When I first moved to Holland, Michigan, in 2003, one of the first discoveries that let me know I was in a new place were numerous Dutch last names in the phonebook. Then I started noticing the eponymously named businesses and streets in the area. Van Raalte Ave and Veldheer Tulip Farms are just two examples of these places. In some cases, It took me a couple of years to finally be able to spell those places without having to pause and really think about it.
Every town has families and roads with esoteric names and pronunciations. Even in Ludington, Michigan, my hometown, there’s one particular road that carries at least three distinct pronunciations – it all depends to whom you’re speaking. If it’s me, you will hear me pronounce Chauvez Rd as show-vay (and definitely not chaw-vezz or show-VEE).
Now I’m seasoned at picking up the pronunciations of oddly named streets. This has come in handy as a new Detroiter. I am a few blocks away from Cadieux Rd, frequently bisect Kercheval St in Grosse Pointe, and take Gratiot Ave to get to the Eastern Market neighborhood.
High School French came in handy with Cadieux. But, really, all you need is the ability to sneeze and you’ll have the sound down in no time. If you need any help, head to Cadieux Cafe and they will help you practice. If you don’t need any help, head there anyway for a Belgian-inspired menu and beer list that will hit spots you didn’t even know you had. I am so glad to be within walking distance of this Belgian gem!
If you head south from Cadieux Cafe, you’ll come to Kercheval St, which sounds like the evil twin castle to Cair Paravel from Narnia. I was mispronouncing the street that work on for the first two weeks I was in the D. I thought it was curr-CHEV-all, but nope, it’s definitely KUR-chuh-vahl.
The silliest of my three examples in one of Detroit’s most notable roads: Gratiot Ave. I was already familiar with the pronunciation of this street because of the central Michigan county of the same name. I included it here because of my AutoCorrect’s inability to just accept that the word exists. I frequently answer my friends text inquiries about my location with “Gratify”, “Gratuitous”, and “Gravity.” If you’re unfamiliar with the name, then you may find find its pronunciation as funny as I do: gra-shit.
There’s another road name that confused me when I first moved here, one that caused me grief when I was trying to find a business on that street. John R Rd runs through Midtown. One day, a server at Cass Cafe told me to go to a shop on John R, but I stared at the map looking for something like Jahnahr or Jeanierre. Apparently I forgot road names in Detroit can be as simple as John R.
The more I explore Detroit in my car, the more fun street names I find. A couple weeks ago, I found Dequindre St and the Dequindre Cut. This week, I found Beaubien St and Houston Whittier St. Next week, who knows what street names I’ll stumble upon!
–Jonathon Arntson, Contributing Writer