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35 City Names Around the World You’re Mispronouncing

Sound like a native—or at least a savvy tourist—when you learn how to say these place names correctly.

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La Jolla, California from Above
Dave Newman/Shutterstock

City Name: La Jolla, California

For the native English speaker, this paradise in San Diego sounds absolutely nothing like it’s spelled (this tends to be a common theme among city names). Pronounced as “la-hoy-uh,” the name of this coastal community is of disputed origin. Whether the name derives from the Native American word for “holes” (due to its many caverns) or the Spanish word for “jewel” is up for debate, but what’s almost certain is that you’ve been mispronouncing it your entire life.

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Wilkes-Barre, USA - May 24, 2017: Abandoned Stegmaier Brewery building remains exterior in Pennsylvania
Andriy Blokhin/Shutterstock

City Name: Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania

Most people who are not from central Pennsylvania pronounce the name as “wilks-bar.” While that’s definitely not the right way to say it, the correct way is still up for debate among its residents. Some pronounce it as “wilks-berry,” while others say “wilkes-bear.” If you think that’s tricky, try saying the most difficult-to-pronounce town name in every state.

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View of Mohawk River in Schenectady New York
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City Name: Schenectady, New York

Part of the reason you may not know how to say the name of this county near Albany is because you are already familiar with a similar-sounding word from grammar school: synecdoche. A synecdoche is a rhetorical device where a part represents the whole or vice versa. The 2008 film Synecdoche, New York, doesn’t help alleviate confusion, either. For the record, it is pronounced “ski-neck-ta-dee.”

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Budapest, Hungary - September 26 2017: Matthias Square with the Matthias Church and the Fisherman's Bastion with tourists enjoying the sunny day in Budapest Hungary
Kirk Fisher/Shutterstock

City Name: Budapest, Hungary

Did you think America was the only country with confusing city names? Buda and Pest actually used to be two separate Hungarian settlements, but the two were joined (along with the town of Òbuda) in 1873 and became the official capital of the country. It’s pronounced “booda-pesht.”

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Shanghai skyline with residential district in China.

City Name: Shanghai, China

One of the most widely known city names in China is also one of the most frequently mispronounced. Many pronounce the name of the “Paris of the East” with a hard “a” in the beginning, when the correct reading is actually something more like “shahng-hi.”

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SPOKANE, WASHINGTON - JULY 23: Downtown Spokane from Edwidge Woldson Park on July 23, 2017 in Spokane, Washington
Nagel Photography/Shutterstock

City Name: Spokane, Washington

By rights, the English language would have you read this city’s name as “spo-cane.” In reality, residents call it “spo-can.” It is one of the thousands of towns and cities in America whose names are based on the Native American names that were in place before English settlers arrived. And while some cities get notoriety for their interesting names, these American small towns are known for even weirder things.

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Saint Jean Castle and Cathedral de la Major and the Vieux port in Marseille, France

City Name: Marseille, France

French is a language with many silent letters, so it’s understandable that English speakers wouldn’t get it right, but that’s not enough of an excuse to keep getting it wrong. Depending on the region in France a speaker is from, it is either pronounced “mar-say” or “mar-sigh.”

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Worcester, Massachusetts, USA Skyline.
Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

City Name: Worcester, Massachusetts

Because of the way it is spelled, it is natural to assume this city name would be pronounced “war-chester,” but that’s totally wrong. A real local knows it is “wooster.” These are the hardest to pronounce words in the English language.

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NEWARK, DE, USA - JUNE 29, 2017: Aerial photo of the Christiana Hospital and medical center
Felix Mizioznikov/Shutterstock

City Name: Newark, Delaware

Newark, New Jersey, and Newark, Delaware, are a great example of cities in the U.S. that share the same name, but if you pronounce them the same, you will get a sharp rebuke. The Newark in Delaware is pronounced as two separate syllables: “new-ark.” The city in New Jersey is said as one syllable.

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BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - Dec 29 2016: Areal image of Brisbane CBD and South Bank. Brisbane is the capital of QLD and the third largest city in Australia
Martin Valigursky/Shutterstock

City Name: Brisbane, Australia

Forget the letter “a” in Brisbane altogether, because Aussies don’t even bother pronouncing it. In Australia, it’s “Bris-bn,” as if there is no vowel at the end of the word at all. The city’s overwhelming population of 2.2 million people will thank you for saying it correctly.

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Thailand boat at Phuket island landscape

City Name: Phuket, Thailand

Many foreigners take joy in this city’s name because they think it is pronounced just like a certain English curse word, but that’s wrong! In English, “ph” is typically pronounced like an “f” sound, but the correct pronunciation for this Thai city is “poo-ket” or “poo-get.” You better get the pronunciation right before you visit—after all, Thailand is home to some of the most underrated travel destinations in the world.

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Marble courtyard at Palace of Versailles, France
Sergey Novikov/Shutterstock

City Name: Versailles, France

Say “ver-sails,” in France, and you may as well just turn around and go back home right now. The true pronunciation is much more elegant: “ver-sigh.”

