You say PEE-can. I say puh-KHAN. Pronunciation can communicate a lot—what part of the South you’re from, who your people are, your age, even whether you’re a college football fan. This is especially true when it comes to the names of Southern towns. We habitually ignore the names’ root languages. And with a mash-up of French, English, African, and Native American influences (among others), phonics often goes right out the window. Here, we offer a shortcut.
Beaufort, NC (BOE-fert) / Beaufort, SC (BYOU-fert)
Getting this one right depends on which state you’re standing in. Mostly, though, we blame the second Duke of Beaufort—a Brit for whom both coastal cities are named—for mucking up the original French pronunciation of the name in the first place.
Versailles, KY (ver-SAYLES)
You know the palace in France that’s spelled the exact same way? Yeah, you don’t say this horse-country hamlet’s name like that.
Clemson, SC (CLEMP-sun)
No, there’s not a p. Yes, you pronounce one. We’re looking at you, ESPN.
Havre de Grace, MD (Haverty-grace)
Visitors have such trouble with the moniker of this Chesapeake Bay town that locals created a YouTube video to help you out.
Staunton, VA (STAN-tun)
Ignore the u. Calling this Shenandoah Valley gem STAWN-tun is the quickest way to mark yourself an outsider.
Lebanon, TN (LEB-nun)
It’s not just the pronunciation that’s off. The name is, too. Biblical Lebanon (LEB-uh-non) was known for its profusion of cedars, and when early Tennessee settlers mistook the area’s native junipers for cedars, they named the spot Lebanon.
New Orleans, LA (New OAR-linz)
Even the Times-Picayune acknowledges there is some wiggle room here. New or-LEENZ and New OR-lee-uhns are also acceptable. N’awlins, however, is not.
In the mountain region’s southern reaches, don’t be surprised if folks clam up the minute you call their home Appa-LAY-shuh—you’ve just signaled you’re not from around here.
Nacogdoches, TX (NACK-ah-DOH-chis) / Natchitoches, LA (NACK-a-tish)
As legend has it, these tongue-twisting sister cities were named after twins who established their namesake tribes only a hundred miles apart. Even though they’re spelled similarly, the two can’t agree on a pronunciation.