RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia place names and their pronunciations can be a nightmare for visitors and newcomers to the Commonwealth. Thankfully, we’ve got a cheat sheet for you to make sure you’re speaking like a local!
We asked our Facebook audience to chime in and let us know what places “grind their gears” when they hear them pronounced incorrectly.
This one’s a stone-cold classic and also features on our other list, ‘How you can tell if someone is from Richmond.’ Someone new to the area might be tempted to pronounce it ‘Hen-ree-ko’ or ‘Hen-rick-oh’ but the common pronunciation is, of course, ‘Hen-rye-ko.’
The temptation to pronounce the county’s name as ‘Poh-wah-tan’ might make sense given the typical pronunciation of Powhite, but the most common pronunciation is ‘Pow-ah-tan’. The county is named after the leader of an alliance of Algonquian-speaking Native American tribes in the Tidewater in 1607, when the British first settled at Jamestown.
For those who might be tempted to syllabize all the vowels in Matoaca, it might seem a little unnatural to pronounce it ‘Mah-toke-ah’ but once you do, you might find it fun to say. The Chesterfield County town gets its name from the Pamunkey princess Matoaka; better known by her nickname, ‘Pocahontas.’
An unincorporated town in King and Queen County, Mattaponi can be a struggle for some. Most out-of-towners pronounce it ‘Mat-ah-poh-nee’ but the correct pronunciation is actually ‘Mat-ah-poh-nye’. Local vernacular can make it sound like ‘Mat-ah-pa-nye’ but all agree it is certainly not ‘-pony.’
This small town in Powhatan County might look intimidating. And some might be tempted to over-think it and pronounce it ‘Hue-gwen-oh’ or something similar. The correct pronunciation, however, is simply ‘Hue-guh-knot.’
Jahnke is a neighborhood in Richmond’s Southside taking its name from Jahnke Road. The most immediate presumed pronunciation is usually “Jan-kee’ but the correct pronunciation is simply ‘Jank.’ Just ignore the ‘H’ and ‘E’ and you should be fine.
The name of Fauquier County is sure to stump anyone new to it; some common mispronunciations include ‘Fow-kai-er’ and ‘Faw-kwai-er’. The correct pronunciation, however, is simply ‘Faw-keer’. The county is named after Francis Fauquier, who was Lieutenant Governor of Virginia at the time of the county’s establishment.
This county at the northernmost tip of the Commonwealth might throw some people. It is not pronounced ‘Lewd-en’ like Louie, but ‘Loud-on’. The county is supposedly named for John Campbell, the Fourth Earl of Loudoun and governor-general of Virginia from 1756 to 1759.
No, it’s not ‘Dumb-fries’. This town in Prince William County gets its name from a town in Dumfriesshire, Scotland. The correct pronunciation is simply ‘Dum-freeze.’
Aquia is a district in Stafford County, the unique spelling of the area can lead some people to think the pronunciation is ‘Ah-kee-ah’ or even ‘Ah-kwee-ah.’ But the correct pronunciation is actually ‘Ah-kwai-ah’.
You may be tempted to pronounce this as it looks; ‘Nor-folk’. But the correct pronunciation is actually ‘Nor-fuhk.’ The city is presumably named after a British county of the same name — and pronunciation. A lot of locals will also skip the “nor” and pronounce the city more of a “naw.”
A name that may prove troublesome for those not familiar with it. Portsmouth is not pronounced ‘Ports-mouth’, instead, it is pronounced like ‘Port-smith’. The name comes from a port in the city of Hampshire in southern England.
This is a tricky one. Common mispronunciations for this one include, ‘Glou-chest-er’ and ‘Glou-ster.’ The hardest part for some is the missing vowel, but the correct pronunciation is ‘Glost-er.’ The original Gloucester is a cathedral city within Gloucestershire in England.
Isle of Wight
Here’s another area of the Tidewater named after a British region. Some people are known to make the mistake of pronouncing it ‘Wright’, presumably because Wright is a more common name. Of course, the correct pronunciation is the same as the word ‘White.’
This small community in Isle of Wight County may be read as “Zoo-nee” at first, but it is actually pronounced “Zoo-nai.”
Poquoson is another city in Virginia with a confusing ‘Q’ in its name. One might naturally be inclined to pronounce it ‘Po-kwo-son,’ but the correct pronunciation is actually ‘Pah-ko-sen.’
Not as simple as it looks. The ‘-aunt’ spelling might lead some to pronounce it ‘Stawn-ton’, like the word ‘taunt’ but it is actually pronounced ‘Stan-ten’. The city gets its name from Lady Rebecca Staunton, who was wife to the Royal Lieutenant-Governor, Sir William Gooch, in 1747.
Schuyler is a census-designated place in Nelson County. There are a number of letters in this name that can trip people up, whether it’s the ‘Sch’ or the ‘Uyl’ a new speaker is almost guaranteed to struggle. Some incorrect pronunciations include ‘Shy-ler’ or some variation of ‘Skoo-ler’ but the correct pronunciation is simply ‘Sky-lur.’
Botetourt County sits in the Roanoke region of the Commonwealth and is bordered by both the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Appalachian Mountains. While the name may look like it’s pronounced ‘Boat-tort,’ the correct pronunciation is actually ‘Bot-a-tot.’
This one may be triggering to some. Despite the name looking like it has the Spanish pronunciation, it is proudly pronounced as, “Bew-na Viss-tuh.” The independent city in the Blue Ridge Mountains of the Commonwealth is even more popular due to the mental double-take of the pronunciation.
Buchanan is a small town inside Botetourt County with a twist on how you may think it is pronounced. Despite many wanting to say “bew-cun-on,’ it is actually “buh-CAN-on.”
The ‘Y’ in Wytheville prompts many to pronounce the hard ‘Why’ sound, but it is actually pronounced ‘With-vill.’ The county was named after George Wythe, one of the hands who penned the Declaration of Independence and is noted as a Founding Father of the United States. A southern drawl also has a tendency to make ‘ville’ sound like ‘vool.’
Fries is an incorporated town located in Grayson County. It is similar to the Northern Virginia township of Dumfries. While it may look identical in spelling to that tasty potato snack, the real pronunciation is ‘Freeze.’
Bonus – Central Virginia Roads
We wanted to leave roads off this list and save them for another story but some suggestions deserved a mention.
This one may be controversial. There are two accepted ways of pronouncing Powhite Parkway — or Powhite Creek — the first is ‘Poh-white,’ this is the more common pronunciation for people in Central Virginia. The second pronunciation ‘Pow-hite,’ while this is less common it is believed to likely be closer to its Native American origin.
Yes, it sounds like ‘genitals’. While out-of-towners might be tempted to pronounce it ‘Je-nee-toh,’ the correct pronunciation for Genito Road is ‘Jen-ih-toh.’
This road stretches across the entirety of northern Henrico, from Chippenham to Chamberlayne. The mispronunciation is almost inevitable for newcomers; ‘Par-ham’ is not the correct way to say it. The correct pronunciation is actually ‘Pear-em.’