No, Arkansas Doesn’t Sound the Way It Looks: A Guide to Pronouncing U.S. Place Names

The U.K. isn't alone with "rude" city names. (BIOLI)

The U.K. isn’t alone with “rude” city names. (BIOLI)

Just as we laugh at Americans who say “Glass Cow” instead of Glasgow and “Li-cester” instead of well, Leicester, they often have the last laugh when we attempt some American state and place names. As with the U.K., many names aren’t phonetic or are just impossible to figure out; here’s some of the most common.

Bear in mind that these pronunciation tips are for British English speakers. Telling an American to pronounce Raleigh as “Rarley” would obviously not work.

(The syllable to be stressed is underlined.)

Albuquerque Albukerkee
Arkansas Arkansaw
Bangor (Maine) Bang-or (hard “g”; does not sound like “banger”)
Birmingham Stress and emphasize the “ham”
Boise (Idaho) Boyzee
Des Moines (Iowa) De Moyn
Des Plaines (Illinois) Dess Planes
Houston Hyooston (not Hooston)
La Jolla (California) La Hoya
Louisville (Kentucky)> Leweeville
Raleigh Rarley (with a British middle “r”)
St. Louis St. Lewis
Salem Saylem
San Jose San Hozay
Spokane (Washington) Spo-kan
Syracuse (New York) Sirrakyooz
Topeka (Kansas) Toepeeka
Tuscon (Arizona) Tooson (soft S)
Van Nuys (California) Van Nize

While most state names are either phonetic or well enough known to avoid problems, there are a few that may trip Brits up.

Arkansas is not pronounced like Kansas, it’s Arkansaw (emphasis on last syllable), but the natives are called Arkansans, (emphasis on middle syllable). Interestingly, Arkansas City in Kansas has an audible final “s”. Connecticut has a silent middle “c” and the stress is on the 2nd syllable.  Illinois may look French but it’s doesn’t follow French pronunciation. It’s pronounced “Ill-i-noy” and for heaven’s sake, don’t put an “s” or a “z” on the end.

Maryland is quite the challenge to describe. It may look like it should be “Mary Land” but my American kids laugh out loud when I say it like that. The pronunciation is a truncated version, more like “Marel’nd”, pronouncing “mare” the British way but with an audible “r”.  Here’s an audio example.

Michigan is pronounced Mishigan (not Mitchigan). The other state names, Brits will pronounce correctly or close enough to be understood and not cause a wry smile among Americans.

With American place names however, no assumptions should be made. Just because Worcester and Leicester in Massachusetts follow the British pronunciations of “Wooster” and “Lester”, doesn’t mean Petersham does; it’s pronounced Peter’s Ham. Nor should we assume that because New York State’s Amherst has an audible “h” in the middle, it’s the same for the Amherst in Massachusetts, which drops it.

While not a city or state, the famous national park Yosemite warrants mention here. It’s pronounced Yose-emity (soft “s”) with the stress on the middle syllable. (I know. Who knew?)

The U.S. has many non-English place names that are almost impossible to figure out without the help of a local. Places like Schenectady in New York, Nacogdoches in Texas, Monongahela in Pennsylvania or Kankakee in Illinois just set you up for problems. On the other hand, your attempts at the correct pronunciation can provide hours and hours of entertainment for Americans.

Oh, and just as the U.K. has some strange place names (think Upper and Lower Slaughter for starters), so has the U.S. You’ll find Boring in Oregon, Normal in Illinois, Why in Arizona, Handsome Eddy in New York, Sweet Lips in Tennessee and Pie Town in New Mexico. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

What are some other U.S. place names with counterintuitive pronunciations? Tell us below:

See more:
A British Expat’s Guide to Living in Indiana
How to Enjoy the Super Bowl When You Know Nothing About Football
The 20 of Rudest Places in Britain 

  • http://americaletter.blogspot.com/ Mark Smith

    Albuquerque is my second home in the US :-) Love New Mexico!

  • Tony Richards

    I see you smartly left out any reference to places in Hawaii. ;) But most Americans can’t pronounce Haleakala either.

    • Devon Pakko-Lee

      Once upon a time as a child visiting Hawaii, someone told me to pronounce every vowel instead of changing the sounds when there are many strung together. I found that to be the easiest way to pronounce Hawaiian places without completely embarrassing myself ;) Haleakala was actually one of the first ones I learned to say correctly!

  • Julie

    Houston street in New York city is pronounced “HOUSE-ton”, unlike the city of Houston. “Guadalupe” can be pronounced either Gwada-loop, or Wada-loop-eh, depending on where you are and the number of Spanish speakers. Some of the most difficult names, even for American-English speakers, are the ones you mention that have American Indian/Native American origins. And then there’s Pflugerville….

    Favorite odd place names (all of these are in Texas, which seems to have an abundance of them): Dime Box, Uncertain, Cut and Shoot, Dumas, Happy, Bacon, Oatmeal, Muleshoe, Paris, Athens, Dublin and…London.

