Hearing out-of-town tourists mispronounce place names is nothing new for Michiganders. After all, not everyone can say names like Schoenherr, Gratiot, Detroit, Ontanagon, and Sault Ste. Marie correctly on the first try.
So it’s not entirely surprising to see Mackinac Island on Frommer’s (that’s FROH-MERZ) list of America’s most mispronounced place names. The home of the Grand Hotel and world-famous fudge makes the list because it’s often pronounced MACK-IN-ACK, instead of the proper MACK-IN-NAW.
Here’s what Frommer’s had to say about Mackinac Island:
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.
As with many places in Michigan, Mackinac Island’s name is a Native American name. The Anishinaabe people named the island Mitchimakinak, which means Big Turtle in Ojibwe. The name was later translated as Michilimackinac by the French and was later shortened to just Mackinac by the British.
The similar-sounding, but differently spelled Mackinaw City is a respelling of Mackinac, and the name is derived from the Ojibwe name mishinii-makinaang, meaning “at the place of many snapping turtles.”
Note: While they’re all pronounced the same, ONLY the city uses the “w” spelling – the bridge, island, and straits all use the “c” spelling.
More of America’s Most Mispronounced Place Names
Mackinac Island isn’t alone in having its name said wrong. Frommer’s list includes U.S. places spanning coast to coast with names rooted in French, Spanish, and Native American languages, and there’s also a place that a famed explorer named for a good friend.
La Jolla, California
This posh seaside community in San Diego looks like LA-JAHLA to the uninitiated. But it’s pronounced LA-HOY-A.
The Kumeyaay tribe once called the location kulaaxuuy, meaning “the land of holes.” Spanish settlers later transcribed the name as La Jolla, a possible variant of la joya, which means “the jewel” in Spanish. Though there is some debate about the name’s origin, that variant of the name is most often cited in popular culture.
It’s easy for non-Kentuckians to refer to this bustling town as Louis-ville or Louie-ville, but any resident will tell you it’s pronounced LOO-UH-VUHL. It can be a mouthful to try and get right, but a shot of Kentucky bourbon can help loosen your lips.
New Orleans, Louisiana
At first glance, NEW OR-LEENZ seems like the way to pronounce this city’s name right? Wrong. Residents will tell you the correct way is NU OR-LINZ. Some may also tell you that NAWLINS is the only way to go — Frommer’s recommends steering clear of NAWLINS. Of course, residents and non-residents alike can avoid the whole bird’s nest altogether and just call it The Big Easy.
To avoid side eyes and pained smiles, Frommers says the correct way to say the name of the Silver State is NUH-VAD-UH, with a short ‘a’ like in blackjack or craps. Avoid calling it NUH-VAHD-UH, because you may give yourself away as an out-of-towner.
Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
This town in northern Idaho is well known for its bevy of outdoor recreational opportunities. The city is named after the Coeur d’Alene people, a native American tribe and the town’s name is pronounced KOR-DA-LANE.
If you really want to sound like a local, you can also refer to Ceour d’Alene as CDA or Lake City.
There’s one of three ways someone might say the name of this Alabama city, but only one is correct.
MO-BUHL isn’t a city name, it’s a word to signify movement. MO-BYLE is the way British folks describe their cell phones. MO-BEEL is the correct way to say the city name and residents Mobilians will thank you.
Mount Rainier, Washington
Washington State’s tallest peak’s name is pronounced RAY-NEAR rather than RAINY-ER, if you’re a Washington native. It’s also known as Tahoma, which is closer to its indigenous name.
George Vancouver, a British officer who explored the Pacific Coast and is the namesake for the famous Canadian city, named Mount Rainier. Vancouver named it to honor his friend British Rear Admiral Peter Ranier and it was also listed as Mt. Regniere on the map Lewis and Clark used during their famous expedition.
The Bay State is known for having commonly mispronounced city names, including Gloucester, Leicester, Tewksbury, and Worcester.
A first glance at Worcester, and it looks like it’s a three-syllable word pronounced like WAR-CHEST-ER, But as a native New Englander knows, it’s most definitely WUSS-TER or WUSS-TA if you drop the “R”. The town is named after an English town of the same name and it’s also pronounced the same way.
Willamette Valley, Oregon
The French-inspired name of Willamette Valley looks like it’s pronounced WILLA-METTE. But the stress on the name of this scenic wine region in Oregon goes in the middle, so it’s pronounced WIL-LAM-ET.
On a related note, the correct way to say Oregon is OR-UH-GUN rather than OR-UH-GAHN.
Houston Street, New York City
The Big Apple has its fair share of famous streets, but Houston Street is perhaps famous for the wrong reasons. Located in Lower Manhattan, this street sounds nothing like the Texas City that was named for soldier Sam Houston.
The New York Houston street is pronounced HOW-STUN and is named for William Houstoun, a lawyer, politician, and Founding Father from Georgia. So if you’re in NYC, make sure to stay HOW-STUN and not HUE-STUN if you’re in Manhattan.
Learn More About Michigan Place Names and Slang
Mackinac Island remains a beloved destination for Michiganders and out-of-state visitors alike, but Michigan has many unique place names, with names rooted in Native American languages, French, English, European city names, and even as a way to celebrate Christmas.
Visitors to the Mitten State may realize right away that Michiganders have their own language, complete with unique pronunciations, words, and slang.
The truth is that Michiganders talk fast, they slur words together, they have their own unique way of telling time and they’re fans of the glottal stop, leaving the “T” off the end of words.
Michiganders proudly call it pop, they’re rabid fans of euchre, and they’re always searching for the clicker at home. They’re also proud to say “ope,” head up north to Tahquamenon (TA-KWA-MAN-ON) Falls and The Soo, and reminisce about long summer days on Bois Blanc (Bob-lo) Island.
If you’re unsure, find the nearest Michigander you can and ask them. The more familiar you are with Michigan place names, the less chance you’ll have of looking like a fudgie, a troll, a citiot, or an FIP (ope, make sure you look those words up too!)