The Most Difficult-to-Pronounce Town in Every Single State
The English language is tricky enough without all those U.S. town and city names that aren't even derived from English. Before you butcher another pronunciation, this handy guide will show you how to say the trickiest town names just like a local.
If you can pronounce “Loachapoka” on the first try, then we owe you a “draught” (pronounced “draft” and rhymes with “laughed”) of beer. But seriously, if you’ve got issues pronouncing the name of this tiny town in Lee County, we’ll assume it’s because you aren’t from there—seeing as it has a population of fewer than 200 people at last count. Loachapoka is pronounced LOW-cha-POH-Kah. Check out the theme song for Alabama’s National Fair and more from the best state fairs in every state.
Alaska: Nunathloogagamiutbingoi Dunes
This tiny unincorporated municipality extends for three miles along the southeast coast of Nunivak Island, Alaska, which is part of the Bethel census area of the State of Alaska. The name has been referred to as “unpronounceable and unexplained,” and no hint as to its proper pronunciation is offered even in Donald Orth’s Dictionary of Alaska Place Names, which is the leading text on Alaska Place Names. Hey, at least it’s not Unalaska, Alaska, which although easy to pronounce, wouldn’t exactly roll off the tongue if you happened to be from there and were trying to explain your background (“Hello, my name is John, and I’m Unalaskan.”)
Here’s a prime example of the problem Americans face when they find it challenging to pronounce the names of cities and towns that have origins in other languages. From the looks of it, Sonoita, Arizona would appear to originate from the Spanish language (which in fact, is true), which might lead you to pronounce it as So-no-EE-ta]. Nope. The locals pronounce it as Suh-NOY-ta. Here are more interesting facts about all 50 states to learn!
Ouachita, Arkansas, refers to a lake, river, mountain range, and a county in the State of Arkansas (which is pronounced ARE-kan-saw, in case you were tempted to pronounce it like “Kansas”). OK, so it’s not a municipality exactly, but it’s known as the most mispronounced place-name in Arkansas. The correct pronunciation is WASH-ee-tah, which will come in handy if you’re planning a trip to the hot springs in Ouachita County, Arkansas.
The unincorporated municipality of Zzyzx is in San Bernardino County, California. It’s pronounced ZY (rhymes with EYE) – Zicks. Before 1944, Zzyzx was known as Soda Springs. Then along came this guy: Curtis Howe Springer, a self-proclaimed doctor and preacher, who founded the Zyzzx Mineral Springs Resort (he wanted it to be the very last word in the English language). Although Springer is known by the American Medical Association as the “King of Quacks,” his name for the place stuck.
Colorado: Crested Butte
If you’re thinking it’s pronounced like the city in Germany, you’re wrong. It’s actually BURR-lin, emphasis on the BURR. Located at the geographic center of the state, the land was originally known as Pagonchawnischage (a Mattabassat Indian name), so really, things could be a lot worse. Check to see which state has the most psychopaths.
Most people are familiar with the city of Newark, New Jersey, which is pronounced NEW-irk with a slight emphasis on the first syllable (locals often end up turning the two syllables into one: Nirk). But not in Delaware. In Delaware, it’s pronounced New-ARK. Put your state knowledge to the test and see if you can identify these states on a completely blank map.
There are those who believe it’s pronounced Oh-SEW-ee, and there are those who don’t even bother trying to pronounce it at all. In fact, it’s pronounced Oh-KOH-ee, which makes sense when you stop to consider that it’s located in the same area as Kissimmee, which is pronounced Kiss-IM-me. In fact, Kissimmee is just one of the 15 best summer vacation spots in the U.S.
Georgia: Buena Vista
Formerly known as “Pea Ridge,” this city changed its name to Buena Vista in honor of Zachary Taylor’s victory in the Mexican-American War. So, then what’s it doing on this list? After all, the name is clearly referencing the Spanish language. You probably can even translate it (“good view”). The problem is, not in Georgia. In Georgia, it’s BEW-na VISS-tuh. Did you know that after the war, Taylor became the 12th United States President? Here are some other fascinating facts about America you never learned in school.
This one might be more about spelling than about pronunciation, although that tends to mean that the way it sounds is nothing like how it’s spelled. And that is, in fact, the case. The right way to pronounce “Kuamalapau” is Kah-OO-mah-LAH-pah-OO, according to this guide to Hawaiian pronunciation.
Idaho: Coeur d’Alene
Coeur d’Alene (pronounced kore-duh-LANE ) is the county seat of Kootenai (KOO-tuhn-ee) County, Idaho, and the name of a Native American tribe that lived in the area and called themselves the Schitsu’umsh (it’s OK to say “Skitswish” for this one).
