35 City Names Around the World You’re Mispronouncing
Sound like a native—or at least a savvy tourist—when you learn how to say these place names correctly.
City Name: La Jolla, California
For the native English speaker, this paradise in San Diego sounds absolutely nothing like it’s spelled (this tends to be a common theme among city names). Pronounced as “la-hoy-uh,” the name of this coastal community is of disputed origin. Whether the name derives from the Native American word for “holes” (due to its many caverns) or the Spanish word for “jewel” is up for debate, but what’s almost certain is that you’ve been mispronouncing it your entire life.
City Name: Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania
Most people who are not from central Pennsylvania pronounce the name as “wilks-bar.” While that’s definitely not the right way to say it, the correct way is still up for debate among its residents. Some pronounce it as “wilks-berry,” while others say “wilkes-bear.” If you think that’s tricky, try saying the most difficult-to-pronounce town name in every state.
City Name: Schenectady, New York
Part of the reason you may not know how to say the name of this county near Albany is because you are already familiar with a similar-sounding word from grammar school: synecdoche. A synecdoche is a rhetorical device where a part represents the whole or vice versa. The 2008 film Synecdoche, New York, doesn’t help alleviate confusion, either. For the record, it is pronounced “ski-neck-ta-dee.”
City Name: Budapest, Hungary
Did you think America was the only country with confusing city names? Buda and Pest actually used to be two separate Hungarian settlements, but the two were joined (along with the town of Òbuda) in 1873 and became the official capital of the country. It’s pronounced “booda-pesht.”
City Name: Shanghai, China
One of the most widely known city names in China is also one of the most frequently mispronounced. Many pronounce the name of the “Paris of the East” with a hard “a” in the beginning, when the correct reading is actually something more like “shahng-hi.”
City Name: Spokane, Washington
By rights, the English language would have you read this city’s name as “spo-cane.” In reality, residents call it “spo-can.” It is one of the thousands of towns and cities in America whose names are based on the Native American names that were in place before English settlers arrived. And while some cities get notoriety for their interesting names, these American small towns are known for even weirder things.
City Name: Marseille, France
French is a language with many silent letters, so it’s understandable that English speakers wouldn’t get it right, but that’s not enough of an excuse to keep getting it wrong. Depending on the region in France a speaker is from, it is either pronounced “mar-say” or “mar-sigh.”
City Name: Worcester, Massachusetts
Because of the way it is spelled, it is natural to assume this city name would be pronounced “war-chester,” but that’s totally wrong. A real local knows it is “wooster.” These are the hardest to pronounce words in the English language.
City Name: Newark, Delaware
Newark, New Jersey, and Newark, Delaware, are a great example of cities in the U.S. that share the same name, but if you pronounce them the same, you will get a sharp rebuke. The Newark in Delaware is pronounced as two separate syllables: “new-ark.” The city in New Jersey is said as one syllable.
City Name: Brisbane, Australia
Forget the letter “a” in Brisbane altogether, because Aussies don’t even bother pronouncing it. In Australia, it’s “Bris-bn,” as if there is no vowel at the end of the word at all. The city’s overwhelming population of 2.2 million people will thank you for saying it correctly.
City Name: Phuket, Thailand
Many foreigners take joy in this city’s name because they think it is pronounced just like a certain English curse word, but that’s wrong! In English, “ph” is typically pronounced like an “f” sound, but the correct pronunciation for this Thai city is “poo-ket” or “poo-get.” You better get the pronunciation right before you visit—after all, Thailand is home to some of the most underrated travel destinations in the world.
City Name: Versailles, France
Say “ver-sails,” in France, and you may as well just turn around and go back home right now. The true pronunciation is much more elegant: “ver-sigh.”
City Name: Des Moines, Iowa
Welcome to Dez Moinz, Iowa! Just kidding, but that is how many people do pronounce it. This is one of the U.S. city names that takes after the French pronunciation, so the “S”s at the ends are silent. The correct way to talk about this city is to call it “de-moin.” Make sure you read up on these 10 other U.S. town names you’ve been pronouncing all wrong.
City Name: Assisi, Italy
This is a great instance of how the same letter can be pronounced different ways. Some people are inclined to calling this Italian city “ah-see-see,” but the double consonants are pronounced differently than the single consonant. Instead, it is pronounced “ah-see-zee.”
City Name: Pyeongchang, South Korea
The 2018 Olympics were held in this famous city of South Korea, but most foreigners are still pronouncing it the wrong way. Americans tend to lay into their “a” sounds, making this city sound like “Pyung-chayng.” Koreans pronounce the city by essentially disregarding that letter altogether: “Pyung-chng.”
City Name: Bataan, Philippines
Read about World War II’s Bataan Death March in the history books and talk about it in history class the correct way! Bataan is commonly pronounced by Americans as “ba-tan,” but the correct way to say it is “ba-tah-an.” It may not roll well off the English tongue, but that’s the way it is!
City Name: Port-au-Prince, Haiti
In Haiti, the people speak a type of Haitian Creole or French. It’s no surprise, then, that this Haitian capital is pronounced like some of the other French cities on this list. In French, “prince” sounds more like “prance,” but with a somewhat soft “a” sound.