  • Pat

    Great article! There are so many Native American place names used throughout the US that get most everyone except the ‘locals’ mixed up and uncertain about the pronunciation let alone the spelling.
    I have always found it interesting that there are many cities (some are actually just small towns) that have what you would think would be easy to pronounce names because they are so recognizable but in fact are pronounced quite differently such as New Madrid, Berlin, Genoa City, Palermo, Lima, Delhi..and many more!

  • DianeR

    A good list (I will try them out on my British husband later). I would stress a few differently but that’s minor. While Houston the city is pronounced “Hyooston”, Houston Street in NYC is pronounced “Howston”. Almost all of the “non-English place names” you note are from Native American languages; those of us who grew up in New Jersey are very familiar with this. As proof, listen to Dave Van Ronk’s “Garden State Stomp” to hear an astonishing set of place names. Youtube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Da2oXDevxdg Placename “lyrics” in the comments.

    • Gesci

      GA’s Houston County is also pronounced “Howston”, like the NYC street.

    • fivetonsflax

      Dave Van Ronk and the correct pronunciation of Houston St. in one post! You must be a friend I’ve never met. :-)

      Now if Siri could just get the clue about Houston St. …

    • Paul Stonkus

      Here in MA, Houston street is also “Howston”, Mall street, is not like a shopping “mall”, but the Brit version of Mall as in Pall Mall. The native American names are up for grabs for anybody but a local to pronounciate.

  • Gesci

    Native Boiseans pronounce their city as “Boy-see”, with a soft S sound. It’s how they distinguish the locals from nons! And if someone asked me directions to “Rarley” I’d be quite puzzled, despite growing up in the SE US and having lived in England for a few years. If you must add the R, I’d write it as “Rawr-ley”, as the US pronunciation is “Raw-ley”.
    Then you have Pierre, SD- pronounced “pier”, not the French name “Pee-air”. And you could get into the local pronunciations of Louisville, KY (“Loovll”) and New Orleans (“Nawlins”). But most Americans from outside of these areas pronounce those as “Louie-ville” and “New Orr-leens”, as well as the hard S in Boise- “boy-zee” you describe.
    And then there’s the local pronunciation of my hometown, Atlanta- we tend towards “Allana” or “Atlana”… NEVER, EVER “Hotlanta”. Oh, and if you’re asking for directions, a major road is “Ponce de Leon”… pronounced “Ponts d’Lee-on”, although we do pronounce the explorer’s name in the proper French emphasis!

    • expatmum

      However, if you ask most Brits to say anything starting with “raw” it doesn’t sound anything like the American “raw-ley”.

    • Mish Mosh

      Never mind that Ponce de León is Spanish, not French. It’s pronounced Pon-seh (emphasis on the pon) deh leh-on (emphasis on the on).

      • Gesci

        You’re right, of course! And somewhere in the recesses of my brain I did know that… clearly it’s been too long since I’ve taken a history course (and never mind that I’m lousy with romance languages). Thanks!

  • Tattie Scone

    Other acceptable ways to pronounce Maryland, that will also make you sound like a local of certain parts, are Murland, Murlan or Merlin.

    • Toni Hargis

      See – if you direct many Brits to say Merlin, for example, the middle “r” isn’t pronounced and it’ll sound more like Muh-lin. . It’s a very difficult one to explain without giving an audio demonstration.
      Your point brings up a whole nuther discussion – whether to pronounce place names like the locals do (which may not be “correct”) or as they are supposed to sound.

  • dw

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_places_in_the_United_States_with_counterintuitive_pronunciations

    Locals pronounce “Boise” as “boy-see”, not “-zee”.

    I’d represent the pronunciation of “Maryland” as “Merriland” — in my experience it’s still three syllables. The mary-marry-merry merger means that American pronunciations may appear very variable to Brits.

    “British middle “r”” a wonderful way of describing an “aaaaaah” sound, though Scots may not have a clue what you’re talking about.

  • ukhousewifeusa

    Some Americans I encountered in the UK told me they were going via a place called ‘Loo-gah-bur-roo-gah’. After a while I deciphered that is was, in fact, Loughbourough…..

    • Toni Hargis

      OK, that’s a new one. Wow.

    • frozen01

      We had a visitor (American) here in suburban Chicago who kept saying she needed directions to “Wet-chun”. It took us ages to figure out she meant “Wheaton” (whee-ton). So we don’t just decimate English names ;)

      But yeah, that one is particularly bad.

  • Pacific Northwesterner

    Please folks, if you want to avoid the “fingernails on the chalkboard” reaction while traveling in Oregon, it’s pronounced Ory-gun, hard g, accent on the second syllable. It’s amazing how many Americans can’t even get it right! Thank you so much.

    • Toni Hargis

      This is how many Brits would automatically say it actually, but we’re thrown by non-Oregonians saying “Ore-gone”! (Our O would be more open though, as in “often”.)

