My maiden name is (well, was) one that’s pronounced exactly as it’s spelled. But more people mispronounced it than said it correctly, usually because, believe it or not, they imagined letters in it that weren’t there. My married name is also pronounced exactly the same as it’s spelled, but it contains an unusual grouping of letters in the U.S., and apparently stumps a lot of people…they either use the alternate sounds of some of the vowels, or switch some of the consonants.
When you talk about names of cities in other countries, you may have even more issues going against you – certain letters are pronounced differently in other countries from how we pronounce them.
But still, if you’re going to visit a city, the least you can do is pronounce it correctly. Here are 19 cities outside the U.S. that we Americans usually don’t pronounce correctly.
Located in Central Italy. Assisi is believed to be the birthplace of the Latin poet Propertius, along with St. Francis (founder of the Franciscan religious order) and St. Clare.
UNESCO designated the the Franciscan structures of Assisi as a World Hertitage Site in 2000.
As we Americans know, sometimes the same letter can be pronounced differently. Assisi is a great example. Most of us pronounce it “Uh-SEE-see.” But the correct pronunciation is “Ah-SEE-zee.”
Bataan is officially known as the Province of Bataan. The city was a fairly large player in World Wat II.
Americans tend to pronounce the city as “Ba-TAN.” In the Philippines, that double “a” is pronounced as two letters, so it’s actually pronounced, “Ba-TAH-ahn.”
Brisbane is the capital of Queensland and the third-most populous city in Australia. The city is also sometimes known as Meanjin, which is its Aboriginal name.
Brisbane is also grossly mispronounced by Americans. We tend to say BRIZ-bane. But Australians that “a” in the 2nd syllable takes more of an “eh” sound, so they call it “BRIZ-behn.”
Until the mid-late 19th century, Buda and Pest used to be two separate Hungarian settlements. However the two were joined (along with the town of Òbuda) in 1873 and became the official capital of the country.
We tend to pronounce Budapest as it’s spelled. However in Hungarian, the city is pronounced “BOO-da-pesht.”
Located on the Fench Riviera and known for its famous film festival, the name of the town is also frequently mispronounced.
Americans tend to say “Cans” or “Cahns.” It’s neither. The “es” is silent and the “n” at the end must be emphasized. It’s “Cahnuh.”
Edinburgh has been the capital of Scotland since at least the 15th century. Looming over the city is Edinburgh Castle, home to Scotland’s crown jewels and the Stone of Destiny, used in the coronation of Scottish rulers.
Most Americans tend to pronounce Edinburgh as “EH-din-burg.” If you asked a Scot though, they’d tell you you’re wrong (or in Scots Gaelic, “Tha thu ceàrr.” The correct pronunciation is “EH-din-bur-uh.”
Greenwich is a borough in London, The town, of course, shares its name with Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). The Royal Observatory is located there, and the prime meridian line passes right through Greenwich.
You may want to pronounce the city name as “GREEN-wich.” You could…but you’d be wrong. It’s pronounced “GREN-itch.” The “w” is silent.
Kyiv (Kiev), Ukraine
Thanks to the 1980 musical comedy, A Day in Hollywood, A Night in the Ukraine, a lot of Americans thought that’s how the country was known. The Ukraine. Just like The Bahamas and yep, The United States of America. But nope. It’s just Ukraine.
Once Ukraine’s war with Russia started, it came out that the name “Kiev” is now associated with the “Russification” of Ukraine. So Ukraine would rather go by the Ukrainian spelling of Kyiv.
However pronunciation matters, too. Pronouncing the Ukrainian city as “KEE-yev” is a Russian take on the city’s name. Ukrainians call it “KEE-ef.” The way you say it can be interpreted as a political statement nowadays, so pronunciation is pretty significant right now.
Leipzig is a major intellectual and cultural center. The University of Leipzig dates from 1409. Leipzig has many museums, and its academies of dramatic art, musical history, graphic arts, and bookmaking are internationally known.
Americans commonly mispronounce this German city as either “LEAP-zig” or “LEP-zig,” but remember, this is German – it’s not a soft language. The correct pronunciation of this city in Saxony is “LIPE-zigh.”
Melbourne is the coastal capital of the southeastern Australian state of Victoria. At the city’s center is the modern Federation Square development, with plazas, bars, and restaurants by the Yarra River. In the Southbank area, the Melbourne Arts Precinct is the site of Arts Centre Melbourne – a performing arts complex – and the National Gallery of Victoria, with Australian and indigenous art.
Americans are familiar with the word “born” and use it in their pronunciation of this city. “MEL-born.” However Australians call it “MEL-bin.”
Montréal is the largest city in Canada’s Québec province. It’s set on an island in the Saint Lawrence River and named after Mt. Royal, the triple-peaked hill at its heart. Its boroughs, many of which were once independent cities, include neighborhoods ranging from cobblestoned, French colonial Vieux-Montréal – with the Gothic Revival Notre-Dame Basilica at its centre – to bohemian Plateau.