Coeur d’Alene (kore-duh-LANE ), another city, and county seat, this time Kootenai County. Coeur d’Alene is the name of an American Indian tribe who lived in the area and called themselves the Schitsu’umsh. They got the name Coeur d’Alene, which means “heart of an awl,” from French-Canadian fur traders.Coeur d’Alene (kore-duh-LANE ), another city, and county seat, this time Kootenai County. Coeur d’Alene is the name of an American Indian tribe who lived in the area and called themselves the Schitsu’umsh. They got the name Coeur d’Alene, which means “heart of an awl,” from French-Canadian fur traders.
This town in Illinois is pronounced Ben-ELd, and it’s not that hard to remember if you consider that the town is named after its founder, “Benjamin L. Dorsey.” Dorsey was responsible for acquiring the land on which the town was built. When it came time to name the village, he took the combination of his first name and his middle and last initial. If you find it hard to remember the name “Ben L. Dorsey,” then these memory tricks to help you remember names may be just what you need.
When you see the name of this Indiana town in writing, you might think it’s easy to pronounce if only you could figure out which syllable takes the accent. But you would be wrong. In fact, “Loogootee” is pronounced Luh-GO-tee, which has been described as sounding like something you cough up when you have a cold.
With a population of under 500 at last count, it’s unlikely that many people know that this town’s name is pronounced Oh-CHEE-den. There is a common misconception that the highest point in Iowa is the Ocheyedan Mound, but it’s actually 15 feet short of the actual highest point in Iowa (Hawkeye Point, with an elevation of 1,670 feet above sea level).
Osawatomie, Kansas, had its 15 minutes of fame after President Obama visited in 2011, and a couple of public radio hosts butchered the name. They apologized for not knowing it’s pronounced Oh-so-WAH-tah-mee. “No apology necessary,” commented one listener. “It’s a tricky word.” Here are 70 tricky words you’re probably using wrong.
In Louisiana, Natchitoches, the oldest settlement of the Louisiana Purchase, is pronounced NAH-code-ish. Don’t confuse it with the similarly named town in Texas (see below). Nacogdoches, which is pronounced NAH-coh-DOE-chess.
It only LOOKS like a palindrome, and that’s what makes it so hard to pronounce. You see, the “g” at the end of “Glenelg” is silent. So, it’s “Glen-EL”.
Ah, Worcester, you’re the worst-er-est. You’ve got so many silent letters, it’s almost like, why not just add a few more? A silent “x” perhaps right at the end, perhaps? Perhaps a silent “k” at the beginning? Then there’s the fact that so few of your letters give any sort of clue to how you’re actually pronounced. And finally, there’s almost no reasonable phonetic way to express how your first syllable is pronounced except to say that it sounds like the last vowel sound in New Hampshire. Alternatively, it would also be accurate to say that the first vowel sound in the first syllable of Worcester sounds like the vowel sound in the word “sir.” Here, just listen to this excellent rendition of the word, Worcester. And now that you know how to say the town name, you’ll be a pro at pronouncing the similarly named condiment and 16 more food names everyone says wrong.
Michigan: Sault Ste. Marie
When you arrive in Sault St. Marie, Michigan, don’t be surprised if someone says, “Welcome to the Soo,” because that is, in fact, how the first word of this town’s name is pronounced. The second word is pronounced “Saynt” (or “saint”). The reason for the “e” at the end is the town was named for the Virgin Mary by a French missionary, and the feminine of “St.” in French is “Ste.” So, say it with us: SOO Saint Mah-REE, and leave the “salt” out of it.
There are so many hard-to-pronounce place-names in Mississippi that it was hard to choose just one. But we chose Louisville because even if you know how to pronounce the one in Kentucky properly (LEW-wee-vill), or how to pronounce the one in Kentucky like you’re from Kentucky (LEW-uh-vill), it’s of no help at all. Rather, Louisville, Mississippi, is pronounced LEW-iss-vill. Nor does it help that Louisville, Mississippi, was named for a state senator by the name of Louis Winston, because that would seem to imply the French pronunciation used in Kentucky. In fact, Louis Winston is pronounced “Lewis” Winston. At least you probably know that the Mississippi River is NOT the longest in the U.S. But if you don’t, you can read about it here, along with other geography mistakes most people make.
No, it’s not a typo. The tiny town of Qulin, Missouri (population approximately 450 at last count) has no vowel between the “Qu” and the rest of it, leaving most of us to wonder: WHICH vowel?The answer is: none. The town of Qulin is pronounced Q-lin. Why they spelled it that way remains a mystery.
