I reproduce below a letter from yesterday’s NY Times (“The City” section, p. 11) with which I wholly agree:

To the Editor:
How could your F.Y.I. column give the answer it did to a reader plaintively asking for the proper way to pronounce “Kosciusko,” stipulating “as in the Kosciusko Bridge”?
The column tamely chose the Polish way (“ka-SHUSH-ko”).
I grew up in the Bronx in the 1930’s, have lived in Brooklyn since the 60’s, and have spent hours of my life stuck in traffic over fragrant Newtown Creek: we locals have always called it the “kos-kee-OSS-ko” bridge, even if we knew, as 30’s kids did, the Polish pronunciation from high school history.
So, quaintly, which is “the proper way”? The Thames River is “Tems” in London, “Thaymes” in New London, Conn. If you mean the general, go Polish; the bridge, go local.
Brooklyn Heights

To which I can only add: I’ve lived in NYC over twenty years and never heard anyone pronounce the bridge’s name [properly spelled Kosciuszko] à la polonaise, always either Brodtkorb’s way or koss-ee-USS-ko. Does Mr. F.Y.I. also say HUE-ston Street and BROOK-ner Expressway? Faugh.

Query. The comments inspire me to ask the readership at large: Are there local pronunciations of place names in your area that outsiders are unlikely to get right?


  1. never having been to NYC, I’d always thought it was pronounced HUE-ston. I take it that the locals say HOUSE-ton?

  2. Yes they do, and the other (Texas-style) pronunciation is a sure mark of an out-of-towner. And, though it’s probably obvious, the local pronunciation of the expressway is BRUCK-ner. While we’re at it, only out-of-towners say “Greenwich Village” (locals say “the Village”), and most locals still refer to “Sixth Avenue” rather than the official “Avenue of the Americas.”

  3. Opinions may vary on what to do with the w in Greenwich–perhaps that’s why it’s not said. Also, doesn’t the Avenue of the Americas still become Sixth Avenue for stretches?

  4. cc: Australian Broadcasting Corporation (who decreed a few years ago that the name of Australia’s highest mountain should be pronounced ‘Ka-shush-ko’ instead of the long-established ‘Kozzie-oss-ko’)

  5. This also reminded me of two Massachusetts towns. First, the town of Amherst, where I twice lived, in which the locals say “am-merst” and the non-locals “am-herst.” Second, my friends’ town of Quincy. It’s “Quin-zy” to locals and “Quince-ey” to non-locals. With or without Boston or New England accents, these differences are good indicators of who’s a native (or at least in the know) and who’s an interloper.

  6. Virtually every other town in Massachusetts is pronounced oddly.

    Gloucester -> “Glosster”
    Leominster -> “Luhminster”
    Woburn -> “Wooburn”
    Falmouth -> “Falmuth”
    Massachusetts -> “this fawkin’ place”

  7. Miami, Oklahoma is pronounced ‘my-AM-uh.’

  8. You’re right about HOUSE-ton. I was a lifelong New Yorker before relocating to Rhode Island, where, practically evverything on the West Bay is unintelligeable, but it’s an accent thing. Many locals say “CVAN-stin” instead of “Cranston”, and even “VAW-vik”, rather than “Warwick”. I don’t offhand recall any place names with particularly idiosyncratic pronunciation (barring accents), but I’ve always been baffled by the pronunciation of a sausage which is popular locally: “Chorizo”, pronounced “Cherise”. Watch yourself over breakfast or you’ll mark yourself as a rube.

  9. Etobicoke, a suburb of Toronto, is pronounced by locals as Etobico (that is, with a silent -ke).

  10. Keep ’em coming, folks, I’m annotating my Geographical Dictionary assiduously!

  11. In Missouri, we have Milan (MY-lun), Versailles (ver-SAILS), and Auxvasse (no one really knows for sure, including the locals, but oxVOSSy seems to be a popular choice). My personal favorite, however, would have to be Rolla, Missouri, which was named after Sir Walter Raleigh, but by the time the town incorporated the pronunciation had degraded.

  12. Clement Street in San Francisco is iambic. Suisun is (I believe) roughly /sU `su:n/. But California probably has fewer than its fair share of unexpected pronunciations because of the high population of immigrants like me (from Illinois).

  13. Ilya Vinarsky says

    You can pronounce it the Russian way, Kos-TYU-shko.

  14. A park near my house is called “Chinguacousy Park”, but most locals call it “Chingcousy”. I never figured out why, and have always referred to it as “Ching-ga-cousy”, just to be contrary.

  15. There’s a range called the Shawangunk Mountains in New York State (Ulster Co.); it’s well known for good hiking and climbing, and enthusiasts affectionately refer to “the Gunks” when they’re not saying sha-WAN-gunk in full. Locals, however, say SHON-gum.

  16. The entire rest of the country mispronunciates Oregon, saying it “Or-ee-gone.” It’s prounced “Or-a-gun,” as in “the next time someone corrects my pronunciation, should I kill them with a knife or a gun?”

  17. I don’t know how I missed the comments to this note.

    Anyway, nearly all the towns named after foreign cities that are in Illinois have mispronounced names. I live near Vienna (VIE-an-nuh, as in the word “vie”), Cairo (“KEH-roh”) is south of us, then there’s New Berlin (“BUR-lin”), and Athens (EI-thens, like the word “eight”).

  18. In Winston-Salem, North Carolina, there is a major avenue called Buena Vista (“byuna vihsta”) and another one of those neighborhoods pronounced VYE-enna after someplace in Austria. What really gets outsiders, though, is trying to pronounce the suburb of Pfafftown (“pofftown”), since all the other German Pf names are pronounced with silent ps.

    I can handle those, but new placenames are more difficult: during a recent excursion to St. Louis, I had trouble dealing with the suburb of Creve Coeur (“creeve cur”) and the neighborhood (after a major street) of DeBaliviere (“deBALLiver”).

  19. Not nearly so exciting, since it doesn’t refer to NYC or anyplace else ‘back east’, but here in Sacramento, CA, we have a large local park ‘Goethe Park’, which is pronounced ‘GAY-tee’ rather than the German ‘GER-teh’.

    My ex-Missourian relations all tell me it’s pronounced ‘mi-ZUR-ah’, not ‘mi-ZUR-ee’. So bear that in mind. 🙂

  20. I’m a born Virginian but I grew up in California. So when I ended up back here and I pronounced “Fauquier County” as foh-kee-ay instead of faw-KEER, well, I’ve not yet lived it down.

  21. I grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, where a few things aren’t quite as they seem. Legare Street downtown is “luh-GREE”. Vanderhorst Street is “VAN-dross”. Huger Street is “YOU-gee.”

  22. CGHill, I think those win the prize. I stand in awe of Charleston, SC.

  23. Indiana is full of similar names, including a Kosciusko County (pronounced variously as already mentioned, or as “ka-zee-AH-sko,” which one is most likely to hear). Others are Dubois County (doo-BOYS), and an alleged pronounciation of Peru, IN, as “PEE-roo.” Some people also say Miami as “My-muh” (or close to it). The basketball team made famous in the film “Hoosiers” is from Milan (MY-lin). Finally, I’ve heard people say, perhaps half-kidding, “Terry Hut” for Terre Haute.

  24. Well, Naomi beat me to Buena Vista, etc., so I’ll mention nearby Sauratown Mountain, which almost always turns into “Sourtown”.

  25. There are a lot of them in South Carolina (there’s even a handy little book called “Correct Mispronunciations of Some South Carolina Names”). For example:

    Valhalla, S.C. is “Wol-holler.” One of the main streets in my hometown is McBee Avenue. Foreigners say “Mic-BEE”; locals know it’s “MAC-by.” And the really tricky one is: if “Beaufort” is pronounced as “Bo-fort” you’re in North Carolina, while if you hear “Byeu-fert” you’re in South Carolina (both towns are named for the same Lord Proprietor, by the way).

  26. Having lived in Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, Texas, California, and New Hampshire, I can offer the following local pronunciations:
    Houston is pronounced EEU-stuhn or YOO-stuhn by the natives, of which there are not many 🙂 . The initial “H” is almost silent. They also say “AWL” for “oil”, “GUFF” for “Gulf”, and “BAH-yoh” for “bayou” (instead of Bi-Yoo as in Louisiana). Therefore, you have Guff Awl stations in YOO-ston next to the BAH-yoh.
    The perennial debate about pronouncing “Missouri” continues. The rural folk in the northern and central portions say “Muh-ZOOR-uh” while the cities (STL and KC) say “Mi-ZOOR-ee”. The Ozark folks in the south they seem to be split half and half. The name comes from the Peoria Indians of central Illinois, who were hosting Fr. Joliet from France. He wrote “Ouemessourit” in his notes. Lewis and Clark wrote “Missourie” in their notes, and so historically the “Mi-ZOOR-ee” pronunciation actually appears to be more correct. Try telling that to my in-laws in northern “Muh-ZOOR-uh” though…
    Ozark is a misspelling of French “Aux Arc” meaning Curved Bows. It’s pronounced the same with either spelling!
    Nevada, Missouri is pronounced “Neh-VAY-duh, Muh-ZOOR-uh”.
    El Dorado Springs is “El Dor-AY-do”.
    La Plata, where my wife went to High School, is La PLAY-tuh, Muh-ZOOR-uh.
    And, yes, Rolla, MO is RAHL-uh.
    Creve Coeur, MO is pronounced “Creev Coor” like the beer (Coor’s) or “Creev Core” like an apple core.
    Des Peres, just south of Creve Coeur, like Des Moines, is “Deh Pair”, both occurrences of “s” are silent. But Des Plaines, IL is “Dehzzz Planezzz” and you are really supposed to lay into the “zzz”.
    Springfield, MO has an Ozark twang and sounds more like “SPRANG-fuhld”.
    Springfield, IL is pronounced as you would expect: Spring-field.
    But Oregon, IL is “AWW-reh-gahn” and Morris, IL is pronounced “MAW-riss”.
    I have heard people from certain ethnic neighborhoods in Chicago say “Shih-KAWW-go ELL-noyzz”.
    Salina, Kansas is Suh-LYE-nuh, but Salinas, California is Suh-LEE-nuss.
    People on the East Coast think Sacramento, CA is “sack-ruh-MENT-oh”, but with the California accent, it’s actually SACK-ruh-men-to with only a very slight “t” sound at the end, almost like SACK-ruh-men-no. Likewise, San Franciso is not “San Fran-SIS-ko” but “SAN Fran sis ko” with the accent up front.
    Milwaukee does not have 3 syllables, it’s more like M’WAW-kee with 2 or 2.5 syllables!?!
    I’ve heard that Iowa is really supposed to be pronounced I-O-WAY. The story goes that some radio announcer in New York City in the 1920’s imposed his own pronunciation of I-O-Wuh. Even people in Iowa, hearing it on the radio, thought that only their town pronounced it I-O-WAY, and that everyone else said “I-O-Wuh”, so the false pronunciation stuck. Nowadays, Iowans reserve the correct pronunciation for themselves whenever they want to use it for emphasis, but we outsiders are not allowed to use it.
    I’ve heard that in Kansas, the Arkansas River is pronounced Ar-KAN-zuss, emphasizing the “Kansas”. Of course, in the state of Arkansas, it’s AR-kan-SAW.