Americans pronounce Montreal as they see it, “Mon-tree-ALL.” But because the area is home to French Canadians, the proper pronunciation while there is “MAWN-ree-al.”
Established in the year 1068 and located in the East Midlands, Nottingham is a major sports center. And yes, Sherwood Forest is on its north side.
The United States got its start by people breaking off from England, so you’d think we’d pronounce English city names correctly. We don’t. Whereas we say it the way it’s spelled, complete with “ham” at the end, the correct pronunciation is “NOHT-ing-em.”
Mérida is the capital city of the Mexican state of Yucatán, and the largest city in southeastern Mexico. The city has a rich cultural heritage and is often considered to be the safest city in Mexico and one of the safest cities in the Americas.
Sometimes it’s not the pronunciation as much as the emphasis on syllables that give us problems. Most Americans (especially those who are not of Hispanic descent or influence) would put the emphasis on the middle syllable. “Meh-REE-dah.” Nope. Because of the accent mark, it should be pronounced “MEH-ree-dah.”
The capital of Haiti literally means “Port with the Prince” (but no one knows what prince they mean).
People in Haiti speak Haitian Creole or French, so, of course, their pronunciation has a French lilt to it. Instead of how we Americans would say it, with the words “Port” and “Price” with an “ah,” or even “oh” in between, Haitians pronounce it “Pohw-au-PAHNCE.”
An American would probably pronounce the name of this city as they see it, with an “oo” sound at the end, like we say “glue” or “boo.” However in Finnish, the double vowel is still pronounced how we would pronounce an “o” as is “doe” or “go.” And the “r” is rolled, too.” It’s “POUR-voh”
Phuket consists of the island of Phuket, along with another 32 islands off its coast. In Thailand’s very early years, Phuket was actually known as Thalang. That name was derived from the old Malay Telong, which means “cape.”
Americans pronounce Phuket in a variety of ways that may or may not include an F bomb in it. Some people pronounce the ‘u” as we pronounce a double “o,” as in “boo” or “glue” – that part is correct. However the correct pronunciation includes the “ph” sounding like a “p,” and a very soft “t”. “Poo-KEHt”
Originally a fishing village and market town, Shanghai grew in importance in the 19th century due to both domestic and foreign trade and its favorable port location.
We tend to pronounce Shanghai with a hard “a” in the first syllable. However in Standard Mandarin, that “a” is softer and it’s pronounced “SHAHNG-hai.”
Tijuana is a border city in Mexico, just south of California. Its bustling main street, Avenida Revolución, is lined with souvenir shops and lively bars. Landmarks include the neoclassical Jai Alai Frontón palace and Centro Cultural Tijuana, a modern cultural complex in the Zona Río district. Throughout town, stadiums stage lucha libre (wrestling) matches, while the nearby city of Rosarito fronts sandy beaches.
Americans who are not of Hispanic descent or influence tend to call this city “Tee-ooh-WAH-ah.” SO close…but they’re adding a syllable in there that doesn’t exist. It’s “Tee-HWAH-ah.”
Toledo is an ancient city set on a hill above the plains of Castilla-La Mancha in central Spain. The capital of the region, it’s known for the medieval Arab, Jewish and Christian monuments in its walled old city. It was also the former home of Mannerist painter El Greco. The Moorish Bisagra Gate and the Sol Gate, in Mudéjar style, open into the old quarter, where the Plaza de Zocodover is a lively meeting place.
It’s unfortunate for Toledo, Spain that we have a Toledo, Ohio in the U.S. If we didn’t, we might pronounce the Spanish city correctly – “Toh-LEH-doh.”
Not just international cities
The funny thing is, it’s not just cities outside the U.S. that Americans mispronounce. They can butcher the names of U.S. cities, too!
- Boerne, TX
- Butte, MT
- Coeur d’Alene, ID
- Des Moines, IA
- Gruene, TX
- Hilo, HI
- Kissimmee, FL
- La Jolla, CA
- Lafayette, LA
- Lancaster, PA
- Louisville, KY
- New Orleans, LA
- Mackinac Island, MI
- Mobile, AL
- Norfolk, VA
- Pierre, SD
- Poughkeepsie, NY
- Puyallup, WA
- Sequim, WA
- Sevierville, TN
- Spokane, WA
- Terre Haute, IN
- Tripoli, IA
- Tucson, AZ
- Wilkes-Barre, PA
- Worcester, MA
- Zzyzx, CA
Feature Image: Public Domain
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For places outside the U.S. I tend to tread with care on pronunciations. You can come across looking like a world class snot if you try to pronounce things in a language you don’t speak. I love Budapest but never pronounce it the Hungarian way in normal conversation to avoid the eye roll.