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.