  27. To add a bit more in Illinois, there are the towns of Marsailles (mar-SAILS), Elgin (ELL-jin, instead of with a hard /g/), Pekin (PEE-kin, whose high school teams were the “Pekin Chinks” up until the early ’80s) and, in Chicago, Devon Avenue (pronounced duh-VAHN), the first stop for many new Russian, Indian and Pakistani immigrants. My British coworkers used to find the pronunciation of Devon particularly annoying.

  28. Chiming in for the state of Maine, here. But first (with apologies to Ogden Nash, who I think wrote this):
    People who call a
    City La Jolla
    Are sure to annoy ya
    If you live in La Jolla.
    Maine has its fair share of mispronounced place names, most but not all of them French: Corea (“ko-REE-ur,” as opposed to career “ca-REE-uh”); Presque Isle (“PRESS-kyle”); Calais (“CAL-luss”). The local shibboleth is “Mt. Desert Island” where Acadia National Park is: it’s pronounced “Mount dess-ERT,” as Samuel de Champlain named it when he sailed by and noted its barren treeless crowns. That same final T (could it be historical?) sometimes sounds in the name of the island where we have a “camp,” Isle au Haut, generally pronounced as “Aisle-uh-ho’ ” these days, with the t as an unvoiced stop at the end. This island was also named by Champlain, for being the highest island on what is now called Fisherman’s Row. There is a verse about this pronunciation issue (“for the French of Paris was to her unknowe”):
    The summer man says as the fog hangs low,
    “There’s a bridal veil on Isle au Haut.”
    But the fisherman says as he loads his boat,
    “It’s thick-a-fog on Isle au Haut.”

  29. Greg Lovern says

    City of Puyallup, in Washington State. Looks sort of like it might be pronounced “py-AL-up”, with the first syllable rhyming with “buy”. Correct pronunciation is “Pyoo-AL-up”. Yes, that’s “pyoo”.
    Lots of Native American place-names around here that defy intuitive pronunciation. For that matter, if Seattle wasn’t a sizable, well-known city, more people might try to pronounce it “SEET-ul”, instead of “see-AT-ul”.

  30. D. Bridges says

    Despite what some have said on these pages, we Oregonians are unanimous in pronouncing the name of our state “Or-y-gun” with the emphasis on the first syllable and very little emphasis on the las syllable (so it’s actually almost “Or-y-gn”. NOT Or-a-gun, not Or-gun, and most decidedly NOT Or-i-gone or Or-uh-gone.

  31. See, that’s why I refuse to close this entry to comments despite the occasional spam infestation. Thanks for the input!

  32. I wasn’t going to comment, but I see the most recent is April, so what the hell:
    In Toronto, besides the aforementioned eh-TOE-bih-coh (Etobicoke), there are a few things you have to modify to not be looked at strangely…
    Bloor St is Blohr, not Blur.
    Dundas St is DUN-DASS — The final s is important, but the stresses are pretty much the same on both syllables. Not DUN-das. Not dun-DAS.
    Eglinton Avenue is EG-ling-ton.
    And although it is pretty straightforward, some people might attempt to put some weird spin on Spadina Avenue and Spadina Road. It’s just spa-DYE-nah.
    I think Blohr and Dun-Dass are the two most important to get right, but hard to know right away.
    Nothing really beats Pacific Northwest places names, though, like Puyallup as already mentioned, and Sequim WA is actually ‘SQUIM’.
    Chehalis WA is she-hay-lis, not quite as tricky, but still a little confusing.
    Oh, and Alki, the west bit of West Seattle, is Al-Kye, not Al-kee (I assumed it was Al-kee for some reason.)
    All done now.

  33. Many thanks, Mike — I knew some of those, but not the Toronto ones! I never would have known to say “blohr.”

  34. In San Francisco, we can tell the outlanders by their read on Gough Street. Most often we hear Go Street – as in dough, but then we sometimes get Guff Street – as in rough, not to mention the occasional Goo Street – as in through.
    In fact, it’s pronounced Goff Street as in cough.

  35. By the way, I always pronounced it KoSHUUshko, while someone tried to correct me into pronouncing it Kos-ki-YUS-ko.. and really I knew a street in Russia as Kos-TYU-shko (believe someone posted that before).
    I do get a kick out of HOUS-ton street 🙂 Besides the village we also say NY City or The City instead of Manhattan.
    But I always wondered if Van Wyck Expwy was Wick (as in stick) or Wike (as in bike)
    and how about Kearny in NJ – I thought pronouncing it KAHR-nee was weird.
    THANKS FOR THE TORONTO ONES! I just moved to Toronto from NYC and it’s fun trying not to mess up the names. Yonge is just like younge, right? not YOHNG?
    as for Spadina, that reminds me of Regina, and uhmm, the first time I heard that in the fast conversation, uhmm, I was shocked… 🙂

  36. But I always wondered if Van Wyck Expwy was Wick (as in stick) or Wike (as in bike)
    I’m still wondering that, after 23 years in NYC. Every time I think I’ve figured it out, I hear somebody who’s clearly local say it the other way. I think it’s one of those rare place names with more than one acceptable local pronunciation.
    So how do you like Tronna?

  37. The captain of my Coast Guard cutter, based on Governors Island, related the story of how Houston St.’s local pronunciation came from the German for “little houses”. Some time later, after coming across the truth in a street-name dictionary, I was able to inform him that this tale was not only false, but was over 100 years old and just wouldn’t die. (That was back in the ’70s, so now it’s over 125 years.) It’s actually named after William Houstoun, a Georgian in the Constitutional Congress and Constitutional Convention. There is a Houston County in Georgia with the same pronunciation– as it should have, as it was named after William’s brother, Gov. John Houstoun.
    Here in the Twin Cities we have a number of suburbs whose names are there to trap outsiders: Wayzata, Shakopee, Mahtomedi, Willernie. They go wye-ZAT-uh, SHOCK-upee, modda-ME-dye and (so I’ve been told) WILL-urnee. And speaking of all the Koscius(z)kos, his contemporary and fellow Pole Pulaski’s namesake town in New York gets a final syllable like the English word “sky”. I always wondered if any of the other Pulaskis did that.

  38. Well Australia’s tallest mountain is Mount Kosciusko and it’s pronounced thus:
    IPA: /kɒziˈɒskeə/
    SAMPA: /kQzi”Qsk@U/
    American Dictionary: kŏ-zi-ŏs’kō

  39. >My personal favorite, however, would have to be >Rolla, Missouri, which was named after Sir >Walter Raleigh, but by the time the town >incorporated the pronunciation had degraded.
    Not degraded that much – in Walter’s time it would have been pronounced Raw-lay. So Rolla is probably closer than the current Raah-lay

  40. I grew up in Iowa, and was always painfully aware of town and place names in Iowa that took their names from other places in the world, but whose “Iowan” names are pronounced in their own, special Iowan way. This is similar to a lot of the names people listed above for Illinois, Missouri, NC and other states. For example:
    Tripoli (pronounced Tri-PO-luh)
    Buena Vista County (pronounced BYEW-nuh VIS-ta)
    Madrid (pronounced MAD-rid)
    And of course, the great capital of Iowa, Des Moines (pronounced Duh-MOYN)
    There are other weird pronunciations that I can’t recall right now. However, I’d have to add that I rarely if ever heard anyone pronounce the state’s name I-O-WAY. I’d be interested in speaking to some people around my grandmothers’ age to see whether it was often pronounced that way when they were kids, and if so, when that fell by the wayside. If I ever heard I-O-WAY, I’d assume the speaker was being sort of facetious.

  41. Tri-PO-luh is new to me — thanks for continuing this fascinating thread! (My mother was from Iowa, and I never heard anyone seriously say “Ioway” either.)

  42. Ian McKelid says

    Living in Missouri is a constant source of consternation for me. First of all, there is the pronunciation of the state’s name itself. The commonly-accepted pronunciation is, of course “miss-SOR-ee.” Locals, however, insist on calling it “miss-SOR-uh” or “miss-SOR-ah.” I could easily overlook this if it was some barefoot dirt farmer in John Deere coveralls. But it’s really annoying to hear local newscasters and politicians use it. Supposedly, these are intelligent, educated individuals. What makes it worse is when you can tell they’re simply pronouncing it that way to “reach out to the common man.”
    Rolla and New Madrid, Missouri have already been mentioned. Another one is Cairo, Illinois. One would expect this to be pronounced as “KAI-roh”.. like in Egypt. At the very least, it could be “KAIR-oh”.. like in “hair.” But, it is pronounced “KAY-roh”.. like the corn syrup.
    Another thing that perplexes me is all of the abused French in St. Louis. The best example is Gravois Road. Based on basic French pronunciation, it seems to me this would be “grav-WAH.” After all, “mois” is “MWAH.” But, somehow, Missourians have turned it into “gra-VEE.” O.o
    Admittedly, however, I don’t know French, so I could be way off.

