- Many place names are pronounced differently by locals and outsiders.
- They include places like New Orleans, Oregon, and Detroit.
- We found 17 of the most frequently mispronounced place names and broke down how locals say them.
It’s not always obvious how to pronounce the names of some places in the United States.
And there’s no easier way to give yourself away as an outsider than by pronouncing a city or state’s name differently than how the locals do.
Getting a place’s name right isn’t just a matter of linguistic quibbling. It can help you fit in, get around, and in extreme cases, it can even shape elections.
We found 14 or the most frequently mispronounced place names in the United States – are you saying them like a local?
If you’re visiting Nevada, make sure you pronounce it with an “ad” in the middle, not an “odd.”
Even though “nuh-VAH-da” is closer to the original Spanish the name comes from, most locals in the Silver State pronounce it “nuh-VAD-uh.”
The consequences for mispronouncing the state’s name can be dire: George W. Bush got roasted for getting it wrong in a 2003 speech in Reno, and Donald Trump got it even worse when he butchered the name in 2013.
Mobile, Alabama’s name isn’t pronounced “MO-bull” or “MO-bill” or “MO-beel.”
Locals know that you have to place the emphasis on the second syllable: “mo-BEEL” is what they go with.
As the University of Portland informs students on its website, the state of Oregon is pronounced “ORE-uh-gin,” with the back half sounding like “begin.” Definitely not “gone,” despite what some outsiders may say.
Around the country, the most common way to pronounce Michigan’s most populous city is “duh-TROIT,” with the emphasis on the “troit.” But a significant number of locals switch the emphasis to the first syllable, saying “DEE-troit.”
It’s hard to find any consensus on the proper way to pronounce Louisville, but locals will tell you it’s definitely not “loo-ee-vill.”
More acceptable than that are “loo-uh-vill” and “loo-uh-vuhl.” If you can condense the name to somewhere in between two and three syllables, then you’ve hit the sweet spot.
The Massachusetts town of Worcester has just two syllables in its name: locals call it “wuss-ter.”
Saying that should be easy for any lovers of Worcestershire sauce, named after an English county with the same pronunciation.
You may have heard the proper way to pronounce New Orleans is “NAW-lins,” but locals will tell you that’s not the case. “New Or-LEENZ,” with a long E sound, is also off the mark.
Although many people pronounce the name of Idaho’s capital “boy-zee,” the local preference is “boy-see.”
Fox News once called Spokane the most mispronounced city name in the United States. As any self-respecting Spokanite will tell you, it’s pronounced “spo-can,” not “spo-cane.”
Mackinac Island, Michigan
In between Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas you’ll find Mackinac Island.
Although Mackinac Island preserved the original spelling, nearby Mackinaw City opted to change the C to a W to make saying its name easier.
There are at least seven different places named Norfolk in the US, and it seems almost all of them have different pronunciations.
The biggest of the Norfolks, in Virginia, is usually pronounced “Nor-fuhk” by locals. Other Norfolks, like the one in New York, go by “Nor-fork,” while the one in Connecticut can be pronounced “Nor-fick,” “fork,” “folk,” and even a few other ways.
Prescott, Arizona’s name is such a sore subject that the Phoenix New Times called it “one of the oldest debates in Arizona.”
Although most outsiders, and apparently some locals, pronounce the town’s name “press-cot,” it seems the preferred pronunciation is “press-kit.”
The small town of Cairo in southern Illinois was named after Egypt’s capital, but it didn’t import the pronunciation – locals call their town “kay-ro,” like the letter K.
Houston Street, New York City
Don’t let the big city in Texas trip you up here: New Yorkers know that the first syllable of Manhattan’s Houston Street sounds like “how.”
The reason for the discrepancy is simple: Houston Street and Houston, Texas, were named after two different people who pronounced their names differently. The city was named after political icon Sam Houston, while the street was named after lawyer William Houston.
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