How to Pronounce SQL: SQL or Sequel?


Introduction to the SQL and Sequel discussion. The world of technology is brimming with acronyms, and sometimes, the pronunciation of these acronyms can spark unexpected debates. One such term that has caused a fair share of controversy over the years is SQL. Is it pronounced "S-Q-L" [ˈɛs kjuː ˈɛl] or "sequel" [ˈsiːkwəl]? This article aims to delve into the roots of this debate, highlighting various viewpoints and industry practices and help you understand the SQL pronunciation controversy.

Unraveling the Origins of SQL Pronunciation

To understand the correct pronunciation of SQL, it's important to look at its origins. The birth of SQL, or Structured Query Language, is closely tied to the emergence of relational databases, a concept introduced by E.F. Codd in 1970. In the following years, Donald D. Chamberlin and Raymond F. Boyce, based in San Jose, California, developed a query language named SEQUEL, inspired by Codd's ideas. SEQUEL, however, faced a trademark violation claim from the Hawker Siddeley aircraft company, leading to the name being changed to Structured Query Language or SQL.

Evolution of SQL: A Brief Journey Through Time

The first SQL product, ORACLE v2, was launched in 1979 by Relational Software, later known as Oracle Corporation. IBM, not to be outdone, released System R powered by SEQUEL shortly after. IBM continued its SQL journey with the release of SQL/DS in 1981 and then DB2 in 1983, which remains a flagship product for the company to this day.

The SQL or Sequel Pronunciation Debate

The pronunciation of SQL has been a topic of discussion and contention among technologists. While some prefer the initialism "S-Q-L", others opt for the phonetic pronunciation "sequel".

According to the standard, 'Ess-cue-ell' is deemed the correct pronunciation. Yet, many English-speaking database professionals continue to pronounce SQL as 'sequel', adding to the SQL pronunciation confusion.

Distinguished authorities in the field offer differing pronunciations. Prof. Jennifer Widom, a renowned author of database books, pronounces it "sequel" in her Stanford database course, as does Christopher J. Date in "A Guide to the SQL Standard" (1987).

Interestingly, Donald D. Chamberlin, one of the co-developers of SQL, pronounces it as "Ess-Cue-Ell," adding weight to the initialism pronunciation. Also, at the time of writing, the official SQL Wikipedia page is clearly part of the S.Q.L camp, where you can even listen to how they think it should be pronounced. However, they add that pronouncing it “sequel” is also an option for historical reasons.

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However, a consensus has yet to be reached, as demonstrated in this lively Reddit discussion.

SQL Pronunciation Across Different Implementations

When it comes to how to pronounce SQL in different implementations, we see some variation. While the official pronunciation for "MySQL" is "My Ess Que Ell", it's not uncommon to hear "my sequel". Similarly, Microsoft SQL Server is often pronounced as "sequel server", a term even used by Bill Gates several times in his SQL Server Commercial. However, funny enough, 38 seconds into the same video, you'll hear him say “From the same SQL server”, pronouncing it “S.Q.L. Server”. See for yourself in the video below.

SQL Server Commercial.

Another example comes from the notable individual Martin Fowler, the co-author of NoSQL Distilled. He prefers the pronunciation "No-sequel" database, as you'll hear in his GOTO Aarhus Conference 2012 talk.

Certain pronunciations seem to be tied to specific products or vendor dialects. For instance, "PL – sequel" (PL/SQL), "Transact – sequel" (T-SQL), and "sequel server" (Microsoft SQL Server and Sybase SQL Server) are commonly used. Meanwhile, MySQL, PostgreSQL, and SQLite officially prefer "S-Q-L."

Large database corporations like Oracle and Microsoft have seemingly adopted the "sequel" pronunciation. However, the acquisition of MySQL by Oracle raises an interesting question: will the pronunciation change?

Summary of SQL pronunciation

Saying SQL or Sequel is a matter of personal preference, historical context, and sometimes, expertise. At the end of the day, what truly matters is the power of SQL as a language and its monumental role in managing and manipulating relational databases.

Should you want to learn more about database management in relational and non-relational databases, keep an eye on our TheTable blog, and until next time.


How do we pronounce it — SQL or sequel?

Both ways are correct. The way of pronunciation is a matter of personal preference, context, and expertise.

Why do people pronounce it both SQL and sequel?

SQL can be pronounced as "S-Q-L" or "sequel" due to its historical roots from SEQUEL (Structured English Query Language). People use both depending on their preference or personal experience.

What was the first SQL product called?

The first SQL product was called Oracle v2

Where can I learn more about database management?

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  1. Codd, E. F. "A Relational Model of Data for Large Shared Data Banks." Communications of the ACM, vol. 13, no. 6, 1970, pp. 377–387. DOI:10.1145/362384.362685
  2. Chamberlin, Donald D., and Raymond F. Boyce. "SEQUEL: A Structured English Query Language." Proceedings of the 1974 ACM SIGFIDET Workshop on Data Description, Access and Control. Association for Computing Machinery, 1974. DOI:10.1145/800296.811515
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