  43. Please, I need the pronunciation of the town name

  44. If you’re talking about the Austrian city, it’s SHTAWK-e-row (with -ow as in how).

  45. German doesn’t make out much better in St. Louis: Spoede Road is spay-dee, as I recall.

  46. Arab, AL, i’m told is pron. A-rab rather than AIR-rub.
    Toronto is sometimes pron. TRUN-nuh (2 syllables).
    n Strachan St, Toronto, is pron. STRON.

  47. Worcester, MA is pronounced “WIST ah.” And if you pronounce it correctly, folks there will think you’re WICKED PISSA.

  48. As a former Floridian, it’s always fun to hear tourists pronounce “Kissimmee” as KISS-a-mee. If you’re heading for Disney World, be warned: the correct local way is ki-SIM-ee. And if you’ve driving down, I’ll let you have your own fun with Micanopy GA.
    Now I’m in Connecticut where we have the aforementioned Greenwich (GRE-nich), Berlin (BUR-len), Darien (dair-ee-YEN) and Coventry (CAH-ven-tree). But I’m still not altogether sure what to do with Poquonock.

  49. Michael Farris says

    “As a former Floridian,…I’ll let you have your own fun with Micanopy GA.”
    Not to mention Micanopy, Florida (MICK-uh-noh-pee). A favorite of mine is Alachua, the county (where I used to live) is Uh-LATCH-ua/wuh, while the town is Uh-LATCH-away.

  50. Having lived my first 30 years in Los Angeles county, the next 10 in Sacramento, but now residing in Columbia, Missouri, I hear pronunciations I never knew existed in the “outside world”.
    LA area —
    Cahuenga (ka-WAYNG-a) Blvd. runs north-south between Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley (The Valley) near Universal Studios.
    A little west of that in The Valley is Tujunga (ta-HUNG-a) Blvd.
    Sacramento area —
    About a half-hour drive south of the capitol is a very popular area for skydiving and a growing wine making industry. When an event in Lodi, CA was described by a reporter at the local university-owned Missouri TV station as occurring in “low-DEE”, I almost choked. The locals know it is “LOW-die”.
    A few weeks later, another young reporter-in-training tried to describe a fire in the Sierra Nevada foothills as being near “PLAY-sir-vill”. Most any native of the northern half of CA (Governor obviously gets excluded), will know that Placerville (PLASS-ur-vill) is a waypoint on the highway to the skiing and gambling of South Lake Tahoe.
    Mid-Missouri —
    Besides the constant -ee vs. -ah inconsistency between radio and TV news reporters, there is the aforementioned Auxvasse that even causes different pronunciation from the same person. I’ve heard the same weather guy call it “ah-VASS” and “ox-VASE”.

  51. Hi!
    We just came across this cool webpage and we would like to know if there is an actual website for pronunciations of cities in the US and Canada. It would really be a great help to us if you could direct us to that website as Merriem-Webster Online doesn’t have the pronunciations for all the cities in the US, let alone Canada.
    Thanks a lot!
    Cindy Ramirez

  52. I’m afraid there doesn’t seem to be one (I’d like one too). This page seems to indicate that M-W Online is the best resource available online. I can only suggest you invest in a copy of the M-W Geographical Dictionary, which I like so much I have three separate editions!

  53. Hi again!
    I would like to ask for help on how to pronounce the following city names: OCOEE and OGALLALA. Thanks and keep up the good work!
    P.S. Am still in the process of getting the Geographical Dictionary that you suggested. =)
    Cindy Ramirez

  54. Language Hat, are you sorry you started this thread-that-won’t-die more than two years ago?
    I found my way here researching the pronunciation of “Greenwich.” I read something elsewhere that indicated that in England the “correct” speakers don’t say “GREN-itch” after all. I was shocked. Shocked. We have a Greenwich Street in Portland, Ore., and folks here seem to go both ways. I say “gren-itch,” but most say “green-witch.” Now I don’t know what to think.
    Other place names from Portland and Oregon that haven’t been noted in this discussion, but that are shibboleths for the many folks who’ve moved here from elsewhere (and some locals!) are…
    – Willamette River: newbies say “WILL-uh-met,” but it’s “will-AH-mit” (that’s a long, flat A sound like in “hat”)
    – Couch Street: recent arrivals think it’s “cowch,” but it’s “cooch” — gotcha!
    – Tigard, a small town (suburb) outside Portland: some people unaccountably want to call it “tigg-erd,” but it’s “TYE-gerd”
    – Tualatin, another small town/suburb of Portand: it’s pronounced “too-AW-luht-un” (with the second T swallowed)
    – Abiqua (lake, falls, creek) in Central Oregon: Having never been there and being a French speaker, I called it “uh-BEEK-uh” to a friend from those parts and he roundly mocked me. Turns out it’s “ah-bih-KWAW” (again, that first A is flat as in hat).
    – Multnomah County (where Portland sits): isn’t it obvious? “mult-NO-muh”
    – Albina, a Portland neighborhood: pronounced “al-BYE-nuh”
    – Malheur County: oui, we also know how to mutilate French words in Oregon: this is pronounced “MAL-hyur” (flat A)
    Thanks for this and the links to French and other language sites.

  55. Sorry? Au contraire! This is one of my favorite threads (and one of the reasons I won’t just close off commenting on old threads, despite the comment-spam problem) — I keep learning new things. I thank you for your primer on Portland/Oregon shibboleths; I knew Willamette and Multnomah, but I would never have guessed some of the others (cooch? cool!).
    As for Greenwich, the old-fashioned Brits say GRIN-idj; I don’t think anybody in the UK says GREEN-wich, but I could be wrong. What did your something elsewhere say?

  56. I enjoy this thread, too. I came here to settle a discussion of how to pronounce Houston in New York (I was right!).
    In Massachusetts the town of Peabody is pronounced “PEA-buh-dee” not “PEA-bawdy”; Chelmsford is pronounced “Chems-furd” (very Brahmin, you know.) Dorchester locals live in “Dot”.
    And then there’s CHARGOGGAGOGGMANCHAUGGAUGGAGOGGCHAUBUNAGUNGAMAUGG, also known as Lake Webster. (A little Native American history: http://www.colapcentral.org/webster-lake.htm)

  57. How is Calais pronounced in England?
    Unlike rj way up there, I’ve never heard SANfrancisco or SACramenno. It’s sãf’r’SISco and sacraMEN’o. But I’ve only lived here for twenty years.

  58. Colin Jackson says

    Calais in England is CAL-ay (to rhyme with “way”).
    I also have never heard Greenwich referred to as anything other than GREN-ich or GRIN-ich.

  59. chicagojoe says

    I love this thread…I entered looking for how to pronounce the Van Wyck in NY and unfortunately am no closer to an answer! But being an Illinois native I had to throw one in. Claude Bourbonnais explored the area around the Kankakee river and settled a town there which is named in his honor. However, the locals have concocted the pronunciation Ber-BONE-is. Even the signs going into town have a phonetic spelling of the word and it persists.

  60. That’s great, and I can’t find any reference to it online, so you’ve contributed to the store of knowledge we call the internet! (I’ve added it to my geographical dictionary as well.)
    As I said somewhere upthread, either /wik/ or /wayk/ is acceptable for the expressway, and you can tell them I said so.

  61. Annabelle Morison says

    One of the most interesting place names that comes to my mind when it comes to confusion of pronunciation is that of the Thames River in London, England. So far, I’ve heard it pronounced in three ways. Half the time, I’ve heard it pronounced “Tems”, while other times, it was pronounced more like “Tames”. But most recently I read that the original pronunciation of the name of this river is “Thaymes”. Many people have told me that “Tems” is the only way that it is correctly pronounced, but I can tell you, that’s definitely debatable. If “Thaymes” was the original, and thus was the correct pronunciation, how in this world did it change from “Thaymes” to “Tems”? It seems this is an unsolved mystery. Was it a British thing? Was it an American Thing? What is the story behind this confusion of pronunciation?

  62. I read that the original pronunciation of the name of this river is “Thaymes”.
    Your source was wrong. There was never a /th/ sound in the word; the Roman name was Tamesis, from a Celtic name also preserved in the rivers Tame and Tamar. The h was added in a fit of Renaissance pseudo-etymologizing. In England it’s always /temz/.
    I believe the Thames River in Connecticut is pronounced /theymz/, but that of course is simple spelling pronunciation, like /menziyz/ for Menzies and /keytlin/ for Caitlin.

  63. Again linking an old thread with another old thread, “Mi-ZOOR-ee” speakers from St. Louis might well refer (disparagingly) to “Muh-ZOOR-uh” speakers as “Hoosiers”.

  64. Pat Brawner says

    I just bought some property in Union County Georgia and the place is called Choestoe Falls. It is a Cherokee name for dancing rabbits. I have seen it phonetically spelled out cho-wy-sto-wy but that doesn’t help me to pronounce it. Any help would be appreciated.

  65. I presume your source is this page, which says “His home area Choestoe… is a Cherokee word (pronounced ‘cho-wy sto-wy’) that is poetry itself in two languages…” To me that implies that both halves of the name rhyme with “Joey,” if that helps. The only other source I’ve found is this, which says “a little valley of Union County that was known as Choestoe [pronounced CHOESTOE],” which isn’t at all helpful. It’s certainly not a transparent spelling!

