felt a little silly, but I decided to fire off a short email to him:
I’m sorry to waste your time with such a silly question, but I’ve often heard SQL pronounced S-Q-L or as Sequel. I’ve also seen the official pronunciation listed both ways. According to wikipedia, you and Raymond Boyce created the language and it was shortened to SQL after some legal dispute. So my question is, is there an official pronunciation to SQL? Thank you for your time.
To my delight, he replied back:
Since the language was originally named SEQUEL, many people continued to pronounce the name that way after it was shortened to SQL. Both pronunciations are widely used and recognized. As to which is more “official”, I guess the authority would be the ISO Standard, which is spelled (and presumably pronounced) S-Q-L.
Thanks for your interest,
I felt a little dumb wasting his time with such a goofy question, but I was thrilled he replied back. Later I would find out that he himself pronounces it as “sequel” , so it’s interesting he would be so unbiased, though I suppose his pronunciation is consistent with him noting that the original guys kept calling it “sequel”. With this I felt I had found my answer: Both were acceptable, though the standard indicated S-Q-L was probably more official.
I don’t have any plans to be that guy and start correcting people who say “sequel”, though now I feel I can at least defend saying S-Q-L if someone tries to correct me. Additionally, while this may seem like a really trivial matter, some people seem to take it rather seriously. On a thread at Oracle’s message forum, a DBA who pronounces it “sequel” mentioned that “I’ve rejected interviewees because they didn’t know how to pronounce SQL … If you can’t pronounce it correctly, then I have doubts as to your ability to use it correctly.”  Though then again, the Oracle community seems to have adopted the “sequel” way of saying it, so maybe adapting to whatever environment you’re in is the best policy. Whatever the case, knowing why it’s said one way or another can useful.