    • reallyrosie

      nope, it’s actually more like “orrigin,” with a hard g and accent on the first syllable. i lived in salem for a few years; trust me, saying “orygun” annoys people to no end.
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WtAPSR6KNT4

    • Olivia

      That’s one of my pet peeves! Please don’t say Ory-gone! I just break it down like “OR-GUN”

      I was born and raised in Oregon, but my grandmother from West Virginia could never get the hang of all the Native American names in the northwest when she would visit. Molalla, Puyallup, Klickitat, Klamath, Tillamook, Willamette… The list goes on.

      • John Schrader

        No, it’s Ory-gun. Ory-gone is how outsiders say it, OR-GUN is a musical instrument.

        • Olivia

          Living in the Portland-metro area, I do not hear people say “Ory-Gun”. In fact, I never hear it pronounced like this in the state.

          I say “Or-Gun” like iron ore and it does turn the state into a homophone with organ. It may have been predominantly pronounced “Ory-Gun” in the past, but accents are changing in the region and the mirror/mere and/or the caught/cot merger is to blame for the dropped syllable and changing vowel sound.

  • :)

    PIE TOWN

  • ked

    I can at least help you with Kankakee, Illinois (yes, that Is Ill-I-noy, no ‘s’). It would be cane-cu-kee (like keep). Emphasis is on the first syllable!

  • Kate

    The pronunciation strangeness even varies from state to state–I’m from Kentucky, and people from other parts of the U.S. cringe when they hear how we pronounce Versailles (ver-SAILS) and Athens (A as in hay). I once coached a British friend on how to pronounce Louisville in exchange for help with some place names in the UK: LOO-uh-ville.

  • Mallory

    Thank goodness the Des Moines pronunciation is on there, I’m sick of people saying it wrong (many of them Americans). We have a few other places in Iowa that are different. Like Madrid, Iowa (MAD-rid emphasis on first syllable) and Delhi, Iowa (pronounced Del-high, not Deli).

    • Linda Muller

      People also have a hard time with Tama — TAME-a… y’know, like “tame a lion.”

    • Angie Poole

      Delhi, NY, is pronounced Del-high, too…

    • frozen01

      Des Plaines is always an amusing one. I’ve lived in Illinois for over 10 years and it still feels weird saying “dez planes”.

  • ixchelkali

    Cairo, Georgia is pronounced KIE-ro, but Cairo, Illinois is pronounced care-O, and Cairo, Missouri is pronounced KAY-ro. But Brits shouldn’t worry about it, because only the locals can keep them straight.

    New Madrid, Missouri may be named for the city in Spain, but they pronounce it New MAD-rid.

    Tucson, Arizona is not pronounced TUCK-son. It’s TOO-sawn or TOO-son.

    Lima, Ohio is pronounced LIME-uh, not LEE-ma.

    Lancaster, California is pronounced LAN-kast-ter, with the ‘a’ as in land. But Lancaster, Pennsylvania is pronounced LANK-iss-ter.

    • tpatt525

      I live in Georgia and we say KAY-ro…KIE-ro is in Egypt.

    • Linda Muller

      Also, Tucson is spelled wrong in the story… which I only point out as it could cause confusion in understanding the pronunciation.

    • Northeastern PA

      The Lancaster one isn’t totally true. I live in Pennsylvania (about an hour northeast of Lancaster) and I’ve heard it pronounced more the first way than the second. But then again most locals can’t pronounce any of the names so I might have just been taught wrong.

  • Mollie

    Nacogdoches is pronounced Nack-a-DOTCH-es or Nack-uh-DOTCH-es, with a long “o.” The word comes from the Caddo Indian tribe who used to live in East Texas. Locals often just call it “Nac.”

    • Sharon Stroud Broussard

      Still makes more sense than Natchitoches (Nack-UH-tish)!!! :)

    • Chelsea Alventosa

      This is very random but are you related to an Ann?

      • Mollie

        I have Anns in my family …

  • Levi

    Or, in South Dakota, the state capitol of Pierre pronounced “peer” not “pee-air”. Or the city of Belle Fourche pronounced “bell foosh”.

  • Northwoods Girl

    You’re putting the emphasis on the wrong syllable in Arkansas, Albuquerque, Birmingham and Syracuse, at least as we pronounce them in the upper Midwest. We stress the first syllable. We pronounce Raleigh as RAH-lee and Louisville as LOO-uh-ville.

    • hawkechik

      I suspect the way I say “Birmingham” (Alabama) differs from the way you say “Birmingham.” It comes out more like “BURmenhayam.”

      • John H Harris

        As my mother’s family is from that area, I was taught to pronounce the one in Alabama as Bir-ming-ham, with each syllable being distinct. By contrast, Binghamton, NY is usually pronounced BING-am-tun, in the generally-accepted Queen’s English way… though my father pronounces it Bimm-ing-tun.

        Of course, back when I was into ham radio, I had great fun when anyone tried to pronounce the county I live in. For the record, it’s Chautauqua County, NY (there’s also one in Kansas), and is pronounced Sha-TAW-kwa (hard K).
        :)

    • chocoshatner

      Those are regional differences. most of the country does pronounce it they way that the author listed it, but there are differing accents depending on region. I grew up in Miami, and all of the old time southerners called it, “my-am-uh”.