  66. O.K., O.K., I can’t help myself. It seems there are only two “Eugenes” in the U.S. The first being the tiny central Missouri (pronounced, for once and for all, “Mi-zoor-ee”) railroad town of EWE-gene and the rather large Oregon enclave of expatriate unreformed California hippies and treehuggers, yuh-GENE. The latter sounds oh, so sophisticated! So west coast cool! Actually the dwindling number of residents of Eugene, Missouri decided a few years ago to disincorporate. This leaves me, technically, without a home to which to return. Sort of a “man without a country”. Since it doesn’t exist, I’m emboldened to call it whatever I choose–so it shall be, now and forever, “yuh-GENE”.
    St. Louis

  67. I’ve picked up a few over the years:
    Haverhill, Mass – HAY vr’ll
    Lima, Ohio – LIE muh
    Towson, Md – TOW son (rhymes with now)
    Dothan, AL – DOE thn
    Prescott, AZ – PRESS cut
    Peabody, Mass – PEE b’dee
    Natchitoches, La – NACK uh dish
    Canon City, Colo – Canyon
    Newark, Del – NEW ark
    Immokalee, Fla – im OHK uh lee
    Coeur d’Alene, Ida – core d’LANE
    Some small towns around Austin:
    Manchaca – MAN shack
    Boerne – BUR nee
    Seguin – suh GEEN
    New Braunfels – BRAHN f’lz
    Some streets in Detroit:
    Gratiot – GRAY shut
    Dequindre – duh QUIN der
    Shoenherr – SHAY ner
    And, trying to render the Baltimore accent accurately, you drive out Belair Road (pronounced, or, in Baltimore, pronunciated, Blair Rayode) to get to the town of Bel Air (BELL-WAIR, run together). The Baltimore accent can keep one busy for a long time. (Wrench the dishes off in cold wooder in the kitchen zinc.)
    And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.

  68. If you are interested in Champlain Samuel, please visit my blog: http://whatsnewtoday11.blogspot.com

  69. To add to Scott’s comment on strange local pronunciations of town names in Central Texas, Gruene is pronounced Green (instead of the German GRÜN-eh). New Braunfels, in addition to the pronunciation provided by Scott, is often pronounced New BRAHNZ-fl. I regard this last pronunciation as a mispronunciation of a mispronunciation, but it’s extremely common.

  70. Oh, central Texas is wonderful for throw-you-a-curve town names.
    Manor = MAIN-er
    Elgin = ELL-gin
    Grosvenor = gross-VEE-ner
    and Guadalupe Street in Austin is pronounced “GWAD-a-loop.”

  71. Hello. I found this site looking for the correct pronunciation of “Thames”. I have found in England, that “temz” is the correct pronunciation. What about a street name in Panama City, FL? I say “temz”, also, but my school-aged children are correcting me. they are telling me that it is pronounced “Theymz” We also have a debate going on in my house ( and school) about how “cay” in the book “The Cay” is pronounced. I have written to a couple different sources, but have not gotten any responses back. I know from the dictionary, that “kay” and “key” are both correct, but how does the author pronounce it? Anyone know?????

  72. In England it’s “temz,” but in America it’s usually “thaymz” (for local names, I mean, not the river in London). But you’d have to ask someone from Panama City to be sure about the local pronunciation. (I just checked Google Maps for Panama City, by the way, and it can’t find a “Thames St.” — are you sure you’ve got the city right?)
    Cay is pronounced “key” in the Caribbean.

  73. OH_!!! and Kosiusko in Mississippi is “kaw-zee-ESS-go”

  74. Thanks language hat…I just looked it up— It’s thames drIVE, not street.

  75. How is Suisun pronounced? Most of the people I ask in Suisun City, CA say “SooSoon” but my nephew insists it is “Sweesun”.

  76. Your nephew is wrong. Nobody knows where the Spanish got the word, but it’s pronounced suh-SOON.

    I reside in Georgia, where we pronounce our Cairo like KAY ROE. Egypt says KY ROE. Webster’s Dictionary says the word may also be pronounced KE (as in Fed) ROE. I understand that there are Cairo’s in Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Ontario Canada, and West Virginia.
    Would you please e-mail me, letting me know whether your city’s name of Cairo is pronounced KAY ROE, OR KY ROE, OR KE ROE?

  78. I found this site while trying to find the correct pronounciation of Kosciusko. I say Kos-kee-OSS-ko and my son informed me it was Koz-ee-oss-ko.
    I saw someone mention Peru IN being pronounced PEE-ru and that is how my parents say it but I don’t. (it is in the next county over from us)
    Another Indiana town is Galveston which is pronounced Gal VESS ton. LaFontaine- pronounced La-FOUN-tain. I remember years ago on the TV show Family Affair when the kids would talk about how they were from Terra Hut- around here we say Terra Hote. Hubby comes from a small town called Lagro or sometimes spelled LaGro. Most of us pronounce it La Gro but some of the old timers say LAY grow and a lot of locals call it Lar go because that is how it gets mispronounced by outsiders.

  79. Great! You’ve contributed to the accuracy of my Geographical Dictionary; every time I emend it, I feel a little surge of happiness. Be proud of your local pronunciations, people! Don’t give in to standardization!

  80. Also, Texas has
    Palestine “Pal-ess-TEEN”
    Burnett “BURN-it”
    Driving through Lousiana gives you this gem:
    Nachitoches “NACK-tish”

  81. West Virginia has Canaan Valley, pronounced ‘kuh-NAIN,’ and my hometown of Philippi, pronounced ‘FILL-uh-pea.’ (The latter is actually not far off the Greek pronunciation, if you use the modern Greek system rather than the Erasmian.)

  82. This list has the town of Elgin, Illinois as “El-jin” rather than with a hard /g/. How is the watch by the same name pronounced?

  83. Are you implying that’s wrong? Because my reference books also have /j/. If you live there and know for a fact it’s /g/, I’ll correct them. Elgin, Scotland, which does have /g/, “was not the immediate origin for the name of Elgin, Illinois, which was inspired by a hymn tune,” according to this site…. Aha, and further down that page we see “The only Elgin in the United States to be pronounced with the hard ‘g’ is located in Texas.” Case closed.
    The watches come from the Illinois town and thus presumably have its /j/, although I’m sure the Scots and others familiar with the /g/ pronunciation use that.

  84. RJ Johnson says

    My job has recently assigned me to handle inbound customer service calls from Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas (not to worry, I live in California not off-shore), and I found this thread because of a search for how to pronounce Seguin (suh-GEEN), Texas. Thanks to everyone who has contributed and will make it possible for me to not trip over city and town names.
    My own question is this: are there different pronunciations for Chillicothe, TX and OK?

  85. Chillicothe, Texas was named after the Missouri town and is pronounced the same way: chilly-COTH-ee. This is also the pronunciation for the Ohio and Illinois towns; I can’t find any information about Chillicothe, OK, but there’s no reason to think it would be pronounced differently.

  86. When I first moved to Toronto,I had a hard time with the name of a town just north of us called Stouffville. Locals pronounced it Sto-ville.

  87. The town of Berlin, NH is always pronounced with a strong stress on the first syllable. Outsiders tend to pronounce the name as if it were the German capital. Interestingly I notice from the above comments that Berlin, CT and New Berlin, IL are also pronounced with the stress on the first syllable.

    Another infamous trap in NH for outsiders is the Kancamagus highway. Most New Hampshire residents say kan-kuh-MANG-gus, although apparently this is wrong. I have read magazine articles claiming that “locals” say kan-kuh-MAWG-us. Personally I have never heard this pronounciation used but maybe I’m from too far south in the state. Outsiders have been heard to say Kan-ka-may-gus,Kan-KAH-mag-us; kan-MAK-a-jis; or almost anything you can think of.

  88. Texas also has the town Mexia (muh-HAY-uh) and Bexar County, (like Bayer aspirin). There’s the town of Italy, pronounced IT-lee, and Rio Vista, pronounced Ryo Vista. IT-lee was hard for me, but I just can’t say Ryo Vista.

  89. Thank’s to all of you who agree, Missouri does not end in an a.

  90. In Connecticcut we have
    Versailles: ver-SAILS
    the Thames River: THAYmz
    Norwich: NOR’ch
    Naugatuck is usually pronounced like it’s spelled, but some oldsters call it NOG-id-ick
    Barkhamstead: bark-HAM-sted
    Berlin: BURR-lin
    Wolcott: WOOL-kit
    Somers: SUMM-ers (In New York, it’s SO-mers)
    Clinton: CLI’un
    Shelton: SHEL’un
    In Massachusetts there’s
    Worcester: WOOS-tuh
    Leicester: LESS-tuh
    In Vermont:
    Barre: Barry
    In Texas:
    Refugio: re-FYU-ree-o

  91. SO in england do they say for greenwich
    GREEN-WITCH or GREENWICK , i know the spelling is greenwich , but my and my dad are having a dispute over how to say it , so in england the place that boroughs into london , its it greenwitch or greenwick , for the spelling greenwich

  92. Can anyone provide the proper way to pronounce Ogallala?

  93. My grandparents live near a town called Los Gatos (in Spanish pronounced Lohs Gah-tohs, ah as in hot) that all the locals call Loss GAH-diss, ah as in hat.

  94. Confused: neither. The locals call it [ˈgrɛnɪtʃ], “GREN-itch”. Wikipedia can be a good resource for this sort of things if you have similar questions in the future.

  95. Barkhamstead: bark-HAM-sted
    Correct. My parents live in the next town over. Never even really thought about how odd that pronunciation is until now.

  96. Actually, the Louisiana town of Natchitoches is pronouned “NACK-uh-tish”, not, “NACK-tish”.
    Other LA doozies:
    Thibodaux = “TIBB-uh-doe”
    Lafayette = “LAFF-yett” for locals,
    “Laffy-ETT” for everyone else
    Delhi = DELL-hi
    Opelousas = Opp-uh-LOOS-us
    St. Amant = San-ah-MAW
    Maurepas = MAHR-ah-paw
    Pierre Part = Pyurr-PAW
    Paincourtville = PAIN-ker-vull
    Baton Rouge = Batt-n-ROOG(French soft sliding “g”)
    and finally, there’s New Orleans.
    Depending on if you’re from New Orleans, and then, where you’re from in New Orleans, it can be :
    Nuh-WALLY-uns, or others.
    For non-New Orleanian Louisianians, it’s usually “NEW-OR-lins” or “NEW AH-lins”. The pronunciation “New Or-LEENS” is the sole province of non-Louisianians and a dead givaway they aren’t from anywhere around here.
    To confuse the matter, “Orleans” as in Orleans Parish, is “Or-LEENS”. For everybody.
    C’est la vie en la Louisianne, cher!
    Hope I said that right.

