Slowly but surely, travel is opening back up, and a lot of us are antsy to get on the road or hop on a plane. Before we do, though, we can take a minute to consider the names of all of the places we might want to visit and—a crucial question, for us at least—whether or not we even know how to pronounce them. After all, you can’t hope to plan your route (or is it “root”?) if you can’t say the name of your destination. To help you out, we’ve gathered up a list of American cities that can cause a tongue to trip over itself.
Note: Many place names have very old names, and their pronunciation has changed over the years or there may be more than one acceptable way to say a place’s name. Place names are also very personal to the people who live in or are from these places, so it’s nice to make an effort to respect how locals pronounce them. In this list, we’ve sided with the locals, so that you’ll have no problems fitting in when you’re on the road.
We are using the term “prevailing local pronunciation” to account for the fact not all locals may pronounce a place name the same way. We are using the term “common popular pronunciations” (instead of “mispronunciations”) for the prevalent pronunciations that are heard outside of a local area.
Need help understanding the pronunciations as provided in brackets below? Click here for the Dictionary.com Unabridged Phonetic Respelling Key. This chart will tell you how to read the pronunciation symbols.
Common popular pronunciations: [ wur-sess-ter, wawr-chest-ter ]
Prevailing local pronunciation: [ woos-ter ]
Our first entry is actually a double-header. Worcester, Massachusetts was named after the older city of Worcester, England. Worcester, England is located in the county of Worcestershire, which gives its name to the equally mispronounced Worcestershire sauce.
Common popular pronunciation: [ loo-is-vil ] among others
Prevailing local pronunciations: [ loo-ee-vil, loo–uh-vuhl ]
The “Louis” that gave his name to Louisville was King Louis XVI of France. The city was named after the French king out of appreciation for his support of the Americans during the American Revolution.
Common popular pronunciation: [ spoh-keyn ]
Prevailing local pronunciation: [ spoh-kan ]
Like many places in the United States, Spokane’s name has American Indian origins. The city is named after the Spokane Tribe of Indians, who still live in the state of Washington today.
Common popular pronunciations: [ noo awr-lee-uhnz, noo awr-leenz ]
Prevailing local pronunciation: [ noo awr-luhnz ]
The home of Mardi Gras was founded by French explorer Jean Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville as “Nouvelle-Orleans” in 1718. It was named after fellow Frenchman Phillipe II, duc d’Orleans, who was the regent of the French crown at the time.
Common popular pronunciation: [ tuhk-son ]
Prevailing local pronunciation: [ too-son ]
The origin of Tucson’s name is said to come from the language of the Tohono O’Oodham Nation. Specifically, the name is thought to come from a village that was called Stjucson, which meant “at the foot of a black mountain.”
Common popular pronunciation: [ duh–moinz, dez-moins ]
Prevailing local pronunciation: [ duh–moin ]
While we know that the city of Des Moines got its name from the Des Moines River, the origin of the name of the river is more mysterious. Des Moines has traditionally been said to come from the French for “of the monks,” referring to missionaries who settled there, but it may well come from the Native Miami-Illinois place name Moingona. According to the website of Des Moines, one possible translation for moingona is “river of mounds.”
Common popular pronunciation: [ ral-lee ]
Prevailing local pronunciation: [ raw-lee, rah-lee ]
North Carolina’s capital is named after Sir Walter Raleigh, the English explorer who tried and failed to establish the first permanent English colony on Roanoke Island.
Common popular pronunciation: [ moh-buhl ]
Prevailing local pronunciation: [ moh-beel ]
Mobile is the oldest city in Alabama and was the first capital of the colony of French Louisiana.
Common popular pronunciation: [ kiss-ih-me ]
Prevailing local pronunciation: [ ki-sim-ee ]
The name Kissimmee comes from the language of the Jororo tribe of Native Americans. In their language, the word meant “long water.”
Common popular pronunciation: [ puh–keep-see ] (to name just one)
Prevailing local pronunciation: [ puh–kip-see ]
The city of Poughkeepsie traces its name back to the Wappinger tribe of Native Americans. The name Poughkeepsie comes from the Wappinger name for the area: Uppuqui-ipis-ing, which translates to “the reed-covered lodge by the little water place.”