Why Do U.S. Cities Change Pronunciation from European Namesakes?

Monday, November 62 min read

As much as we like our independence in the United States, so many of our traditions (and especially place names) were inspired by other places in the world. In the United States, many of these namesake cities are rooted in immigration patterns, and they may also share a cultural or religious history. That said, just because the names are the same, doesn’t mean they sound the same.

On Word Genius, we’ve already pointed out the pronunciation differences in the American versions of Athens, Berlin, and Cairo (among others) — and there are multiple spots on the map for each of these names. Let’s look at even more U.S. towns that share a name with worldly counterparts, but pronounce it a little bit differently.


American cities in Ohio and Utah have borrowed the name Mantua from Italy, but here it’s pronounced “MAN-a-way” (the “t” is silent), as opposed to “MAN-choo-a.”


The South American country of Chile is pronounced in English as either “CHILL-ee,” or with a bit more awareness of the Spanish pronunciation, “CHEE-lay.” But the town in New York state named Chile is pronounced “CHAI-lai.”


There’s a town in Texas named after the country of Italy, but Texans drawl the name with just two syllables: “IT-ly.”


Italians pronounce the name of their city as “mi-LAN” or “mi-LAHN,” but among its many namesakes in the United States (in New York, Tennessee, Illinois, and Washington), it’s pronounced “MY-lin.” In Michigan, it’s “my-LINN.”


In France, the palace of Versailles (as well as the treaty that ended World War I) is pronounced “ver-SAI.” We already talked about the town in Ohio pronounced “ver-SAYLES,” but you can call towns in Illinois, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania by the same name.


There are Newarks in both New Jersey and Delaware, but they are pronounced differently: In Jersey, it’s “NEW-erk, while in Delaware it’s pronounced “new-ARK.”


The name of the enormous Eurasian nation is pronounced “RUH-shuh,” but not so in its namesake city in Ohio. Here, locals say “ROO-shee.”


Many things are named after the Austrian city, and some of them (including the city in Virginia and the brand of the Chicago all-beef hot dog) share the same pronunciation of “vee-EH-nuh.” Others, including the towns in Illinois and South Dakota, are pronounced “vai-EH-nuh.”


The Middle Eastern nation is pronounced “LEB-uh-nahn,” whereas the city in New Hampshire is pronounced “LEB-nen.”


The French may say “Pahr-EE,” but Texans say “PARE-iss.”

Honorable Mention: All of the Towns, Cities, and States That Begin With “New”

It’s not quite a pronunciation variation, but “New” adds a little shine to its namesake. In the United States, we have New Mexico, New Jersey (named after the Isle of Jersey in the English Channel), New Hampshire (named after an English county), and New York, which was originally named New Amsterdam, but was renamed after the British Duke of York in colonial times.

American city and town names beginning with “New” are too numerous to consider here, but include New Orleans, Louisiana; New London, Connecticut; New Bern, North Carolina; New Braunfels, Texas; New Prague, Minnesota; and New Madrid, Missouri.

Featured image credit: elxeneize/ iStock

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