Not only is Elalaka, Montana, hard to pronounce, it’s also considered to be one of the strangest town names in Montana, joining the ranks with Crow Agency, Nimrod, Pray, and Two Dot. It’s pronounced EE-ka-LAH-kah. About 350 people call Ekalaka, Montana, home, making it a very small town. Speaking of which, these places are said to be America’s nicest small towns.
Like Montana, Nebraska has quite a few towns bearing strange names. These include Nenzel, Ong, Ord, Ayr, and Burr. But when it comes to difficult pronunciations, none can beat Cairo, Nebraska, which is pronounced CAY-row (not like the Egyptian city, which is pronounced KYE-row). Now, if you’d like a little inspiration, read about how this little Nebraska town raised a lot of money just to save one of its own.
Before we even get into how to pronounce “Winnemucca, Nevada,” we need to talk about how to pronounce “Nevada.” It’s Neh-VAD-uh. Pronouncing it Na-VAH-duh will raise the hackles of the locals. As for Winnemucca, it’s pronounced Win-eh-MUCK-uh. All together now: Win-eh-MUCK-uh, Neh-VAD-uh.
New Hampshire: Milan
Here’s another town that shares a name with a foreign city, which only makes it harder to pronounce. Don’t even think about saying, “Mih-LAHN,” like the city in Italy. The Milan in New Hampshire is pronounced MY-linn. Fun fact: When referring to something of low quality in New Hampshire, the correct term is “janky.” Here are more regional slang terms from different states.
New Jersey: Greenwich Township
New Jersey, being the Garden State, insists on pronouncing it as “GREEN-which.” And it’s not like there’s just one there in either. New Jersey has THREE towns that are known as “GREEN-which.” One is in Cumberland County, one in Gloucester (pronounced “GLAW-ster”) County, and one in Warren County. And if you ask them whether they care that New Yorkers have a “GREN-itch” Village, and that there’s a “GREN-itch, Connecticut,” you know what they’re gonna say? Fuggedaboudit.
New Mexico: Abiquiú
The correct pronunciation is AB-ick-you, which you might know if you were a fan of television’s Breaking Bad. Abiquiú was also mentioned in Willa Cather’s 1927 novel, Death Comes for the Archbishop. It is also the actual location for the opening shot of the film, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Other notable films shot in Abiquiú include City Slickers and Wyatt Earp. If you’re into pop culture references, check out which iconic movies were shot in which states.
New York: Schenectady
There are a LOT of New York municipalities that are hard to pronounce, but we chose Schenectady, New York, for slightly selfish reasons. First, one of us word nerds, and we’re not saying who, is a big fan of the film, Synecdoche, New York, whose title is a play on “Schenectady, New York,” where most of the film is set (along with the concept of “synecdoche,” wherein a part of something represents the whole or vice versa). Second, that same word nerd’s dad went to high school in Schenectady County, New York, and the name of that high school is quite a whopper, itself: Niskayuna (pronounced Niss-kee-YOU-nuh). By the way, Schenectady is pronounced Skin-ECK-tah-DEE.
North Carolina: Schley
Trying to be Sly, are we, Schley, North Carolina? Or is that just the way you’re pronounced? In fact, it’s the latter.
North Dakota: Palermo
Chalk another one up to the foreign cities that don’t translate. Palermo, North Dakota, is not pronounced like its Italian counterpart (Pah-LAIR-Mo), but rather, as PAL-er-mo.
The village of Gnadehutten, Ohio is in Tuscarawas County, Ohio, and is Ohio’s oldest existing settlement, having been founded in October 1772 by German-Americans. And that goes a long way toward explaining the name and its pronunciation: It’s derived directly from the German word, gnadenhütten, which means “huts of grace,” and it’s basically unspellable in the English language, although we give those founders an A for effort. The closest we can get you is ji-NAY-dun-huh-tehn. According to non-native English-speakers, these are the hardest words to pronounce in the English language.
What makes Pawhuska, Oklahoma, so hard to pronounce is that it kind of feels like something’s missing between the W and the H. Once you get past that urge to stick another sound in there, you’re left with Paw-HUS-Kuh, which is more a challenge to the mouth and the tongue than to phonetics. Here are some words that don’t mean anything like what they look like they mean.
Yachats, Oregon, is a small coastal city in Lincoln County. The name derives from the Siletz language and means “dark water at the foot of the mountain.” In 2007, Budget Travel magazine named Yachats one of the “Ten Coolest Small Towns of the U.S.A.” Now, about that pronunciation. Forget that there’s a C in there at all and just say “YA-hahts.” And speaking of amazing beaches, make sure you plan your next trip to one of these best budget-friendly beach destinations.