  97. I lived in New Orleans (Noo Ohrlins) for three years recently. That city is king. To wit:
    Calliope = Cal-ee-ope
    Socrates = So-crates
    Carondelet = Car-on-da-let
    Freret = Fur-ret
    Chartres = Chaw-tes
    Burgundy = bur-GUN-dee
    Metairie = Met-ree
    And after pronouncing all those streets wrong, they nail Tchoupitoulas (Chop-eh-too-las)
    Also, in my native Maryland:
    Bawlmer or Bawtmur for Baltimore
    B’Lair for Bel Air
    BER-lynn for Berlin
    Merlin for Maryland
    Oh-den-ton for Odenton
    Boo-whee for Bowie

  98. Chris Waller says

    In Scotland, the country of origin of the name Menzies, it is pronounced ‘min-giz’ with a hard ‘g’.

  99. What is the correct pronunciation of Tybee Island?

  100. Webster’s Geographical Dictionary says the first syllable is pronounced like the word tie, so it would be like an instruction “Tie bee [to flower using fine thread].”

  101. In Germany, Berlin is pronounced BEHR-lin, much as the natives of several US cities of that name pronounce their home town. If we prounce the German city Bur-LIN, we are actually wrong. In general, the first syllable is stressed in the German language.

  102. I’m sorry, but that’s just not true. There may be individual Germans who pronounce it that way, but the standard German pronunciation has the stress on the second syllable.

  103. I’m a native Missourian, but I have NEVER pronounced it Mizzourah, nor did any of my friends in Kansas City (most of which is in Missouri, incidentally). There’s a Missouri City in Texas, near Houston, but it’s pronounced with the long e sound at the end.
    And Houston Texas is pronounced “HYOOstun” or “YOOstun”, not “HOO stun” or “HOUSE ton”
    But what do we know? We can’t seem to pronounce the simplest hispanic names correctly:
    San Jacinto (“juh SINno”)
    San Felipe (“PHIL uh pee”)
    It always makes me cringe to hear that.

  104. Jimbo: Yes, that’s the shibboleth for Kansas City and Saint Louis. It used to be that the isogloss line going Southwest was more or less the boundary between Saint Louis County and Washington County. It may have moved, but it hasn’t gone away. I don’t know where it was / is on the other side of the state.
    When Claire McCaskill was running for governor, she famously released two ads with different pronunciations for different constituencies. See this page, which mocks her for it, and this old Language Log post, which points what a normal and reasonable thing it is.

  105. Here’s an interesting one:
    The Wabash (wah-bash) River runs through the state of Indiana, but in Wells County (near Bluffton) there is a state park bearing the French spelling of “Ouabache.”
    All of the locals refer to the river as the “wah-bash,” and the park as “oh-bah-chee.”

  106. One more note on my previous comment; the original word in Miami was pronounced something like “Wah-bah-shi-ki.”

  107. I had lots of trouble moving from Massachusetts to California, partly because the names based on Native American words are from completely different language groups. Having grown up in the East, I had no problem there with “Schenectady” (Skuh-NECK-ta-dee) or “Mattawamkeag” (Mat-tuh-WOMM-keg). But in California I was completely thrown by “Tuolomne” (Tuh-WALL-uh-mee) and its cousin “Mokelumne” (Muh-KOLL-uh-mee). Not to mention “Cosumnes” (Cuh-SUM-ness).

  108. I noticed at the top a discussion about the pronunciation of Kosciusko. There’s a Kosciusko County in Indiana, and everyone I’ve talked to pronounces it “Koss-ee-oss-coh”

  109. Salida – pronounced Sal – I – da
    (not sal – ee – da)

  110. I’m not from there but I had a friend from northeast Texas. Two of these examples aren’t place names but give you a good idea of the accent. Oil was pronounced “ol” as in bowl. Louisiana was pronounced “Loo-zee-ANA”. “Quit it” was “Qui” as in “quit” without the “t”.

  111. I’m from Georgia and we travel west at least once a year, but, I was told that I wasn’t pronouncing Moab UT incorrectly.
    Is is Moe – ab Moe (like one of the 3 stooges), then ab (as in rock hard abs), or is it Mo-ahh-bee?
    I really don’t want to wait till we get there and ask the locals. Thanks for any help you can give me.

  112. According to my source, it’s the first (MOE-ab). Enjoy your trip!

  113. Thank you so much language hat. MOE-ab is how I’ve been pronouncing it, so, for once I guess this GA girl was right! LOL
    I have enjoyed this site and will return in the future probably with more questions.

  114. I had the good fortune to grow up just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco in an area full of pronunciation hazards for newbies (such as out-of-town newscasters, who can be outed immediately upon arrival by the way in which they mangle local names):
    – Marin County’s name isn’t pronounced like that of actor Cheech Marin (MARR-in), but rather it’s Ma-RINN.
    – my city of San Rafael isn’t pronounced in the Spanish way (Rah-fy-EL), but rather it’s Ra-FELL.
    – my street, DuBois, though it’s named after an early French settler, isn’t pronounced Du-BWAH, but rather it’s Doo-BOYCE.
    Folks in the Bay Area also tend to be clear in their pronunciations of local city Novato (Nuh-VOT-oh, VOT rhyming with fought) versus the state of Nevada (Nuh-VAD-ah, VAD rhyming with glad) – which is distinct from the usual Spanish pronunciation of that name (Neh-VOD-ah, rhyming with odd); doing a web search, I see that Pres. Bush mistakenly used this pronunciation on his first trip to the state, thereby raising some hackles.
    Of course, The West is full of Spanish place names which have gotten mangled by the Anglos in the last 150-odd years. For more San Francisco oddities, there are:
    – Bernal Heights (BURN’l), which differs from what I would imagine to be the the normal Spanish pronunciation of Bur-NAL.
    – Arguello Blvd is pronounced Ar-GWELL-oh, not the normal Ar-GWAY-oh (since ‘ll’ is a unique letter in the Spanish alphabet).

  115. I am a native of Washington State and would like to first set two records straight: Spokane is pronounces “Spow-can”, not “Spow-Kane” and Anacortes is “Anna-cortiss” or “Anna-court-us” with no greater emphasis – not “Anna-cortez”. So now two questions: 1. I grew up hearing the lake up at Snoqualmie Pass called “Lake Ca-Cheee-ss” (kinda like a sneeze) though it’s spelled Keechelus Does any native know the proper pronunciation? 2. For those Californians out there…is the city of Lodi pronounced “Low-Die” or “Low-Dee”???

  116. Lodi is definitely LOW-die. I’m afraid I can’t help you with Keechelus, though; any other Washingtonians around?

  117. I’m surprised the Lodi question is still coming up. Way back in 1969 the group Creedence Clearwater Revival had a song entitled “Lodi” (about the town) on their album “Green River,” which reached the #1 position in the sales charts. On its own, as a single, the song hit #52 in the charts. It got a good amount of both AM and FM airplay at the time, but I guess you had to be there!

  118. courtney says

    in oklahoma we have:
    poteau – POE-dough (kinda like play doh) not “p-TOE” this is repeatedly mispronounced by weatherforecasters
    durant – DOO-rant, not duhr-rant
    miami – mi-am-muh,
    possum hollow – possum holler (seriously)
    keota – not kee-OH-tuh, but kee-OH-dee
    lequire – LEE-choir, not la-QUEER
    bokoshe – buh-KOE-shee not boke-a-shay
    tahlihina – tahl-li-HANE-uh or leave the “uh” off
    chickasha – chick-uh-shay
    skiatook – SKY-took
    okemah – UH-kee-muh, not okie-mah
    adair – AID-air not AY-dare
    my fam is all from missouri and we pronounce it mih-zuhr-ree. we make fun of ppl who say missourUH

  119. Yeah, HOUSE-TON is the New York way for Houston Street and GREN-ITCH for Greenwich Village…well the village is really what locals call it. Another thing that annoys me is when people pronounce the ‘S’ at the end of Illinois. It’s ILL-I-NOY not ILL-I-NOISE.

  120. Wow, this was made many years ago. I was wondering why it is that Des moines and Des Plaines are pronounced differently. Since the french named both cities, shouldn’t des plaines be pronounced (de-plane?)

  121. Hi, Andrea! The fact that they’re both from French is pretty theoretical, like the fact that two people both have French ancestry — you wouldn’t expect them to have much in common. It all depends on the circumstances in which the names were borrowed and historical developments since then, and unfortunately such details are often not preserved in historical records (since people tend to write about wars and commerce rather than how names are pronounced). Wikipedia says “Des Moines takes its name from Fort Des Moines (1843–46), which was named for the Des Moines River”; I don’t know if anything is known about how the first English-speaking settlers said the name and how it’s changed since then, but you can be sure it hasn’t consistently been /di’moin/ (the modern pronunciation) all the way back. (And of course if the French pronunciation had been adhered to, it would be /de’mwan/ or /de’mwen/.) As for Des Plaines, Wikipedia says “In 1859, the Chicago and North Western Railway purchased the rail line, stopping its train and subsequently named its station ‘Des Plaines'”; my guess would be that the locals didn’t know French and simply read off the new name the way it looked to them (i.e., as if it were English), but you’d have to do research to find out more.

