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Kimberly Powell

Place Name Pronunciations

By June 14, 2013

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Sitting in my Research in the South class at IGHR this morning, I heard our instructor, Craig Scott, talking about the "Yam-see" indians in lowcountry South Carolina. Yam-see? Did he mean Yemassee (YEM-uh-SEE)? Enter the Parlez-vous Palmetto? The South Carolina Pronunciation Guide. Craig's preference (YAM-uh-see) is actually listed first, but with many generations of ancestors buried in Yemassee area cemeteries, I have always heard it called YEM-uh-SEE. The SC pronunciation guide says we are both correct.

There are times, however, when I've been downright wrong. I still remember the first time I was talking to someone about my ancestors in CHOW-un county in North Carolina and was told the correct pronunciation is actually Sho-WONN. How embarrassing! I bet, however, that some of you have run into similar situations when researching your ancestors in new localities. When it comes to place names,  it is generally best to leave all preconceptions at the door. Beaufort, for example, is a place name in both North Carolina and South Carolina, named for proprietor Henry Somerset, the duke of Beaufort. Beaufort (BO-fert), N.C., carries the more historically accurate pronunciation, while in South Carolina they call it BU-fert. Pennsylvania is a state notorious for place names that aren't pronounced the way you might expect--just look at Schuylkill (SKOO-kill), DuBois (doo-BOYZ) and Versailles (ver-SAILS), and you'll understand what I mean. Even simple names like Carnegie create pronunciation controversies (for the record, I pronounce it car-NAY-gee).

If you want people to take you seriously when you're talking about ancestral places, take a little time and learn how to pronounce them like a native. Believe it or not, online pronunciation guides are available for a wide variety of localities. Here are a few to get you started:

Talk Like a Tar Heel: North Carolina Place Names

Arkansas Pronunciation Guide of Various Proper Names

Parlez-vous Palmetto? The South Carolina Pronunciation Guide

How to Pronounce Massachusetts Town Names

Maryland Placenames Pronunciation

Pronunciation of Suffolk Place Names

Wales - Difficult to Pronounce Names

Pronunciation Guide to Virginia Place Names

Montana Pronunciation Guide


June 14, 2013 at 5:29 am
(1) Randy Clark says:

My favorite: Meagher County, Montana.

June 14, 2013 at 8:17 am
(2) ~Kimberly says:

LOL! Definitely would not have guessed (marr) as the pronunciation of Meagher. I added a guide for Montana to the list – thanks for sharing!

June 18, 2013 at 1:54 pm
(3) Marilou Jacob says:

This is such a fun project. New Madrid, Mo is New Mad-rid.
Versailles, Ky is Ver-sales, Louisville, Ky is Looey-vull or Loo-uh-vull.

June 18, 2013 at 2:53 pm
(4) John says:

Pronunciation help for locations is a great. Is there a pronunciation guide for names?

June 18, 2013 at 6:56 pm
(5) Christina Gibbs says:

After hearing a few Wisconsin place names slaughtered during a recent webinar, this post is a great public service to the genealogy community! Here’s the site for Wisconsin:

A halfway decent pronunciation guide for everything Wisconsin.
(And by the way, please slap anyone who says WESconsin!)


June 20, 2013 at 6:13 am
(6) Daniel Muir says:

I like the idea, but Gaelic (Scottisyh Irish, Welsh, etc.) place names are the ones I find most difficult, especially those which have been anglicised. Samhchair is a case in point.

June 28, 2013 at 10:15 am
(7) Colleen says:

Interesting! It is good to know the ‘right’ way to pronounce locations.

Happy 10th Blog Anniversary! May you have many more happy posts.

June 28, 2013 at 10:28 am
(8) Grant Davis says:

Happy Blogiversary!

Regards, Grant

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