How Have You Been Saying These 15 Mispronounced International City Names?

city names

Have you been overcome with wanderlust lately? If you’re antsy to travel or are already planning a trip to a faraway locale, you might want to take a moment to consider the name of your destination. It’s possible that you may not even know how to pronounce the name of this city! As it turns out, even the most well-known cities around the globe can cause a serious pronunciation predicament. To help out, we’ve collected a list of 15 cities from around the world that often cause trouble for traveling tongues.

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 Unabridged Phonetic Respelling Key. This chart will tell you how to read the pronunciation symbols.

Once you’re done reading about these international cities, take a quick quiz to test your knowledge.

1. Phuket, Thailand 

Common popular pronunciation: A vulgar English phrase
Prevailing local pronunciation: [ pooket ]

Let’s correct this one right away! The name of Phuket comes from the Malay word bukit, meaning “hill.”

2. Melbourne, Australia

Common popular pronunciation: [ mel-born ] Prevailing local pronunciation: [ mel-bern ] OR [ mel-bin ] (Australians)

This Australian city was named by Queen Victoria of Great Britain after her good friend, Prime Minister William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne.

3. Beijing, China

Common popular pronunciation: [ beyzhing ] Prevailing local pronunciation: [ beyjing ]

The name Beijing means “Northern Capital.” It was given this name by the Ming emperor during the 1400s when the capital was officially declared this northern city. The old capital was named Nanjing, meaning “Southern Capital.”

4. Montreal, Canada

Common popular pronunciation: [ mawn-tree-awl ] Prevailing local pronunciation: [ mawn-re-awl ] (the T is silent in French)

According to one popular theory, Montreal was named by French explorer Jacques Cartier. Cartier gave the name mont Royal to the mountain sitting near the location of the future city. Over time, a variation of this name would be used to refer to the city itself.

Visiting Canada, eh? Then add these Canadian regionalisms to your lingo.

5. Versailles, France

Common popular pronunciation: [ ver-sails ] Prevailing local pronunciation: [ ver-sahy ]

The French town of Versailles is best known for the beautiful Palace of Versailles, a national landmark that was once home to the French kings.

6. Nice, France

Common popular pronunciation: [ nahys ] Prevailing local pronunciation: [ nees ]

Founded by the ancient Greeks, it is thought that Nice’s name comes from the Greek word nikē, meaning “victory.”

7. Seoul, Korea

Common popular pronunciation: [ see-ohl ] Prevailing local pronunciation: [ sohl ]

Seoul is the capital of South Korea, and the name actually means “capital” in Korean.

Ride the Korean Wave by learning some helpful Korean vocabulary.

8. Greenwich, England

Common popular pronunciation: [ green-wich ] Prevailing local pronunciation: [ gren-ich ]

As you might expect, the English town of Greenwich, shares its name with Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). The Royal Observatory is located there, and the prime meridian line passes right through Greenwich.

9. Edinburgh, Scotland

Common popular pronunciations: [ ed-n-burg ], [ ed-n-bur-oh ] Prevailing local pronunciation: [ ed-n-bur-uh ] OR [ ed-n-bruh ] (British)

Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland. Edinburgh’s name is said to come from Din Eidyn (“Fort Eidyn”), the name given the area in a poem dating back to the 6th century. According to another popular theory, the name originates from Old English and means “Edwin’s Fort.” Edwin is thought to refer to King Edwin of Northumbria, even though King Edwin never lived in the area.

10. Budapest, Hungary

Common popular pronunciation: [ buh-duh-pest ] Prevailing local pronunciation: [ boo-duhpest ] OR [ boo-do-pesht ] (Hungarian)

The origin of Budapest’s name is simple enough: it comes from the names of the cities Buda and Pest who, along with the city Óbuda, united to become a single city. However, where Buda and Pest got their names is unknown.

11. Tijuana, Mexico

Common popular pronunciation: [ tee-uhwah-nuh ] Prevailing local pronunciation: [ tee-hwah-nah ]

There are lots of theories as to where Tijuana’s name came from. A popular theory says that the city was named for an actual woman called “Tía Juana (Aunt Juana)” who was a legendary cook.

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12. Ibiza, Spain

Common popular pronunciation: [ ih-bee-zuh ] Prevailing local pronunciation: [ ee-vee-thah, ee-vee-sa ]

This popular Spanish island has a long history and has had many different names. Way back in the 7th century BCE, the Carthiginians named a town on the island Ibosim. It is commonly said that the English name Ibiza was derived from the Arabic name Yabisa/Yabisah used by the Moors.

13. Moscow, Russia

Common popular pronunciation: [ mos-kou ] Prevailing local pronunciation: [ mos-koh ]

We know that the city of Moscow got its name from the Moskva river. But where did the river get its name from? While nobody knows for sure, a popular theory is that the river’s name derives from the Finno-Urgic language.

14. Tokyo, Japan

Common popular pronunciation: [ toh-kee-oh ] Prevailing local pronunciation: [ taw-kyaw ]

The name Tokyo literally translates to “Eastern Capital.” Originally known as Edo when it was the capital of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the city was renamed Tokyo after it became the new capital of Japan during the Meiji Restoration.

15. Buenos Aires, Argentina

Common popular pronunciations: [ bwey-nuhs ahyuhr-iz ], [ boh-nuhs ahyuhr-iz ] Prevailing local pronunciation: [ bwe-naws ahy-res ]

The city of Buenos Aires was named by Spanish explorer Pedro de Mendoza. The name translates to “fair winds” or “good airs.” Originally, the small port city had the much longer name of Puerto de Nuestra Señora Santa María del Buen Aire.

There are plenty of US cities that get mispronounced, too! Read about 10 of them here!

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