Shickshinny, Pennsylvania is a small municipality located in Luzerne County. It’s named after the Shickshinny Creek, which runs through it. And according to the Shickshinny Historical Society, Shickshinny means “five mountains.” While Shickshinny may not be the hardest Pennsylvania place-name to pronounce (for that, think: Lititz, Ephrata, Quakake, and Versailles, among others), Shickshinny sure does make for a fun tongue twister. But if you’re looking for a fun family weekend, look no further than this weekend itinerary for visiting Pennsylvania!
Rhode Island: Quonochontaug
Speaking of tongue twisters, try saying “Quonochontaug” five times fast. The question is: Do you know how to say it even once? Hint: It’s pronounced KWAHN-ah-kahn-tawg. Quonochontaug is a village that’s part of Charlestown, Rhode Island, which is located in Washington County. Looking on the bright side, at least Charleston and Washington County aren’t hard to pronounce. Check out the 17 company names you’re probably also pronouncing wrong.
South Carolina: Chechessee River
So many places in South Carolina are frequently mispronounced, that the South Carolina Information Highway (SCIWAY, which is pronounced “sky-way”) has developed a comprehensive guide to pronouncing South Carolinian places. As we scanned the hundreds of entries, we realized that while many were provided by South Carolinians, many were also requested by South Carolinians. In other words, even people who live in South Carolina don’t necessarily know how to pronounce some of these more hard-to-pronounce places.
For example, a reader named “Kate” requested the official pronunciation of the Chechessee River after having lived alongside it for more than six years because she had “never heard it pronounced.” Here’s what Kate was told by SCIWAY:
The Chechesee River is pronounced Chu-CHESSEE, with the last two syllables “sort of run together” such that really all the syllables end up “soft-sounding and fluid, just like the river that bears its name!”
South Dakota: Pukwana
The town of Pukwana, South Dakota is home to 285 residents and the “Puk U” bar. It’s not hard to pronounce once you hear it pronounced for the first time (Puck-WAH-na), but considering that it got this name after having been originally called “Carlton,” we felt it deserved an “honorable mention.”
Ooltewah, Tennessee, is pronounced almost nothing like it sounds. We could go on about the silent T or the phantom D, but, instead, we’re just going straight to the big reveal. The correct pronunciation is Oo-da-wah.
Remember we were talking about Natchitoches, Louisiana, which is pronounced NAH-code-ish? And we told you not to confuse it with the similarly named town in Texas? Well, here’s where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. The similarly-named town in Texas, Nacogdoches, is pronounced NAH-coh-DOE-chess. Really, it’s not all that hard to pronounce, at least compared to the one in Louisiana, if you remember that the G is silent. These are the 12 states that were almost a part of the United States.
You might have seen a reference to the frequent mispronunciation of the name, Duchesne, on Showtime’s Ray Donovan. Even if you didn’t, you still might have problems pronouncing Duchesne, Utah. Well, let’s just put all doubt aside and learn, once and for all, how to pronounce it properly: Doo-SHAYNE. It’s French in origin, and means “oak tree.” Don’t miss a visit to these strange roadside attractions in every state.
Considering that French roots abound in Vermont, it’s awfully strange that Montpelier, which is Vermont’s capital city, is pronounced as if it never so much as met a French person. Here’s how you’d say it in France: Mont-pel-YAY. Here’s how you say it in Vermont: Mont-PEEL-yer. Fun fact: there’s a Montpelier in Idaho, which is pronounced the same way it’s pronounced in Vermont (because it was named by Brigham Young, who was born in Vermont), and a Montpelier, Iowa, which is also pronounced the Vermont-way (because it was settled by people who came from Vermont).
McGaheysville, Virginia, is an unincorporated community located in Rockingham County. Just looking at it makes us cringe with the mispronunciation-shivers. That said, it makes us think of Matthew McConaughey, which is always kind of nice. Here’s how you pronounce it: Muh-GAK-eez, which is not even close to how it’s spelled. Speaking of spelling, see if you’re up to the challenge of spelling these 10 words that won the last National Spelling Bees.
West Virginia: Iaeger
Anyone want to buy a vowel? Because Iaeger, West Virginia has plenty. Pronounced as it is in West Virginia, it’s got only two syllables: Yay-gur.
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, is described by some as an idyllic and charming city with a quaint downtown and an abundance of lakes on all sides of it. What it also has is a name that no one who doesn’t live there can pronounce. “I think people could be intimidated by looking at it, seeing it all spelled out with a bunch of O’s,” said Oconomowoc’s economic development manager, Bob Duffy, to the Wausau Daily Herald. For the record, it’s pronounced Oh-CON-oh-moh-wok.
It’s been said that Kemmerer (KEM-er-er), Wyoming, is hard to pronounce even if you’re a local. Not being a local, we’re tempted to keep adding “er” at the end, just to be sure that we covered all of them. Next, read up on the wackiest laws in every single state!