  122. From some Native American names:

    the Louisiana town of Natchitoches is pronouned “NACK-uh-tish”, not, “NACK-tish”
    – Natchitoches is obviously a French rendering of the name of a tribe (the final s indicating the plural) and the most likely English spelling would be Natchitosh. The word must be related to Natchez. The pronunciation “NACK-uh-tish” suggests to me that the English name represents a different dialect or variant of the same native language with the “k” sound instead of the “tch” (= Eng “ch”). This sound correspondence is quite frequent in languages (for instance, in Italian the letter “c” is pronounced “k” before the vowels a, o, u (as in English or French) but “ch” before i and e, as in Ciao pronounced like “chow”. So it is likely that the people encountered by the French might have said “Natchitosh” but those in another part of the territory “Nackitosh”, and the latter were the ones encountered by English speakers. As for the final syllable “tish” instead of “tosh”, it reflects the English habit of ‘neutralizing’ unstressed vowels. Similarly, “NACK-tish” may be used by some people instead of “NACK-uh-tish”, because “uh”, the most neutral vowel, often falls out altogether in English.

    in California I was completely thrown by “Tuolomne” (Tuh-WALL-uh-mee) and its cousin “Mokelumne” (Muh-KOLL-uh-mee). Not to mention “Cosumnes” (Cuh-SUM-ness).
    – The first two are from the Yokuts language (the ending -umne is quite typical). It is likely that the third one is too (omit final s to see).

    – Attending a conference on native languages some years ago, I chatted with a man who said one of his parents was Puyallup, which he pronounced “py-AL-up”.
    – The ending tle is one of several ways to indicate a single sound that is not used in English (it is the “ll” of Welsh). Other spellings are tl, lth, lt, hl, lh which one might encounter in the spelling of Northwest Coast names. Seattle could have been spelt Seealth, for instance.

    – Look up “Suisun City” on Wikipedia. The pronunciation is approximately “SeSOON” in English but must have been “swee-SOON” originally. The Spanish did not invent this name, it was that of the local native people, who spoke a form of Southern Patwin (one of the huge number of native California languages).

  123. As a lifelong Detroiter, I personally love some of our pronunciations. There’s Belle Isle like eye-ull but there’s Grosse Isle like eel. Mackinac with an awe sound at the end instead of an ack sound. Then there’s Ecorse which I’ve heard pronounced as eck-orse like horse instead of ee-coarse. And don’t even get me started on street names! Livernois is liver noy not liver noise!

  124. My Grandma and her family called Chicago Shi KA guh I always got a chuckle from that.

  125. marie-lucie says

    Jacob: Mackinac with an awe sound at the end instead of an ack sound.

    Here in Nova Scotia the native population is called Micmac in English but the people use the spelling Mikmaw. This name and Mackinac are words from the Algonquian language family (not from the same individual language). As with many other native names, the English or French spellings reflect attempts to transcribe the native pronunciation, which often includes sounds foreign to the European languages. In the original languages the final “ac” was most likely not pronounced “ack” as in “back” but probably closer to “awk”. As for the final consonant, it was probably a “uvular”, pronounced much farther back in the mouth than English or French “c(k)”. This sort of consonant is not only less common in languages but harder to perceive at the end of a word and more likely to be lost over time, hence the impression that a word including this sound ends in the sound of “aw”.

  126. “My Grandma and her family called Chicago Shi KA guh I always got a chuckle from that.”

    I grew up in the south (mid last century) and it was called shi-KAR-go. When I began reading, I wondered where the ‘r’ had gone.

  127. When I lived in Spring Valley, CA, near Jamacha Road, I was stopped more than once by out-of-towners who asked me something like, “Say, where’s this Hammershaw Road? I’ve been driving around for two hours and all I can find is Jamaica.”

  128. marie-lucie says

    “My Grandma and her family called Chicago Shi KA guh I always got a chuckle from that.”

    I wonder what the KA represents in this context.

  129. David Marjanović says

    Mi’kmaq doesn’t have a /q/, but q is used for /x/. The apostrophe indicates vowel length.

  130. David Marjanović says



  131. David Marjanović says

    Let’s see if I can post this link to Wikipedia.

  132. marie-lucie says

    David: Mi’kmaq doesn’t have a /q/, but q is used for /x/

    A final or pre-consonantal [q] often turns into a [X] or [x]. If preceded by a low vowel, that vowel is likely to be the low back [ɑ] or [ɒ], which North American English speakers are likely to write aw.

    I think that native words trancribed by English or French speakers with final ac are quite likely to have had final [ɑq]. Note that Mackinac could have been spelled with final ack if the sound had been the same finally as medially.

    From Wikipedia under Mi’kmaq language:

    The name caribou was probably derived from the Mi’kmaq word xalibu or Qalipu meaning “the one who paws”. Marc Lescarbot in his publication in French 1610 used the term “caribou.”

    The current Mi’kmaq pronunciation with initial x or spelling with Q (meaning [x]), while more ancient sources used c, would seem to indicate that the word used to begin with a stop but now begins with a fricative, a common evolution for velars and especially uvulars.

  133. David Marjanović says

    Good point.

  134. Darrell Clark says

    Central Illinois has a Casey (KA-zee). Also a Pulaski (Pa-LAS-kee). In Indiana, that same name for a county is called Pew-LAS-kee. And that name for a town in Tennessee is pronounced Pa-LAS-kye (rhyming with sky). Also in central Illinois is a Greasy Point (GREE-zee)

  135. Excellent additions, thanks! (To me, GREE-zee is the natural pronunciation; it’s always interesting to see how people’s perceptions of what’s exotic differ.)

  136. Your personal Applachian substrate, I suppose.

  137. Ozark, but yes.

  138. Huh. I always thought the Ozarks were a mountain range, part of the Appalachians, but in fact they are a deeply dissected plateau.

  139. A large part of the Appalachians are a deeply dissected plateau too. The Appalachians and the Ozarks are parts of the same formation with a notch taken out of it by, I’ve read, a collision with South America.

  140. Briefly; My wife is a Connecticut Yankee and frowned at the suggestions made here for how to pronounce several of the local towns where she grew up. I am a third generation northern Californian and puzzled over the comments about Sacramento and San Francisco being stressed on the first syllable. Never noted any particular stress on any syllable honestly. I do recall my Dad teaching me to never, ever, say “Frisco” (a town in Colorado not one in California). We refered to it by the full name or as “the City” because of it’s regional prominance. Likewise we called that huge valley just inland of the Bay Area “the Valley”. My grandfather pranked my grade school age mother sending her off to school pronouncing that valley as “San Joe-wackin”. She fell for the joke and gave a report in front of her class using the pronunciation. She was not amused but her classmates were. San Joaquin is, for the record pronounced, “San Wa-keen” at least where I grew up.

  141. David Marjanović says

    The Appalachians and the Ozarks are parts of the same formation with a notch taken out of it by, I’ve read, a collision with South America.

    The other way around: they formed by collision of, well, Euramerica/Laurussia with Gondwana, and then erosion set in.

    Continents never rip apart in the exact same places where they collided. Farther north, the Appalachians suddenly find themselves on the other side of the Atlantic as the mountains of Scotland and Scandinavia.

  142. “Powhite Expressway” in Richmond, VA is pronounced “PO’ White” by the locals. The story I tell myself is that it’s a joke that’s been taken too far.

    Came here searching for “Nevada” and it rankles me that the locals choose to ignore this perfectly fine Spanish word and insist on their own pronunciation. Apparently there are even websites that track every politician who mispronounces it. The War of 1848 lives on…

  143. Eh, neither of the possible stresed vowels in ‘Nevada’ is a perfect match for the Spanish one. For someone like me I’d say it’s a wash – though for someone with, say, the California vowel shift, I’d say that /æ/ (the ‘local’ one) actually is the better choice.

  144. “Powhite Expressway” in Richmond, VA is pronounced “PO’ White” by the locals.

    I was wondering how it was supposed to be pronounced, and I found this, which gives two versions, neither of which is “PO’ White.” How do you say it?

  145. In New Jersey the town in Lacey Township, Ocean County is ForkED River… not Forkt River

  146. In Jacksonville Florida there is a street in Riverside/Avondale neighborhood called Herschel Street… it is herSCHEL not HERschel

  147. I double checked about Powhite and locals definitely put the stress on the first syllable.

  148. Thanks!

  149. Matthew Roth says

    I am surprised “Toron–oh” for “Toronto ON did’t make the list already.

    Route 66 in St. Louis MO is Gravois Ave. The locals call it “Gra–voy,” like in “grass” and in “voice.” However, the French–speaking priests that I know who live on a corner of Gravois Ave. cannot pronounce it like locals!

    Louisville KY is Lou–ah–vuhl or sometimes Lou–vuhl, though usually the Louisville Slugger bat is acceptably referred to as “Lou–ee–vill,” and neither is pronounced “Lou–ee–veel.” The pronunciation of the bat is how outsiders usually say it. In recent years, ESPN has generally adopted the first local variant, to the point of teasing reporters using the outsiders’ way.

    Swampscott MA is “Swamscuhtt” or “Swampscuhtt,” and perhaps the “u” is almost entirely eliminated. It seems to be related to the caught–cot distinction, which I make somewhat intentionally, as my mom is from MA, and a cousin from MA spells her name with “au,” and it is pronounced differently than elsewhere in the country or the “o” variant (the name is “Lauren.”). I second pretty much every MA submission, but “Wuhstuh,” not “Wisstuh.”

    I thought “Demonbreun” in Nashville was German, but it is Anglicized French: “De–muhn–bree–un” seems acceptable if the original is “de Mont Brun,” and except for the unnasalized vowel, is remarkably French.

    To add to Thibodeaux LA, I would add that Houma is “Home–a.”

    LH, I’m intrigued that the readers post what’s either known already to me or seems somewhat intuitive. I moved a bit, I read, and I travel, so I have the means & desire to learn the local pronunciation, but it almost seems easy to figure out…and do you think hearing the accent helps? I heard a woman from the Lake Charles LA area speak recently; her accent is beautiful, and it’s a rich combination of French influence and Southern English, if I may grossly overgeneralize, so when I looked at the ones from LA, I could just mentally listen to her speech, and it made perfect sense. It also seemed that when I heard it, I thought, “This is what a person from Louisiana sounds like.”

  150. And, talking of T(o)ron-o, Etobicoke (suburb and creek) is /ᵻˈtoʊbᵻkoʊ/, with a unique instance of silent “ke”.

  151. I once nailed a native Kentuckian (though long absent from the state) with this riddle:

    Q. How do you pronounce the capital of Kentucky, “Lou-uh-ville” or “Louis-ville”?

    A. “Lou-uh-ville”.

    Q. No, the capital of Kentucky is pronounced “Frank-furt.”

  152. do you think hearing the accent helps?

