While cities like Greenville, South Carolina, and Flagstaff, Arizona, are pronounced exactly the way their spellings would suggest, the names of a number of other burgs often get butchered because of their unconventional spellings and unique origins. Here's a collection of America’s most tongue-twisting towns and how to say them like the locals do.
Buena Vista, Georgia
Originally dubbed Pea Ridge, this western Georgia town later rebranded itself as Buena Vista—Spanish for “good view”—in honor of Major General Zachary Taylor’s victory in the eponymous battle of the Mexican-American War. While you’d be forgiven for flubbing the name as “BWAY-na VEES-tah,” given its Spanish origins, Georgians refer to this city in Marion County as “BYOO-na VISS-tah.”
Related: 10 U.S. Towns That Are Older Than America
Pronunciations are all over the map for this fast-growing city in eastern Kansas that’s home to an FAA air traffic control center and the GPS maker Garmin. Some refer to it as “oh-LATE” and others prefer “oh-LATHE,” but the correct way to say it is “oh-LAY-thuh.”
While the palm-lined streets and memorable sunsets certainly lend an air of romance to this resort town, it’s not pronounced “KISS-a-mee,” but rather “ka-SIM-mee.” The name is thought to mean “long waters” in the language of the Jororo native people.
Schenectady, New York
This town’s moniker is a variant of “skahnéhtati,” a Mohawk word meaning "beyond the pines.” The city was even featured in a 2012 crime flick called "The Place Beyond the Pines." True New Yorkers call this tough-to-spell city on the Mohawk “skin-ECK-tah-DEE.”
Related: What’s in a Name? The Origin of Every State Name in the U.S.
La Jolla, California
There are many reasons to be jolly in this San Diego satellite, including its sun, surf, and laid-back vibe. Even so, the town is pronounced “la-HOY-uh,” not “la-JOL-uh.” The name may have come from the Kumeyaay people’s characterization of the topography—“mat kulaaxuuy” or “land of the holes”—referring to the caves on the bluffs seen from the area’s shores.
If your impulse is to refer to Revolutionary War hero Gilbert du Motier, otherwise known as the Marquis de Lafayette, as “lah-FEY-yet” or even “lah-fay-YET,” you’re probably also garbling the pronunciation of his namesake city. The next time you're visiting Lafayette, Louisiana, make sure you call it “laff-ee-YET.”
By the end of the 19th century, more than $3.6 billion worth of gold (in today's dollars) had been extracted from this gold rush hot spot. But you won’t get a gold star if you call the town “hel-AY-nuh.” To win props from the locals, you have to call it “HELL-en-uh.”
Related: America's Most Colorful Small Towns
This Pennsylvania town in the heart of the Wyoming Valley was named after British and Irish politicians John Wilkes and Isaac Barré, respectively. Given the acute accent in Barré’s name, you might be tempted to call it “wilks-bar-RAY,” although the more common faux pas is “WILKS-bar.” But the actual pronunciation is “WILKS-barry.”
When fur traders asked a local Indian chief his name, he is reported to have answered, “Ilm-wh S-pok-ah-ne.” Their interpretation, “Illim-Spokanee,” went on to form the name of this Washington town. But while the lore may inspire you to pronounce the name as “spo-KAN-ee,“ it's actually “spo-KAN.”
Home to the largest naval base in the world, this Virginia town goes by “NAW-fik,” although locals might let you get away with “NAW-foke.” Whatever you do, don’t utter the “r”!
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