Bill Leslie's Carolina Conversations

Pronunciation Problems

Posted November 2, 2011

Should there be an official commission that decides thorny pronunciation questions about North Carolina places and names? You know – towns such as Clinton, Kure Beach, Chalybeate Springs and counties such as Chowan, Forsyth and Tyrrell.

I asked that question recently after hearing from a friend. Anne Payne is the GIS Database Administrator for Wake County. GIS stands for Geographic Information Services. Anne keeps track of every town, neighborhood,, river and other geographical locations in Wake County. Anne follows my blog since it frequently deals with interesting places and names. Anne emailed me a few weeks ago to let me know about the NC Board of Geographic Names. It is part of the Statewide Mapping Advisory Committee which Anne chairs. Anne’s group makes name change recommendations to the US Board of Geographic Names. She gave me an example of her committee’s work. There was a Mango Creek near Knightdale. Upon further study the name was changed to Mingo to reflect the actual historical name of the waterway.

I started thinking about Anne’s job and asked her if there was a state committee or commission that establishes proper pronunciations for various places. She said she would get back with me and she did. Here’s what UNC-Charlotte geography professor Tyrel G. Moore wrote to Anne:

“I owe you an overdue reply in answer to your news anchor's question about the USBGN and the spelling and pronunciation of places. They do not rule on the pronunciation of geographic names. A committee was formed a few years ago to do just that. As you might imagine, they quickly discovered what a controversial mess they had entered into. The committee's charge was short-lived.”

Now you know what we have to put up with every day in the broadcasting business! I have my own hard-to-pronounce names list. I will release it tomorrow.



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  • momuv2 Nov 3, 2011

    Bill, you are doing all of us a great service to compile even a few of the often mispronounced places. The often told origin of "Bahama" might be a good start. But we all talk "funny" to an outoftowner.

  • allen7 Nov 3, 2011

    When I lived in Missouri for 4 years(Anyone ever hear of "Tarkio College" or "The Mule Barn Theatre?") If you prounced the state name "Missouri" like "Mis-or-re" folks would know you were from the Northern part of the state!

  • genegeneandnancy Nov 2, 2011 it Tar-bor-o, or run together like "Tarber"?

  • tarhillmom Nov 2, 2011

    Hmmm....I heard your new anchor, Jackie Hyland, bungle the pronounciation of Cary on a spot last week. Better straighten her out quickly!!

  • Packy Nov 2, 2011

    I agree, Gerbil

  • Big Daddy Cain Nov 2, 2011

    Bahama is in Durham County but the Bahamas are where I wish I were today with this cold weather!

  • katizs Nov 2, 2011

    Good luck and prepare for the emails afterwards - I have learned it also depends on where you are from around North Carolina to determine the EXACT pronunciation of places - you may have the common way of saying places, but I know that some of them are even a little different when you ask natives or "old timers" of a certain place

  • grannybam07 Nov 2, 2011

    As a transplant, I've mispronounced many NC places. I would love to know what the 'correct' pronounciaton is for your list. is not just NC that has this problem, my home state of Ohio has unique pronounciations too. I've heard people slaughter the names of many towns, counties and waterways :)

  • Gerbil Herder Nov 2, 2011

    Make sure you add Conetoe.

  • dharper22 Nov 2, 2011

    Bill, I could have used this type of assistance many times in the 1980s.
    I'm still not sure about many of our towns. Will be interested in some sort of pronunciation guide.




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