    • http://www.luminanze.com ebuie

      Their spelling “Rar-ley” works for Brits, as they use “ar” to represent the sound we characterize as “ah”. Think of an upper-class London accent and the way they say “darling”. :-)

    • Angie Poole

      I live in Syracuse. It’s “SEAR-uh-kyus” or some (but not all) locals might say something I’d spell as “Saracuse”.

      • Lauren11993

        I live in Syracuse and I switch between the two.

    • expatmum

      My in-laws (in Arkansas) emphasize the last syllable. It goes back to the question do we take the pronunciation from the locals or a more standard version?

  • cactusflinthead

    The two Texas towns that come to mind among the others mentioned already are Waxahachie “wox-a-hatchee” which Frank X. Tolbert maintains means ‘Coyote dung’ in Kiowa, but that is somewhat argued over. The other is Mexia. ‘muh hey uh’ mostly proper Spanish x. Bexar County is the same.

  • hotgeek88

    Louisville (Kentucky)>
    Leweeville
    I have to argue with this pronunciation. The locals call it “Lew’ville”. I actually got told off for pronouncing the “ee” once since my accent is clearly southern and I “should know better”. lol.Another Southern one is New Orleans which is pronounced “Nor-lens”.

    • Dennis

      New Orleans can also be pronounced Naw-lins.

      • frozen01

        Depends on what part of the South. Deep South is “naw-lins”. In Northern Florida, where I’m originally from, it was more like “n’or-lens”.
        But no one would look at you funny if you pronounced it phonetically.

  • Mandy Moo

    Tigard in Oregon is pronounced like “Tiger” with a D on the end.

  • Dennis

    Virginia has bunch. Buchannon (city and county) is pronounced Buck-can-non, rather than Byu-can-non. Staunton is said as Stan-ton, instead of Stawn-ton. Buena Vista is Byu-na rather than Bway-na. Pulaski is Pyu-lah-skee instead of Puh-lah-skee.

    And one from Tennessee; Blountville, which is pronounced Blunt-vil instead of Blownt-vil.

    Just thought of Cairo in Illinois. It’s pronounced Kair-oh, rather than the Egyptian way of Khi-ro.

    • expatmum

      Just found out that my American husband is descended from the Buchanons so I should take note.

    • PeterTx52

      and Maryville in Tn is pronounce Mer-vul

      • http://InspireResonate.wordpress.com/ Kathleen

        Hahaha, Thats right. You actually HAVE to mumble to pronounce Maryville TN correctly. :o)

        • PeterTx52

          and Baltimore is pronounced bal-a-mer

  • Hurricanehokie

    Too bad 3 of those are not correct.

    Boise, Raleigh, and Louisville have incorrect phonetic pronunciations.

    Nice try though.

  • dr k

    First, you’ve misspelled Tucson. And we pronounce Louisville as LOO-vul. Don’t forget Metairie just outside New Orleans; it’s pronounced MET-ery.

    • Viking

      There is usually just a hint of a soft ‘a’ between the LOO and the vul, but yours is the closest to the correct local pronunciation I’ve seen here.

      And don’t forget Versailles Ky, pronounced Ver-SALES

      • frozen01

        An “a” with a little curl towards an “l” at the end, like you’re going to say “loo-al-vul” but don’t quite get around to that middle “l”.

        But yeah, I always thought Tucson was “too-san”, not “too-son”.

        • expatmum

          For some Americans, it can come out sounding like Too-san, but they’re actually saying Too-son. A bit like Chicagoans saying White Sox. Sa-a-ax.

  • jstll6

    I have 2. Beaufort, NC sounds like BOH-fert and Beaufort, SC is BEW-fert. Confused the heck out of me when I went down to SC.

  • NC Chic

    We have a street that is spelled Skibo, It’s pronounced SKY-bo.

  • StaceyQ

    Raleigh is not pronounced Rarley…it’s pronounced Rahley. There is only 1 R in it!!!

    • http://www.luminanze.com ebuie

      This guide is for Brits, who use “ar” to represent the sound we write as “ah”. Not to worry; it’s correct. :-)

    • expatmum

      Yes, but most Brits don’t sound the second “r” so it comes out the same.

  • Casey Alex

    Cuyahoga County in Ohio… Even some Ohioans have no clue how to pronounce it!

  • chocoshatner

    My two favorites are Houston Street in New York (already mentioned below) and Kissimmee, FL (kiss-em-ee). You can always tell locals from tourists with those two terms. Newark, NJ (new-erk) and Newark, DE (new-ark) are also confusing.

    A lot of pronunciations are regional, though. New Orleans is pronounced “or-leens” by most Americans, but Southerners will say “or-lins” or just “nawlins”. Most people say, “my-am-ee” for Miami, but old school southerners still say, “my-am-uh”.

    • Angie Poole

      If you’re a local to Newark Valley in NY, you might choose to pronounce it more like “Nerk Valley” – often more of a joke than being serious, but it’s an honest jab at the way place names morph over time.