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Aerial view of Downtown DesMoines Iowa
Felix Mizioznikov/Shutterstock

City Name: Des Moines, Iowa

Welcome to Dez Moinz, Iowa! Just kidding, but that is how many people do pronounce it. This is one of the U.S. city names that takes after the French pronunciation, so the “S”s at the ends are silent. The correct way to talk about this city is to call it “de-moin.” Make sure you read up on these 10 other U.S. town names you’ve been pronouncing all wrong.

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Assisi, Italy. Basilica of St. Francis, XIII century. and a portico, XV century. Included in the list of UNESCO
Valery Rokhin/Shutterstock

City Name: Assisi, Italy

This is a great instance of how the same letter can be pronounced different ways. Some people are inclined to calling this Italian city “ah-see-see,” but the double consonants are pronounced differently than the single consonant. Instead, it is pronounced “ah-see-zee.”

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PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA: Winter view of ski resort in Pyeongchang, South Korea. PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA/2016
Alexander Khitrov/Shutterstock

City Name: Pyeongchang, South Korea

The 2018 Olympics were held in this famous city of South Korea, but most foreigners are still pronouncing it the wrong way. Americans tend to lay into their “a” sounds, making this city sound like “Pyung-chayng.” Koreans pronounce the city by essentially disregarding that letter altogether: “Pyung-chng.”

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A scenic of view of the local landscape in Bagac, Bataan, Philippines. Two wooden houses stand along a river. Mountains surround the area.

City Name: Bataan, Philippines

Read about World War II’s Bataan Death March in the history books and talk about it in history class the correct way! Bataan is commonly pronounced by Americans as “ba-tan,” but the correct way to say it is “ba-tah-an.” It may not roll well off the English tongue, but that’s the way it is!

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Digital art, Housing stacked up a hillside in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti
Sylvie Corriveau/Shutterstock

City Name: Port-au-Prince, Haiti

In Haiti, the people speak a type of Haitian Creole or French. It’s no surprise, then, that this Haitian capital is pronounced like some of the other French cities on this list. In French, “prince” sounds more like “prance,” but with a somewhat soft “a” sound.

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Wooden steps and a railing help the start of this hike along marked trails in Cheesequake Park in Monmouth County, New Jersey.
Andrew F. Kazmierski/Shutterstock

City Name: Cheesequake, New Jersey

Go ahead, even the locals laugh at this city name that looks as though it sounds a lot like a favorite dessert. However, the real way to say it is “chess-quick,” but no one would know that unless they were raised there or told. Like other city names on this list, it is based on the Native American word for the town. In fact, Native American languages influenced the names of certain states, too—here’s how every state in America got its name.

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the statue of wild bill in boerne texas
Barna Tanko/Shutterstock

City Name: Boerne, Texas

This city in Texas is pronounced more like a Sesame Street character than an action hero flick. Welcome to “burn-ee,” not “born,” Texas. The name for this southern city is actually of German origin and is another testament to the fact that the United States has had so many cultural and colonial influences.

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Raleigh, North Carolina, USA downtown city skyline.
Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

City Name: Raleigh, North Carolina

“Ray-lee”? “Rah-lay”? Nice try, but no luck. The capital city of North Carolina is actually pronounced, “rah-lee.” The bustling city is also known as the City of Oaks for its many oak trees. These places may be easier to pronounce, but did you know that were almost turned into official states?

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Mid-Hudson Bridge crossing the Hudson River in Poughkeepsie, New York
Felix Lipov/Shutterstock

City Name: Poughkeepsie, New York

Pronouncing this New York city as “po-keep-see” may be a good way to remember how to spell it, but it is definitely not the way to pronounce the word. Despite all of the confusing vowels, the city is actually pronounced, “puh-kip-see.” It is located roughly at the halfway point between New York City and Albany.

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Aerial view of Nottingham, England

City Name: Nottingham, England

Americans will see “-ham” in the name of this English city and immediately want to pronounce it the same way the meat is pronounced. In England, however, it is pronounced as “notting-hm.” It is the same Nottingham whose sheriff the character Robin Hood so despised in his tales.

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Edinburgh, Scotland - February 10th 2015 - Tourists and locals walking in the streets of downtown Edinburgh in Scotland.

City Name: Edinburgh, Scotland

This city is another one that is pronounced with more syllables than it looks like it would be. It is not “edin-berg,” like many incorrectly state, but rather, “ed-in-bur-uh.” Check out even more stunning photos of the most beautiful country in the world.

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GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - JULY 21: Beautiful victorian architecture on Ingram Street on July 21, 2017 in Glasgow, Scotland. Glasgow is known for its Victorian architecture from the 19th century.
Jeff Whyte/Shutterstock

City Name: Glasgow, Scotland

By the looks of it, the city of Glasgow would be pronounced “glas-cow,” with a hard emphasis on the last two letters of the word. The right way to pronounce this Scottish city, however, is “glass-go.”

