America's Most Mispronounced Place Names

Houston Street subway tiles in New York City Gryffindor [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

First of all, it’s FROH-merz, not FRAH-merz. We know the double “m”s throw people off, but the last name of our founder rhymes with Homer, Gomer, and Matt Bomer. Here’s a rhyme to help you remember:

All the world’s roamers
Can count on Frommer’s

Ours is not the only name in American travel that frequently gets mispronounced. Sneaky silent letters, surprising spots to place emphasis, and Americanized versions of foreign words can trip up tongues from Albuquerque to Zephyrhills. For out-of-towners, nothing will separate you from the locals quite as fast as saying the name of their city, region, state, or street the wrong way. Impress them instead by learning the correct pronunciations of these 10 U.S. locales you might be mangling. 

And for international travel, check out our guide to saying Edinburgh, Reykjavik, and other tricky places overseas.

Pictured above: Subway tiles spell out New York City's most commonly mispronounced street; read on to learn the right way to say it.



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La Jolla Pier in San Diego Dancestrokes

In the name of San Diego’s posh seaside community, neither the “j” nor the “l”s are pronounced the way they usually are in English. Plus, the “o” turns into an “oy”—as in, oy gevalt, you’re saying la-HOY-a wrong!


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2017 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville Heidi Carpenter / Flickr

Locals don’t say Lewis or even Louie. Instead, it’s more like LOO-uh. Then they kind of swallow the last syllable like it’s a shot of Kentucky bourbon—less a vill than a vuhl (or vowelless vll). Put it all together and you get LOO-uh-vuhl

Pictured: the 2017 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville  

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Katz's Delicatessen in New York City Fernando Mafra / Flickr

Often cited as a source of tourist confusion, Houston Street in Lower Manhattan sounds nothing like the Texas city that’s spelled the same way. The latter was named for 19th-century Lone Star State soldier and politician Sam Houston, the New York City thoroughfare for Founding Father William Houstoun. We don’t know where that second “u” went, but if you’re headed downtown, be sure to ask for directions to HOW-stun unless you want to be pointed toward an airport.

Pictured: Katz's Delicatessen, a Lower East Side mainstay located at 205 E. Houston St.

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New Orleans parade Infrogmation of New Orleans [GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Don’t use nu-or-LEENZ unless you’re a songwriter desperately stuck for a rhyme with “beans” (cf. Jimmy Driftwood’s “The Battle of New Orleans,” performed here by Johnny Cash). The rest of us should go with nu-OR-linz. Steer clear of Nawlins, which ranks with Chi-Town (for Chicago) and Frisco (for San Francisco) among city nicknames loathed by the people who actually live there.  



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Oregon's Willamette Valley Sheila Sund / Flickr

That French-looking “-ette” suffix in the name of Oregon’s scenic wine region might trick you into giving the end of Willamette the stress, but, like an escaped convict, it goes on the “lam”—wil-LAM-et. And while we’re in the area, it’s OR-uh-gun, not or-uh-GAHN.

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Porch of the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Michigan Bill VanderMolen / Flickr

Cars aren’t allowed on this picturesque Lake Huron isle, and the final consonant isn’t allowed in the pronunciation of its name. Say MACK-i-naw. It's not the only spot in Northern Michigan that will give you trouble, either. If you travel on to the state's Upper Peninsula, you’ll reach the historic town of Sault Ste. Marie, a state forest of the same name, and, across the Canadian border, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. For all three, use soo-saynt-mar-EE, or “The Soo” for short. 

Pictured: the porch of Mackinac's Grand Hotel

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Elm Park in Worcester, Massachusetts Whoisjohngalt [GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

It looks like there should be three syllables and an “r” sound somewhere in the middle, but looks can be deceiving—and, as anybody who has pulled off a successful JFK impersonation will tell you, New Englanders drop “r”s all over the place. Go with WUSS-ter for this central Massachusetts city. The town was named after Worcester in England, so not incidentally, you'll pronounce it the same way there, too. 

Pictured: Elm Park in Worcester, Massachusetts

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Middle Bay Lighthouse in Alabama's Mobile Bay Pixabay

MO-buhl is an adjective for movement, and a MO-byle is a British person’s cell phone. The Alabama city on the Gulf Coast is MO-beel or mo-BEEL—it doesn’t really matter whether you emphasize the second syllable or not, just as long as you say it right. 

Pictured: Middle Bay Lighthouse in Mobile Bay

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Overlooking the Coeur d'Alene Resort in Idaho D.Taylor in Idaho / Flickr

Coeur d’Alene is well known for its lakes, forests, mountains, and recreational areas for water- and winter sports, depending on the season (the Coeur d'Alene Resort is pictured above). Less known is that Idahoans call the town kor-duh-LANE, which most assuredly does not rhyme with its sister city across the Washington border, Spokane (spoh-KAN). You can bypass the matter entirely by adopting the local practice of referring to Coeur d’Alene by its initials, CDA. 

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Hilo Municipal Golf Course in Hawaii Bruce Omori

All the vowels in Hawaiian words make them handy for crossword puzzle creators but often baffling for English-speaking tourists. Some common verbal hurdles in the geography department include the Big Island city of Hilo (HEE-lo), Oahu’s Likelike Highway (LEE-keh-LEE-keh), the island of Kauai (cow-EYE-ee), and Maui’s Haleakala National Park (ha-leh-ah-keh-LA). Consult a Hawaiian language guide or phrasebook for a fuller rundown. As for the correct way to say the name of Hawaii’s state fish, the humuhumunukunukuapua'a—your guess is as good as ours. 

Pictured: Hilo Municipal Golf Course



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