    • therealguyfaux

      I actually lived in New Orleans for a short while about 40 years ago, and while the locals all pronounce it N’awlins, the official pronunciation is “New ORR-lee-uns,” which is how the local broadcast outlets all pronounced it.

  • Normalite

    In Illinois we also have a Marsailles (mar-SALES), San Jose (san-JOZ), LeRoy, (LEE-roy not la-ROY), DePue (da-PEW), Pana (PAIN-uh), Secor (SEE-core), and I’m not even positive DuBois is due-BOYZ but I think so.

  • KFDTexan

    Texas has so many places with odd pronunciation, it’ll l-o” head. Amarillo is not pronounced like the Spanish word, but as “Am-uh-RIL-o.” Humble is pronounced “umble.” Dumas is not like the French author, but instead “DOO-miss.” Beyond that, when guessing, if it has a San, try a Spanish pronunciation and if it looks German it probably is German. These are Texas specific rules, though, and even then there are plenty of exceptions.

  • Steampunk_Gypsy

    If you ever make it down to Louisiana, just ask us how to say everything. Very little is phonetic. I mean, we have Natchitoches (Nack-uh-dish) and Tchoupitoulas (Chop-uh-too-lus), for example. Oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Calliope (Cal-ee-ope) St., vs. the instrument calliope (cuh-lie-oh-pee).Here’s a lagniappe (lan-yap) – a pretty good list for you all: http://skatoolaki.com/mimosatheme/funny/louisiana.htm

  • J.Harvey

    Gnawbone, Indiana…it’s pronounced Ga-naw-buh-nee.

  • IndyfromAZ

    Prescott, AZ . It is not “press-cott” unless you want to sound like some from out-of-state. It’s pronounced “Press-Kitt”. And another one I picked up from working in the Hotel business: Pierre,SD (apparently a local would say it so it comes out sounding like “p-air” or a fruit “pear”.

  • IndyfromAZ

    Another one from my childhood: Mackinac (as in the Island and the Bridge) in Michigan. It is not Mack-in-nack! It’s Mack-in-naw. :)

    • Aurelas

      You beat me to it! I just found out I’d been pronouncing this one wrong all my life. My excuse is that Florida is a long way away from Michigan. lol

  • JR48

    Handy hint: If the name begins with la and it’s in California, it’s most likely going to have a Spanish pronunciation.

    La Jolla is “Lah HOYyah”. Spanish for ‘jewel’. San Jose is ‘Saint Joseph’

    America has an amazing eclectic mix of names from many different ethnic backgrounds, as well as regional accents and thus pronunciation. Then there is the stuff that is just plain weird, quirky or funny.

    And it wouldn’t be just the Brits that have issue with certain names. If you’re from out of state, you can stand in front of a street sign and struggle with a name, just as easily as someone from out of the country.

    • you guys

      Have you ever listened to the BBC World Service? If you’ve heard a Briton correctly pronounce a Spanish word or name I owe you a drink.

  • BlackberryTea

    If you travel to North Carolina, the town of New Bern is prounounced NOObrn, as if it were one word.

  • thedoctorsgirl1

    Utah has a few odd ones in there too. Tooele is pronounced too-i-luh with a short “i” we get a lot of people asking where tooley is, Juab is pronounced jew-ab although it looks more spanish, Hurricane is pronounced Hurr-i-cun, Duchesne is pronounced Dew-shane, and Moab is pronounced Mo-ab instead of like moat with a “b” just to name a few.

  • driverdave134

    Near Rochester NY is a community spelled Chili, with the locals calling it Cheye-leye, ch as in chump, emphasis on the first syllable. One of our daughters lives in Oregon, which they pronounce Or-i-gun.

    • Angie Poole

      Chili is on my list of things places with ridiculous pronunciations, although Skaneateles is at the top of the list. Skinny-atlas, anyone?

  • Jenny

    Noel, MO is one, although I think more British people than American would get it right on first try. It’s pronounced like Nole (rhymes with Joel). Also Piqua, KS (Pick-way), Miami, FL vs Miami, OK (My-am-mee vs My-am-muh). Missouri is also sometimes a tricky one. It’s Miz-ZERR-ee not Misery. :)

  • JamesReb

    Kansas City has a few doozies. Lenexa (lynn-ex-uh) and Olathe (Oh-lay-tha) and Wyandotte (why-ann-dot) for example. Then again we have the tale of two Kansas Cities – Kansas City Kansas (smaller of the 2) vs Kansas City Missouri (the original KC before KS was a state and the major/bigger KC).

  • c0rtana

    Versailles Ohio… say it VER-SALES.

    • Jeremy Wessel

      Berlin, WI is pronounced BUR-lin

    • Aurelas

      wow…I never would’ve got the first 2 right! Even for an American our place names are difficult!

  • Cymru-phile

    Wahington state has a bunch (mostly local indian names/tribes). You can tell whos a local when they pronunce Issaquah, Puyallup, and Sequim correctly.