    Absolutely! I vividly remember hearing a recording of Faulkner reading a passage from one of his novels; it brought the dialect to life, and ever since I’ve heard his voice while reading him.

    Also, I have a friend from Louisville, so I internalized “Lou(uh)vuhl” long ago.

  153. January First-of-May says

    Q. No, the capital of Kentucky is pronounced “Frank-furt.”

    Reminds me of my own favorite trick question: “What is Frankfurt the capital of?”

    (The answer, naturally, is Kentucky. Much like NYC, Frankfurt in Germany – either of the two – isn’t actually the capital of anything bigger than the city.)

  154. SFReader says

    My favorite trick geography question in Russian – which is bigger – the North Island or South Island?

  155. What’s the solution (and/or the trick)?

  156. SFReader says

    Well, most people would have absolutely no idea, but the most knowledgeable or particularly well travelled ones would think of South Island of New Zealand.

    And that would be a wrong answer.

    The question is in Russian and the island in question has to be Russian too.

    Correct answer:

    North Island (Severny Island) of Novaya Zemlya is bigger than South Island (Yuzhny island) of that Arctic archipelago.

  157. Thanks, now I know!

  158. Matthew Roth says

    Norfolk is “Nor–folk” in some places. I just read that in Nebraska, it is “Nor–fork,” with two unstressed syllables due to geographic reasons in the name’s origin, but I honestly don’t remember it being pronounced like that.

    In Virginia, the first syllable is not exactly “Nawhr“ to locals; unfortunately, Tidewater English is pretty much dead, and even the regional name is now just Norfolk/Virginia Beach or Hampton Roads, which does have a lovely and historical nautical meaning, but it conveys a different area to me, excluding the western areas of farnland and the edges of the Great Dismal Swamp. “Nor” as in the conjunction is how I say it

    The second syllable is offensive to outsiders… at the tender age of 7, when asked where I was born, I always had to spell it! Apparently the city claims that it’s “Nor–foke,” as in “coke,” from its Saxon roots, but that strikes me as being correct. The Navy personnel certainly hear the profanity. (I’d share it, but I don’t know how crude you permit comments to be…) The accent is on the first syllable, so the “u” can be somewhere between “ih” (“ick”) and the profanity.

    Here is a piece on the Connecticut version. http://www.nornow.org/2014/02/03/you-say-norfork-i-say-norfolk/

  159. Only /ˈnɔːfək/ and /ˈsʌfək/ for Norfolk and Suffolk in East Anglia, UK.

  160. (I’d share it, but I don’t know how crude you permit comments to be…)

    Crudeness is not only permitted but welcomed. I did, after all, cowrite a book on curses in various languages.

  161. SFReader says

    Reminds me of famous Focker joke


  162. I should have mentioned that “Frank-furt” in Kentucky is a respelling: the orthography is “Frankfort”, but “Frank-fort” would suggest an unreduced vowel in the second syllable.

  163. The Frankfurts in Germany used to be spelled with an o in English, as they still are in French.

  164. Matthew Roth says

    Thanks for the clarification. The sailors apparently refer to it as “No fuck Vagina.” So, mea culpa: I wrote that the pronunciation of “Nor–foke” was correct when I obviously meant the opposite.

  165. Daniel Smith in this week’s New Yorker does it almost right: “In April, the state closed down the Kosciuszko [Bridge] (customary pronunciation, ‘kos-kee-ah-sko’; accurate pronunciation, ‘kosh-chosh-ko’)…” I say “almost” because “accurate” should read “Polish.”

  166. I’ve just learned of the Premier of Queensland (Australia), Annastacia Palaszczuk, pronounced /ˈpæləʃeɪ/ (says Wikipedia). How did the -/ʃeɪ/ happen?

  167. 2018 checking in.

    Atchafalaya River in Louisiana, east of New Orleans is pronounced “uh-chaf-uh-LIE-a” Always a fun one. Also, pronouncing the city of New Orleans itself. I say “new OR-lens”, though I do not have a southern or a cajun accent…in those cases I’ll hear something along the lines of “new aw-lens”, standard dropped ‘r’ stuff. What you should never ever say is “NAW-lens” It makes you sound like a tool.

  168. John Cowan says

    Most any native of the northern half of CA (Governor obviously gets excluded), will know that Placerville (PLASS-ur-vill) is a waypoint on the highway to the skiing and gambling of South Lake Tahoe.

    John Wells on /plæsɚvɪl/ and my explanation of its etymology.

  169. January First-of-May says

    The Frankfurts in Germany used to be spelled with an o in English, as they still are in French.

    I always assumed that the line in Yakko’s America that says “and you can live in Frankfort in your own Kentucky home” had to be at least vaguely referring to the Frankfurts in Germany.

    But no, apparently it says “in your old Kentucky home”, a reference to that one famous song. (Also it’s apparently Wakko’s America, which I’m also surprised by.)
    Though I guess it’s possible that it’s also referring to the German places…

  170. Bah, he mispronounced Pierre (should = “pier”). Also, I’m not familiar with Animaniacs; is there any reason Wakko Warner has a British accent?

    Though I guess it’s possible that it’s also referring to the German places…

    Why on earth would that be the case? It’s a song about state capitals, and Frankfort is the capital of Kentucky, end of story. If it were about capitals of European countries and Berlin were mentioned, would you think it might refer to Irving Berlin?

  171. AJP Crown says

    If it were European, it would be Isaiah not Irving.

  172. January First-of-May says

    Well, “referring” as in “a pun on”, as in “you can live in Frankf(o/u)rt in Kentucky, not just in Germany”.

    Admittedly, I thought that Frankfurt(-am-Main), Germany was more well known than Frankfort, Kentucky, which might not actually be the case with a US audience…

    And for what it’s worth, I could totally see a theoretical version focusing on European capitals making, say, a Paris Hilton pun somehow.
    Or, for that matter, a joke about one of the places in the USA named for a European capital (such as, I dunno, Athens, Georgia).

  173. When I hear “Frankfurt,” my first thought is of the German city, which is certainly well known in America. A lot of Americans, especially servicemen, have passed through Frankfurt in the post-war period.

    On the other hand, I really like Frankfort, Kentucky. When driving between South Carolina and the Midwest, we usually stop there overnight. (We first stopped there out of interest in some family history. My grandfather was posted to a mental hospital between Frankfort and nearby Lexington during his stint in the Public Health Service in the late 1940s, and my father was born in Lexington.) There’s a candy factory there you can tour, where their specialty is bourbon-flavoured truffles. The state capitol is very pretty, and the kids can play on the (adjacent) grounds of the governor’s mansion. (I’ve lived in four state capitals, and it seems to be rare to have the governor’s residence as part of the capitol complex. In Oregon, there wasn’t even a governor’s mansion until around 1990, when the state bought a big house in the fanciest neighborhood in town and converted it.)

  174. David Marjanović says

    If it were European, it would be Isaiah not Irving.

    Or Thilo, involved in Austria’s long-term corruption scandal.

  175. anotherDave says

    Not sure if this has been mentioned, but another aspect of this is when a name is pronounced in a way that’s determined by a regional accent. For example, in the UK we have a Bury, Lancashire. Locals would pronounce it BUH-reh as would anyone from northern England. I’m a southerner so I pronounce it Berry as in Chuck.

    But the verb ‘to bury’ is actually pronounced differently in the 2 regions. A pirate from the north would buh-reh his treasure whereas a southern one would berry it. Similarly, anywhere up north ending -castle would be pronunced by the locals as CASS-ull not CAR-sull.. I’m not pronouncing Newcastle wrong, I’ve just got a southern accent!

  176. John Cowan says

    Locals would pronounce it BUH-reh as would anyone from northern England. I’m a southerner so I pronounce it Berry as in Chuck.

    That reflects a difference that’s a thousand years old and more. The French u-sound of Old English byrig ‘bury’ was lost everywhere, but it changed to different vowels in different places. In the West Midlands variety that led to the standard, it mostly merged with short i, as in listen, bridge from Old English hlysnan, brycg and sister from Old Norse systir, which is why for the most part the vowels i and y are basically interchangeable in writing. In the North, it merged with short u, giving the pronunciation you report as Northern.

    But in Kent, which has spoken a different variety of English since the Conquest, it merged with short e, and in the case of merry, knell from Old English myrge, cnyll the Kentish pronunciation has taken over throughout the South. It has in bury too, but the spelling became Northern even though the pronunciation was Kentish, which is why Southerners (and overseas English speakers) write bury and say berry.

    The four-layer wedding cake of English short and long u.

  177. I wonder which the locals rhyme Reisterstown, MD with, RYE or RAY.

  178. It’s RYE-sterstown.

    Oh, and Maryland also has a town by the name of Ijamsville — the first part is pronounced like Iams, as in the pet food company.

  179. Yes, plus other funny Maryland place names. Don’t pronounce it “Resisterstown”, either.

  180. Lots of good stuff at that link, e.g. Auchentoroly (“OCK-en-trolly”) and Glenelg (final -g is silent).

  181. It skips Bawlmer, oddly.

  182. Hmm, I take issue with their pronunciation of Anne Arundel County. Locally, it sounds like a woman named Anna Rundle. When ‘Arundel’ is on its own (there’s an Arundel Mall outside Annapolis), it gets first-syllable stress.

    The Wiki entry for Ijamsville says it is named after its founder, a man by the name of Plummer Ijams, who was from Wales. Ijams doesn’t jump out at me as a name of Welsh origin, and I don’t have any idea what an authentic pronunciation might be. Perhaps our resident expert can weigh in.

  183. J.W. Brewer says

    That listicle seems very much a mixed bag, with IMHO only a few genuine toughies (e.g. Havre de Grace and Wicomico). But I grew up nearby and for all I know people who didn’t grow up hearing the toponym pronounced would not correctly guess at e.g. “Susquehanna” from the spelling? There also seems to be an undercurrent of deprecating common actually-used pronunciations as if local dialect is an error.

