You’re Probably Butchering These Hard-to-Pronounce American City Names
Just as people commonly mispronounce certain first and last names as well as popular food names, they often butcher names of some unfortunate American cities as well. There are just certain places whose names elude proper pronunciation, much to the frustration of those who live there. You probably don’t even know you’ve been saying the names wrong. That’s OK, most other Americans likely are, too.
Here are 15 American cities whose names are commonly mispronounced — and never fear, we’ve also included the proper way to say them.
1. Lafayette, Louisiana
- How to pronounce it: laff-EE-yet
We bought Louisiana from the French, yet we didn’t learn to pronounce many of their city names properly. It’s not “Lah-FEY-yet” or “Lah-fay-YET,” as many seem to think.
It was named in 1844 after the Marquis de Lafayette, a French aristocrat and military officer who fought in the American Revolutionary War. Lafayette is the fourth largest city in the state and has been called the unofficial Cajun capital of the south. It’s surrounded by bayous, swamps, and marshes.
Next: Another elusive name with French origins
2. Boise, Idaho
- How to pronounce it: BOY-see
This is another French name we’re all mispronouncing. As tempted as you are to annunciate a “z” in the middle of the name, just don’t do it. Use the soft “c” sound instead. The city got its name from French Canadian fur trappers who referred to the trees there as “les bois.” Unlike many communities, Boise is completely walkable; you can hit its 17 museums and the historic old Idaho penitentiary all on foot.
Next: A neighborhood mistaken for a city
3. La Jolla, California
- How to pronounce it: la HOY-a
Residents of this southern California neighborhood die a little inside every time someone calls their community “La JOL-LA.” The Spanish referred to it as “la joya” which means “the jewel.”
Other than its elusive pronunciation, another common misconception is La Jolla is a San Diego suburb; it’s actually within the city limits, occupying seven miles of curving coastline along the Pacific Ocean.
Next: Don’t stress the kiss.
4. Kissimmee, Florida
- How to pronounce it: ka-SIM-mee
We head to the southeast for our next commonly mispronounced name. Don’t emphasize the “kiss,” but the middle syllable instead. While people debate the real etymology of the name, everyone agrees it is Native American in origin.
Kissimmee is home to hundreds of resorts and hotels and has been called the gateway to nearby Disney World. While you probably already knew that, we bet you didn’t know it was founded by cowboys.
Next: People just can’t this state capital’s name get right
5. Helena, Montana
- How to pronounce it: HELL-en-a
Don’t be tempted to mispronounce Montana’s capital as “hel-AY-na.” It started out as a gold mining town, initially called “Crabtown” by one of the early miners. However, later miners christened it with its now-official moniker, named after their hometown of Saint Helena, Minnesota. As the state capital, the city retains its Old West history, offering various art and history museums.
Next: A city named after British supporters
6. Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania
- How to pronounce it: wilks-BARRY
We bet you had no idea there should be an “ee” sound at the end of this one. Most seem to think it’s simply pronounced “wilks-BAR.” The Pennsylvania town was named after John Wilkes and Isaac Barré, who both supported colonial America. It’s is in the heart of the Wyoming Valley, which in turn is surrounded by mountain ranges and a river.
Next: A northwest city with a large population
7. Spokane, Washington
- How to pronounce it: spo-CAN
Even though there’s an “e” at the end, you’re supposed to act like there isn’t. Originally called “Spokane Falls” when it was founded in 1872, the city is named after an Indian tribe. “Spokane” translates to “children of the sun.” The second most populous city in Washington, it was the childhood home of Bing Crosby and is the host of “Hoopfest,” the world’s largest three-on-three basketball tournament.
Next: A pronunciation affected by local accents
8. Worcester, Massachusetts
- How to pronounce it: WUSS-ter
Contrary to the way the name is spelled, refrain from pronouncing it “WOR-ches-ter” or “WOR-sess-ter.” However, since the city is located near Boston, locals may let their accents loose and say “WUSS-tah.” It’s often symbolized with a heart, as it’s referred to as being the heart of the commonwealth. The symbol could also be related to the fact that Valentine’s Day cards were invented in Worcester.
Next: Even the locals can’t agree.
9. Louisville, Kentucky
- How to pronounce it: LOO-i-vul
It may be accurate to say 99% of Americans — even some locals, apparently — mispronounce this city’s name as “LOUEY-vill.” It would be hard to argue with them, you see, since the city is named after King Louis XVI (pronounced “LOUEY”). And according to local newspaper Courier Journal, some locals even pronounce it “LOU-iss-vill.” However, many argue the only city in America that should be pronounced that way is Louisville, Colorado. (Yes, it’s all clear as mud.)
Next: The “s” isn’t an option.
10. Des Moines, Iowa
- How to pronounce it: duh MOYN
Rule of thumb for this one: Don’t pronounce either of the “s” sounds, as in “des MOYNS.” Officials originally named the Iowa city Fort Des Moines but later shortened it to just Des Moines. It’s named after the Des Moines River, which likely was adapted from a French Colonel bearing the same name. it means “river of the monks.”
Next: A slight mispronunciation but the locals hear it
11. Bethesda, Maryland
- How to pronounce it: buh-THEZ-duh
As much as you may wish to follow standard pronunciation rules, don’t say “beh-THEZ-duh.” The city got its name from a local church — the Bethesda meeting House — built in 1820. (In turn, the church took its name from Jerusalem’s Pool of Bethesda.) It’s been called the most educated city and is childhood home to famous people like actress Julia Louis Dreyfus and singer Lisa Loeb.
Next: Not easy to know how to say The Big Easy
12. New Orleans, Louisiana
- How to pronounce it: new OR-linz
Many say this is the way to pronounce the name of this Southeastern Louisiana city if you want to keep locals happy. While other variations may be acceptable, never say “new or-LEENZ” (locals don’t consider that proper) or “N’AWL-lins” (a giveaway you’re a tourist). Perhaps the unique, true pronunciation of the name comes from the city being a melting pot of languages spoken by settlers, native residents, and servants brought there.
Next: An important place for electricity
13. Schenectady, New York
- How to pronounce it: ski-NEK-tuh-dee
Don’t confuse that with “See-NEK-ta-dee.” The name derives from a Mohawk word meaning “beyond the pines.” Dutch colonists founded the city near the Mohawk River in the 17th century. In Schenectady, a General Electric engineer demonstrated TV publicly for the first time, out of his home in 1928. Also notably, Thomas Edison started the company GE in Schenectady.
Next: A city named after a rat?
14. Boca Raton, Florida
- How to pronounce it: BO-cuh rah-TONE
While few people mess up the first half – Boca — plenty botch the second half and say “rah-TUN.” While the name’s literal translation means “rat’s mouth,” chances are the Spanish came up with the name for a rocky inlet near present-day Miami Beach. A big music star who originally came from Boca Raton is Ariana Grande.
Next: Just pretend some of the letters aren’t there.
15. Norfolk, Virginia
- How to pronounce it: NAW-fik
Some locals may argue it’s actually pronounced “NAW-foke.” And maybe they won’t be upset if they hear your “r” in the first syllable; no matter what you do, however, don’t enunciate the “l” in the second syllable. Norfolk is home to the world’s largest naval base and is the North American Headquarters for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
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