    • joris

      Don’t forget Yakima (easy, but subtle) and even West Seattle (!)

    • PNW transplant

      I love the fact that the ads for the Puyallup fair typically include a pronunciation guide for Puyallup.

    • John Schrader

      My all time favorite Washington town is Humptulips, its real look it up.

    • Devon Pakko-Lee

      Plus, there is NO “r” in “Washington”! One of my pet peeves is people calling it Warshington.

  • Andrew

    I wish they’d be more consistent with their French/Americanised pronunciations. For example, is Louis going to be “Lewis” or “Looie”?

    • frozen01

      Depends on what part of the country you’re in. America is a big place, with lots of variety in its historical influence, and if you think people from Missouri and Louisiana are going to agree on something like pronunciation… *whistles*
      Also, we like to keep you on your toes ;)

      • Andrew

        Been to Missouri and, frankly, I don’t see them agreeing with anyone on anything ;)

  • littlebirdhouse92

    Mamaroneck, NY is a fun one. Hint: it is not mama-row-neck.

    • Septr’d Isle

      British would say m’MAH-runuck

      • therealguyfaux

        It’s Muh-MA-ruh-NECK. (“a” as in “cat”)

  • Septr’d Isle

    The British already use hard G and the European (French/Dutch) pronunciations.

  • paperboy

    Actually, it’s BOY-see

  • Northeastern PA

    My area has great examples of local pronunciation vs correct pronunciation. Scranton (yes the city the American Office is set in) is largely pronounced as Scran-en in the area, Wilkes-Barre is called Wilkes Bar (though I hate when people say that). The t is largely removed from places names, as in Scranton, so Nanticoke is pronounced Nanny-coke.

    • Nicole

      What about Shamokin, Schuylkill Haven, Wapwallopen, and other wonderful names of central/NE pa?

      Actually a lot of PA has a bunch of fantastically difficult town names.

      Oh and let’s add Bala Cynwyd and Bryn Mawr for SE PA names. :)

  • Jaydesmom

    I’m in Missouri (that’s miss-OR-ee), here in the southern part of the state we have a town called Bois D’Arc clearly it’s French…but we’re not, so we call it Bo Dark.

  • ens

    What about Puyallup, and Sequim? Half the cities in Washington have Native American names and can be hard to pronounce! :)

  • Ashley Marshall

    Bexar County in Texas is actually pronounced “Bear” (like the animal)

    • Aurelas

      I would never have guessed that. I guess it does makes sense as it must be Spanish, though.

    • Allen Thomas

      Actually, It’s pronounced “Bay-har”. As in San Antonio de Bexar. (The Alamo).

  • bitzy

    The capital of South Dakota is Pierre, named after an 18th century French explorer who claimed the land for France. We can always identify the out-of-staters when they say Pierre using the traditional French pronunciation. The “correct” pronunciation is PEER.

  • Skip Flem

    In Connecticut, they have a THAMES River, and I’ve
    often heard the local town as GREEN-WITCH.

  • airish

    Versailles, Kentucky — not like the French palace, but Ver-SALES. Buena Vista, Virginia is pronounced Byoona Vista. Tuolumne River/County, Californina: too-ollumy.

    I would also correct your attempt at Louisville, Kentucky. It’s pronounced Looavul, and it’s a two-syllable word (verging on one syllable).

  • MontanaRed

    Well, this one is endless fun! LOL I’ll stick in my favorites:
    Montevideo, MN — not like the Uruguayan capital — is Monty-VID-ee-oh.
    Willamette River (in Washington State) is Wil-LAM-ette.
    Chilicothe (there are a couple, one in Ohio and another in Florida, I believe) is Chill-ee-COTH-ee.
    Kissimmee, FL, is Kiss-SIM-mee.
    Meagher County, MT, is pronounced Mar, after the Irish fashion.
    Absarokee, MT, is pronounced Ab-ZOR-kee — attributed to a postal worker’s quirky version of the town’s name, which just kind of caught on. The Absaroka Mountains, on the other hand, are the Ab-sah-ROE-ka Mountains, much as spelled.

    I could go on and on, but I really think we all do this kind of foolishness just to mess with outsiders’ heads.

    And I’ve been to both Upper and Lower Slaughter! :-)

    • Merano

      The Willamette is actually in Oregon (OR-ee-gun), but try this Washington place name: Sequim, which is pronounced Skwim.

  • Joe Fortunato

    I’m originally from Philadelphia, where we have plenty of pronunciation quirks. Two examples: In South Philly, from which I hail, there’s a street called Passyunk Avenue, which we locals pronounce “pash-UNK” Avenue. The smaller of the two main rivers in the city is the Schuylkill, pronounced, “SKOOL-kl” or, more often, “SKOO-kl.” (There’s also an infamous expressway of the same name.)

  • declan casey

    I would add ‘Los Angeles’ onto this list. Many British people pronounce it like ‘Los Angeleez” and I really don’t know why.