City Name: Cheesequake, New Jersey
Andrew F. Kazmierski/Shutterstock
Go ahead, even the locals laugh at this city name that looks as though it sounds a lot like a favorite dessert. However, the real way to say it is “chess-quick,” but no one would know that unless they were raised there or told. Like other city names on this list, it is based on the Native American word for the town. In fact, Native American languages influenced the names of certain states, too—here’s how every state in America got its name.
City Name: Boerne, Texas
This city in Texas is pronounced more like a Sesame Street character than an action hero flick. Welcome to “burn-ee,” not “born,” Texas. The name for this southern city is actually of German origin and is another testament to the fact that the United States has had so many cultural and colonial influences.
City Name: Raleigh, North Carolina
“Ray-lee”? “Rah-lay”? Nice try, but no luck. The capital city of North Carolina is actually pronounced, “rah-lee.” The bustling city is also known as the City of Oaks for its many oak trees. These places may be easier to pronounce, but did you know that were almost turned into official states?
City Name: Poughkeepsie, New York
Pronouncing this New York city as “po-keep-see” may be a good way to remember how to spell it, but it is definitely not the way to pronounce the word. Despite all of the confusing vowels, the city is actually pronounced, “puh-kip-see.” It is located roughly at the halfway point between New York City and Albany.
City Name: Nottingham, England
Americans will see “-ham” in the name of this English city and immediately want to pronounce it the same way the meat is pronounced. In England, however, it is pronounced as “notting-hm.” It is the same Nottingham whose sheriff the character Robin Hood so despised in his tales.
City Name: Edinburgh, Scotland
This city is another one that is pronounced with more syllables than it looks like it would be. It is not “edin-berg,” like many incorrectly state, but rather, “ed-in-bur-uh.” Check out even more stunning photos of the most beautiful country in the world.
City Name: Glasgow, Scotland
By the looks of it, the city of Glasgow would be pronounced “glas-cow,” with a hard emphasis on the last two letters of the word. The right way to pronounce this Scottish city, however, is “glass-go.”
City Name: Mérida, Mexico
Many Americans pronounce this beachy Mexican travel destination as if it didn’t have any accent marks, but in many languages, including Spanish, accents are extremely important. It is pronounced as “mare-ee-da,” and it is one of the best places to visit in the Yucatan.
City Name: Leipzig, Germany
People commonly mispronounce this German city as either “leap-zig” or “lep-zig,” but what is important to remember about the German language is that it is not a soft one. The correct pronunciation of this city in Saxony is “lipe-zig.” Some things just get lost in translation, like these international idioms that sound totally different in English.
City Name: Toledo, Spain
Everyone knows the city of Jerusalem as a point of religious convergence for people of the Islamic, Christian, and Jewish faiths, but Toledo also shares that distinction. In fact, Toledo is an official World Heritage Site for that very reason. It’s probably important, then, to know how to pronounce it. For the record, it is not “toe-lee-doh” but “toh-leh-doh.”
City Name: Porvoo, Finland
One of the first towns to ever be erected in medieval Finland, Porvoo still retains its ancient beauty. Modern visitors should be aware, though, that the correct way to pronounce the city name is “pore-vo.” The double vowels at the end of the city’s name aren’t pronounced as such.
City Name: Aix-en-Provence, France
Revered post-impressionist painter Paul Cézanne was born in Aix-en-Provence in 1839 and is one of the main reasons tourists visit this southern French city. The question, however, is if tourists know how to pronounce the name of the city when they get there. The correct way to say it is “x-on-prov-ahnce.” Whether you’re traveling to France or not, you should know how to say these popular French phrases.
City Name: Moscow, Russia
Just like the city of Glasgow in Scotland, Moscow, Russia is pronounced as if there were no “w” at the end of the name. If there’s a trend in this list, it’s how many well-known capitals get mispronounced all the time!
City Name: Beijing, China
The Chinese capital is pronounced the exact way it is spelled, and yet plenty of people still get it wrong. “Bei-jing” is the way it is meant to be read, but “beige-ing” is the common mispronunciation. This time it is OK to trust in the letters!
City Name: Kiev, Ukraine
“Key-ev.” Simple and to the point, right? Wrong. This four-letter Ukrainian city is deceptively simple. There are many disputes concerning how it is actually pronounced. Most Ukrainians agree that it is read as “keev” or “key-eve.” But before you book that flight, read up on the travel lingo you need to know before your next trip.
City Name: Cannes, France
The famous film festival that occurs in this French city always stirs up the conversation of how to correctly pronounce it. It absolutely should never be pronounced as “cahn.” The French would have you say, “ken” or “can.”
City Name: Leicester, England
The true pronunciation of Leicester, England is a lot like the pronunciation of Worcester, Massachusetts. It is not “lie-chester,” as it appears, but rather, “lester,” like the male name. The deceptive letters strike again! But these similar words don’t change why Americans and Brits have different accents.
City Name: Tijuana, Mexico
Americans tend to pronounce this city name as if it has a few extra syllables. However, it is not correct to call it “tee-ah-juan-ah.” Why people pronounce it that way is rather odd, considering the way it is spelled. It is just “tee-juan-ah,” and nothing extra. Back stateside, these are the funniest town names from each of the 50 states.