    Separately, I have for many decades known someone who grew up in Reisterstown, but I think I’d have guessed PRICE rather than FLEECE from the spelling even if I hadn’t heard it said aloud, just playing the percentages.

  184. There’s also Ijames, which makes me think that the “Welsh” interpretation is spurious, based on the final s.

    Ijams in Maryland first appears in the 1600s.

  185. J.W. Brewer says

    Separately, re the several-years ago Kentucky v. Germany controversy. To the extent not-very-unified Germany could be said to *have* a political capital prior to 1871, you can make a fair claim that it was Frankfurt-am-Main, in that that’s where the Bundestag met during the German Confederation era and was also the situs of the revolutionary assembly selected in 1848 with various grand-but-unfulfilled ambitions. During the Holy Roman Empire period it was where new emperors were formally elected and (during some but not all centuries) crowned, but I don’t know that there was much continuous institutional presence of imperial gov’t there in between times.

  186. Hmm, I take issue with their pronunciation of Anne Arundel County. Locally, it sounds like a woman named Anna Rundle.

    You’re right, Wikipedia sez “Anne Arundel County (/əˈrʌndəl/).” Tsk!

  187. David L. Gold says

    “Your nephew is wrong. Nobody knows where the Spanish got the word [Suisun}, but it’s pronounced suh-SOON.”

    Suisun City having been founded in the 1850s and having been named for the Suisun (a local First People), Spanish might not figure in the history of the place name.

    Then again, since Suisun is graphotactic in Spanish, it could — if the spelling of the English name of the people was taken from a document in Spanish.

  188. David Eddyshaw says

    Presumably “Ijams” is some sort of variant of “James”, which is a common surname in Wales, where nearly all surnames originated as patronymics: the -s types are the Anglicised versions of the Welsh ones beginning with p or b (lost before most consonants) from ap “son of ..”, so that “Evans”, for example, corresponds to “Bevan”, “Richards” to “Pritchard” and so forth.

    The rendering of written j as /j/ is very odd, wherever the name came from. Although /d͡ʒ/ is only found in loanwords in Welsh itself, I can’t concoct a plausible Welsh reason for this spelling; perhaps simple illiteracy, as with my own glorious surname. Or perhaps the name got crossed somewhere along the line with Ieuan “John.” Or their patriarch spent too much time with his Dutch friends drinking Curaçao. No idea.

    The Welsh form of the name “James” itself is Iago, as with this chap:


    An actual bearer of the name “Ijames” implies the pronunciation [aɪmz] here (contrary to the sound clip!) :


    All Ijam(e)seses seem to be American.

  189. David Eddyshaw says

    Reading Y’s comment more carefully (must get into the habit of doing that), I see that I’ve misinterpreted it: the suggestion is rather that the name “Ijams” was mistaken for a Welsh one exactly because of the chance resemblance to “James” etc. That seems quite plausible.

    The WP history of Ijamsville says there was “an influx of Welsh immigrants who came to work the slate mines” later on; maybe that might account for the retconning of the Founder to Wales.

  190. David Eddyshaw says

    I wonder if the founder was in fact one of the Anting community:


  191. “Also, doesn’t the Avenue of the Americas still become Sixth Avenue for stretches?”

    From Wikipedia:

    The avenue’s official name was changed to Avenue of the Americas in 1945 by the City Council, at the behest of Mayor Fiorello La Guardia,[22] who signed the bill into law on October 2, 1945.[23] The intent was to honor “Pan-American ideals and principles”[24] and the nations of Central and South America, and to encourage those countries to build consulates along the avenue.[25] It was felt at the time that the name would provide greater grandeur to a shabby street,[26] and to promote trade with the Western Hemisphere.[27]

    After the name change, round signs were attached to streetlights on the avenue, showing the national seals of the nations honored. However, New Yorkers rarely used the avenue’s newer name,[4] and in 1955, an informal study found that locals used “Sixth Avenue” more than eight times as often as “Avenue of the Americas”.[28] The move was also criticized as “propaganda” by those who wanted to return to the original name.[29] The street has been labelled as both “Avenue of the Americas” and “Sixth Avenue” in recent years. Most of the old round signs with country emblems were gone by the late 1990s, and the ones remaining are showing signs of age (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sixth_Avenue).

    Local residents and others complained for the additional reason that since Manhattan has twelve numbered avenues all running from north to south and numbered from First Avenue (the easternmost one) to Twelfth Avenue (the westernmost one), upsetting the sequence would be an inconvenience.

    I know of no stretches that are still officially called Sixth Avenue.

  192. PlasticPaddy says

    I would have thought Plummer Williams or ap Gwylim. The observed truncation could have come from interpreting Williams as Will Iams.

  193. John Emerson says

    Peer for Pierre, SD.

    Luh HOM a doo for Lake L’Homme Dieu, MN.

    BOOtun for Boontown, NJ

  194. There are long, long lists of such on WP. Language Log once elicited them from readers.

  195. The observed truncation could have come from interpreting Williams as Will Iams.

    I can just about imagine Williams, said in a strong Welsh accent, being heard in Maryland as something like ‘eye-ams.’

  196. The Suisunes was the name, as given in Spanish records, of the South Patwin–speaking inhabitants of a certain village. The name looks like it could be a Miwok exonym.

  197. David Eddyshaw says

    I can just about imagine Williams, said in a strong Welsh accent, being heard in Maryland as something like ‘eye-ams.

    I can’t imagine this working at all: the name would have to be stressed on the -i-, which would also have to be rendered as /aɪ/. No Welsh accent (of any strength) does that.

    And none of this explains the weird spelling with j, which seems to me to be even more of a mystery than the actual origin of the name.

    Was there ever a convention in English of writing ij for “long i“? (Where did the Dutch get it from, come to that?*) There are, after all, peculiar conventions like writing double lower-case ff instead of initial capital F in surnames.

    * Seems like nobody knows:


  198. In Sinclair Lewis’s novel, Babbitt jokingly calls a fellow Boosters’ Club member “Willis Jimjams Ijams”. So he thought of it as having a [d͡ʒ]. On the other hand, the novel (and Lewis) were set in the Midwest, and the name is concentrated in Maryland and North Carolina, so it could be a bad guess.

    Iams is a simplified form of Ijams, and the Iams (/aɪəmz/) pet food brand carries its founder’s name (/aɪmz/). He was from Ohio.

    An early 20th century recollection:

    Elizabeth Ijams earned her nickname, Izzy, from schoolteachers who were confused even back then about how to pronounce the Ijams name. Northern schoolteachers pronounced the name “idge-ums” while teachers from the South pronounced it “eye-jams.” The northern mentality at Knoxville High School prevailed, and Elizabeth was forever known as “Izzy Idge-ums.” The correct way to pronounce the name is to rhyme with “times.”

  199. David Eddyshaw says
  200. January First-of-May says

    Where did the Dutch get it from, come to that?

    Most of Wikipedia’s options are variants of what I would have guessed: that ij was a contemporary way of writing ii that stuck. I see no reason why this could not have happened sporadically in English… well, other than that it would require the sound to have been spelled ii in the first place (which as far as I know was also never a convention in English, despite the “long i” status).

  201. Is there a Welsh surname Ians, current or historical?

  202. David Eddyshaw says

    One of the Welsh forms of “John” is Ieuan, which has the right sort of pronunciation if you squint a bit


    The corresponding surnames seem only to be Bevan, Evans, however. No Yianses. Not even any Bians.

  203. John Cowan says


    In allegro speech, however, both the first /ə/ and the /d/ can be elided: “Ann’runnel”.

    BOOtun for Boontown, NJ

    It’s spelled Boonton (after Thomas Boone, the 7th royal governor of New Jersey) and pronounced [ˈbʉʔn̩], as I should know, for I was born and raised about 18 mi / 28 km away.

  204. Scollay Square in Boston is pronounced with SKU-lee, as if it were “Scully.” (That’s also how the Revolutionary War officer, Colonel William Scollay, for which the square is named, is supposed to have pronounced his name.) In this case, the pronunciation is conventional, but the orthography is not, and attempting a spelling pronunciation marks one as an outsides.

    However, this example also has another aspect as well. “Scollay Sqaure” appears in the lyrics of “Charlie on the M. T. A.”:

    Charlie’s wife goes down to the Scollay Square station
    Every day at quarter past two,
    And through the open window she hands Charlie a sandwich
    As the train comes rumblin’ through.

    Until about five years ago, if you searched for the lyrics of the song online, you would usually find the name spelled “Scully Square” by whoever had transcribed the lyrics. It was also usually evident that the transcribed lyrics were the slightly modified ones used by the Kingston Trio in their hit rendition (which had the correct pronunciation for “Scollay”). It was actually harder than you might expect to verify the correct spelling, since the station name was changed to “Government Center” in the 1960s. However, within the last few years, all of the most prominent song lyrics databases on the Web seemed to have changed to the real spelling.

  205. @LH, DL

    Thank you very much!

  206. I’ve read a nineteenth-century book about Madoc (I think) in which “Ieuan” was rendered as “Jevan,” presumably because the English author supposed, forgivably, that “Ieuan” in his sixteenth- or seventeenth-century source must be intended for that.

  207. David Eddyshaw says

    The -v- could be real; yet another Welsh form of “John” is Ifan (and compare Evans, Bevan.) Vacillation between /v/ (probably /β/ in Middle Welsh, in fact) and /w/ goes back a long way in Welsh.
    On the other hand, Ieuan itself doesn’t contain /w/.

    J-, however, is right out. (Though Siôn /ʃoːn/ is yet another other Welsh John, as in the name of that quintessential Welshman Siôn Corn.)

  208. John Cowan says

    Perhaps he’s actually from Cornwall.

  209. David Eddyshaw says

    Ah, but he moved to Y Lapdir* before the Battle of Dyrham.

    * In the Hen Ogledd.

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