    • expatmum

      I’m blaming it on that CNN sports reporter of a decade or more ago who used to say it just like that but with a hard “g”.
      But no – Have no idea why we pronounce it like you say.

  • Tom Mac

    Worcester in Massachusetts is NEVER pronounced “Wooster” it should always pronounced “Wister” to rhyme with “mister”! Don`t even think of pronouncing it “Worchester” either or you may be lynched, just kidding but you will be laughed at to no end. Sorry for the rant but for those of us born and raised in Worcester,Ma it is an issue close to our hearts, hearing the name of our city pronounced incorrectly goes right up our spines!

  • jrex

    Couple corrections:
    >Arkansas: It’s AR-kan-saw, the emphasis is on the first syllable. You can even leave out most of the middle of the word and say ARk’nsaw or ARK-n-saw.
    >Birmingham: BIRM-ing-ham, the main difference is we annunciate the H. First syllable is emphasized.

    >Syracuse: SEE-ra-kyooz, again, emphasis on first syllable.
    > Topeka: Another one where you can (and most do) ignore some of the letters. It’s pronounced as T’PEE-ka; there is no need to say the toe part.
    >Tuscon: Mostly right, but the last syllable is more like sawn or sarn – like you’d say, aww isn’t that cute – not pronounced like the word son. TOO-sawn.

  • jrex

    I’ve always found this little tip about Spanish emphasis interesting, and it may be helpful here given that there’s a lot of Spanish in the US.

    Spanish words that end in a vowel or the letters N or S (which the majority do) emphasize the penultimate syllable. Words like bicicLEta or ensaLAda or mariPOsa are good examples.

    Spanish words that end in other consonants emphasize the ultimate syllable. Examples are usTED, habLAR, paPEL, EspañOL.

    Any words that don’t follow these rules have an accent mark to indicate where the emphasis is. See: coraZO’n / coraZÓN, teLE’fono / teLÉfono, JuA’Rez / juÁRez. (I left the ones with apostrophes there in case special characters don’t display properly for some.

  • PeterTx52

    “It’s pronounced Yose-emity” seriously. how about it is pronounce Yo-sim-ity
    Nachitoches, Waxahachie, Mexia, Seguin take a stab

    • PeterTx52

      and San Felipe St in Houston

  • http://InspireResonate.wordpress.com/ Kathleen

    I am from Orlando. If you go to Walt Disney World, you go to Kissimmee. Kah-SIM-mee. Not KISS-a-mee

  • Florida-Born

    Florida’s also a fun one to run though some names but most of them are so well known the only way to mispronounce them is if your accent is just too thick to make the right sounds. The rivers, on the other hand, are really fun to listen to non-Floridians pronounce. I’m only gonna list the 3 most commonly mispronounced. Partially because they’re the most popular rivers and partiall because after living in Florida for my entire life I still have trouble with some of the river names. The hardest to pronounce are the rivers that have received names from or based on Native American languages. Which language depends on the river in question.
    Suwannee River drops the u and elongates the a, pronounced Swon-ee (keep in mind the Swon rhymes with Ron, not won and for heaven’s sake don’t add a second n).
    Caloosahatchee looks more or less like it sounds (cuh-loo-suh-hatch-ee) but the emphasis is a bit of a trick, -loo- and -hatch- are emphasized but they’re emphasized on a down beat. Practice nodding down on the emphasis when you say it and you should be fine.
    Chattahoochee is another double letter trick. Most non-Floridians try and pronounce Chat-ta-who-chee. Yes, there’s a second t. No, you don’t pronounce it. It’s pronounced Chata-who-chee. Think of Bostonian “chowdah” when pronouncing Chata, they’re actually almost idendical, and think Gucci with who-chee but with less of a division between syllables. Emphasize Chata- when saying it.
    Wakulla Spings, while technically not a river does turn into Wakulla River and the spring is a popular place to go swimming. You can pronounce Wakulla the way it looks (Wha-cull-ah) but most Floridians will automatically file you under new to Florida. All that means is we’ll ask you if you need directions more often and remind you to drink more water if you’re out in the sun. Don’t want you to get heatstroke. But new generally means nothing bad. Some people will tell you you’re pronouncing it wrong because most Floridians (though not so much in Miami) pronounce it with the vowels flipped so it sounds like Whu-call-a (without the syllable division between -call- and -a but not like Ocala). Oddly, I’ve never met a Florida native who had to be told or taught how to spell Wakulla. Nor one who doesn’t pronounce it Wha-cull-a when spelling it out.