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MERIDA, MEXICO - FEB 27, 2016: Shops under a archway in Merida, Mexico
Matyas Rehak/Shutterstock

City Name: Mérida, Mexico

Many Americans pronounce this beachy Mexican travel destination as if it didn’t have any accent marks, but in many languages, including Spanish, accents are extremely important. It is pronounced as “mare-ee-da,” and it is one of the best places to visit in the Yucatan.

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LEIPZIG, GERMANY - July 21, 2017: General City Landscape Leipzig, Germany

City Name: Leipzig, Germany

People commonly mispronounce this German city as either “leap-zig” or “lep-zig,” but what is important to remember about the German language is that it is not a soft one. The correct pronunciation of this city in Saxony is “lipe-zig.” Some things just get lost in translation, like these international idioms that sound totally different in English.

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Toledo, Spain old town city skyline.
Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

City Name: Toledo, Spain

Everyone knows the city of Jerusalem as a point of religious convergence for people of the Islamic, Christian, and Jewish faiths, but Toledo also shares that distinction. In fact, Toledo is an official World Heritage Site for that very reason. It’s probably important, then, to know how to pronounce it. For the record, it is not “toe-lee-doh” but “toh-leh-doh.”

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PORVOO, FINLAND - SEPTEMBER 11: Tourists walk through streets on September 11, 2017 in Porvoo, Finland. Porvoo is one of the six medieval towns in Finland
Steve Heap/Shutterstock

City Name: Porvoo, Finland

One of the first towns to ever be erected in medieval Finland, Porvoo still retains its ancient beauty. Modern visitors should be aware, though, that the correct way to pronounce the city name is “pore-vo.” The double vowels at the end of the city’s name aren’t pronounced as such.

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Aix-en-Provence, France - June 20, 2016: Cardeurs square with cafes and restaurants in the old town of Aix-en-Provence city on the south of France.

City Name: Aix-en-Provence, France

Revered post-impressionist painter Paul Cézanne was born in Aix-en-Provence in 1839 and is one of the main reasons tourists visit this southern French city. The question, however, is if tourists know how to pronounce the name of the city when they get there. The correct way to say it is “x-on-prov-ahnce.” Whether you’re traveling to France or not, you should know how to say these popular French phrases.

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Cathedral Of Christ Savior At Autumn Day. Famous Christian Landmark In Russia. Moscow, Russia.
Elena Masiutkina/Shutterstock

City Name: Moscow, Russia

Just like the city of Glasgow in Scotland, Moscow, Russia is pronounced as if there were no “w” at the end of the name. If there’s a trend in this list, it’s how many well-known capitals get mispronounced all the time!

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Beijing, China - Apr. 18, 2018: Tourists visit the Hall of Supreme Harmony in the Forbidden City, Beijing, China.

City Name: Beijing, China

The Chinese capital is pronounced the exact way it is spelled, and yet plenty of people still get it wrong. “Bei-jing” is the way it is meant to be read, but “beige-ing” is the common mispronunciation. This time it is OK to trust in the letters!

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Aerial view at sunrise of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra - one of the main symbol of Kiev, Ukraine
Oleg Totskyi/Shutterstock

City Name: Kiev, Ukraine

“Key-ev.” Simple and to the point, right? Wrong. This four-letter Ukrainian city is deceptively simple. There are many disputes concerning how it is actually pronounced. Most Ukrainians agree that it is read as “keev” or “key-eve.”

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View of the old port of Cannes, France
Giancarlo Liguori/Shutterstock

City Name: Cannes, France

The famous film festival that occurs in this French city always stirs up the conversation of how to correctly pronounce it. It absolutely should never be pronounced as “cahn.”  The French would have you say, “ken” or “can.”

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Cathedral in Leicester, England

City Name: Leicester, England

The true pronunciation of Leicester, England is a lot like the pronunciation of Worcester, Massachusetts. It is not “lie-chester,” as it appears, but rather, “lester,” like the male name. The deceptive letters strike again! But these similar words don’t change why Americans and Brits have different accents.

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TIJUANA, MEXICO - APRIL 26, 2017: Santiago Arguello pedestrianized shopping and bars street with festival flags above, millennial arch (el arco y reloj monumental) and blurred motion silhuettes
Denis Kabanov/Shutterstock

City Name: Tijuana, Mexico

Americans tend to pronounce this city name as if it has a few extra syllables. However, it is not correct to call it “tee-ah-juan-ah.” Why people pronounce it that way is rather odd, considering the way it is spelled. It is just “tee-juan-ah,” and nothing extra. Back stateside, these are the funniest town names from each of the 50 states.

Taylor Markarian
Taylor Markarian is a regular contributor to RD.com covering culture, advice, travel, pets and all things weird and haunted. She is the author of "From the Basement: A History of Emo Music and How It Changed Society," which analyzes the evolution of punk and mental health. She holds a B.A. in Writing, Literature and Publishing from Emerson College.