  • Florida-Born

    Florida’s also a fun one to run though some names but most of them are so well known the only way to mispronounce them is if your accent is just too thick to make the right sounds. The rivers, on the other hand, are really fun to listen to non-Floridians pronounce. I’m only gonna list the 3 most commonly mispronounced. Partially because they’re the most popular rivers and partiall because after living in Florida for my entire life I still have trouble with some of the river names. The hardest to pronounce are the rivers that have received names from or based on Native American languages. Which language depends on the river in question.
    Suwannee River drops the u and elongates the a, pronounced Swon-ee (keep in mind the Swon rhymes with Ron, not won and for heaven’s sake don’t add a second n).
    Caloosahatchee looks more or less like it sounds (cuh-loo-suh-hatch-ee) but the emphasis is a bit of a trick, -loo- and -hatch- are emphasized but they’re emphasized on a down beat. Practice nodding down on the emphasis when you say it and you should be fine.
    Chattahoochee is another double letter trick. Most non-Floridians try and pronounce Chat-ta-who-chee. Yes, there’s a second t. No, you don’t pronounce it. It’s pronounced Chata-who-chee. Think of Bostonian “chowdah” when pronouncing Chata, they’re actually almost idendical, and think Gucci with who-chee but with less of a division between syllables. Emphasize Chata- when saying it.
    Wakulla Spings, while technically not a river does turn into Wakulla River and the spring is a popular place to go swimming. You can pronounce Wakulla the way it looks (Wha-cull-ah) but most Floridians will automatically file you under new to Florida. All that means is we’ll ask you if you need directions more often and remind you to drink more water if you’re out in the sun. Don’t want you to get heatstroke. But new generally means nothing bad. Some people will tell you you’re pronouncing it wrong because most Floridians (though not so much in Miami) pronounce it with the vowels flipped so it sounds like Whu-call-a (without the syllable division between -call- and -a but not like Ocala). Oddly, I’ve never met a Florida native who had to be told or taught how to spell Wakulla. Nor one who doesn’t pronounce it Wha-cull-a when spelling it out.

  • Matt G

    This will throw a “spanner” into the mix – In NJ, you have Newark. In Delaware, you have Newark.
    NJ – New-work
    DE – New Ark

  • Kesian

    Natchitoches, Louisiana. Looks similar to Nacogdoches, Texas but not pronounced remotely the same. It’s pronounced “NAK-uh’dish” or “NAK-a’tish” depending on who you talk to in town. Important to barely touch the middle syllable. Both names are Caddo language borrowings but not sure why the word endings are pronounced differently.

  • Jj

    There is “Intercourse, PA” near Lancaster. Had to drive through just to get a photo of the sign! Love it!

  • WV1990

    There is the town in West Virginia spelled Hurricane and pronounced Hurr-ah-kin.

  • Michael

    I’ve found that you can pronounce Louisville several ways and its acceptable. I’ve heard it pronounced 4 different ways while actually in Louisville. Personally, I can’t stand the place and simply call it “The Loo.”

  • CJDeeds

    Actually Arkansas has two pronunciations. The river in Kansas is pronounced correctly as Ar-Kan-zes and then you have the pronunciation of the state full of backwater hicks southeast of Kansas.

  • Dominic

    I live in Northern Kentucky, home of Louisville. It’s not Lew-ee-ville, it’s Lulville (two syllables)

  • Trekkie Gal

    I dare them to give Oconomowoc a try. :)

  • Aurelas

    Florida is so full of odd ones that I don’t know where to begin. Hmmm, there’s my childhood hometown of Ponce de Leon. You would probably think that is pronounced in the proper Spanish way ,but no, this is the sticks, so it is pronounced about the way it looks, with “ponce” being one syllable–you don’t pronounce the “e” at all, the “de” sounding like “dee,” and Leon sounding like “Lee-on” or, depending on the speaker, “Lee-uhn.” Then there’s my current town, DeFuniak Springs. It is so easy to tell who has grown up in this area and who hasn’t by the way it is pronounced. The “correct” way is “Dee Fyew Nee Ack,” or, if you’re in a joking mood, “Dee Funk Ee Ack.” The latter pronunciation is kind of like saying “Micky D’s” instead of “McDonald’s.”

  • JJ

    Arkansas also has Toad Suck, Pickles Gap, Oil Trough, Fifty-Six, Smackover, Fordyce and Flippin.

  • Allen Thomas

    Beaufort NC, (pronounced Bow-furt) and Beaufort SC, (pronounced Byew-fort)……

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  • Erik

    One of my favorite place names: Truth or Consequences, NM. BTW – what are the proper pronunciations of “Glagow” and”Coventry?”

  • Lizz

    If I’m wrong, I apologize but do Brits pronounce the toe sound different than Americans? If not then the pronunciation of Topeka is wrong. I’ve grown up (still doing so) in Kansas and outside of doing so jokingly I’ve never heard it called Toepeka. It’s Tuh-peeka.
    This link is a good pronunciation of it.
    http://www.pronouncenames.com/topeka

  • Rebecca

    Louisville is pronounced in multiple ways. I was taught that it is pronounced Loo-ville.

  • Steel city

    Monongahela (a river that runs through, also an outlying suburb of ) Pittsburgh Pennsylvania is a Native American word. The other rivers an A LOT of towns around Pennsylvania are native words as well.

  • Mary Alice

    My favorite that most non-locals get wrong is Lutz, Florida. Most foreigners and Americans alike think it’s pronounced the same way as the ice skating term (rhymes with butts). The correct way rhymes with boots.

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