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A Comprehensive List of How Texans Mispronounce Places With Spanish Names

From Amarila to Wad-a-loop to the Purda-nalleez River, we’ve taken some liberties when it comes to pronunciation.

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Illustration by Anna Donlan

The Texas map draws inspiration from as many cultures as any state in America. There’s Czech: Praha, Moravia, Dubina. And German: Breslau, New Baden, New Ulm, and New Braunfels, to name just a few. Scattered across the landscape are small towns with names coming from the Polish (Panna Maria), Swiss (New Bern), Norwegian (Oslo), Danish (Danevang) and Russian (Marfa, Odessa) pioneers who got there first. Plus, to visit most of the great European cities, you never have to leave the Lone Star state: We’ve got Paris, Rome, Athens, New London, Berlin, and Dublin (plus Edinburg if you’ve forgive the un-Scotsman-like spelling).

But aside from family names and others deriving from English and Native American sources (Comanche, Quanah, and anything with Caddo attached), Spanish is the most common wellspring of inspiration for our place names. Often as not, we Texans butcher it, whether we are referring to a town or a street or a river. (Although maybe not so often as those Californians do.)

Yes, we get a few right. We completely nail Laredo, Del Rio, Seguin, Comal (as in the county), and aside from some emphasis and flattened vowels, mostly do okay with El Paso, San Antonio, Bandera, and Concho (again, as in the county). Bosque County is sort of a typically Texan hybrid: locals pronounce it “boskie,” which is close to the Spanish “bose-kay,” but not all the way there, yet nevertheless much closer than “bosk” or “boss-cue,” to rhyme with barbecue.

But others we render unrecognizable. It should be “ah-ma-ree-yo,” not “amarila,” or “mo’-rila,” as I’ve heard in bars. “Sahn ha-seen-to,” not “san jacinna.” Refugio should be “ray-few-hyo,” not “r’-feery-o,” and the nearby shrimp port of Palacios should be “pah-loss-ee-os,” not “plashus.” Don’t get me started on how Austinites render Menchaca “man-shack” and Guadalupe “wad-a-loop” or “gwadda-loop.” Like that extra “s” that all-too-often slides into New Braunfels, how did that extra “r” creep into the Pedernales River, rendering it the purda-nalleez? And how the heck did we turn “may-hee-ah” into “m’hay’a”?

But my favorite is the northeast Texas town of Bogada. It’s intended to be named after Bogota, Colombia, but their first mistake was to massacre the spelling. Then the locals compounded that error by pronouncing it, roughly, as “B’goda,” and that is what you call it to this day, unless you want to be mocked as an outsider.

Hell, the entire state is a mispronunciation: If we want to get right down to it, it should be “tay-hoss” instead of Texas. (Or even “tayshas,” if you want to go really old-school Castilian.)

But should we care? Should we cede our traditional Texan mispronunciations because there are now more Anglo Texans with knowledge of Spanish and more native Spanish speakers immigrating from south of the border? Should we be ashamed of our butchery of the Spanish tongue?

Probably not, says Gustavo Arellano, the former editor of Orange County Weekly and the authority to turn to when you needed to “Ask A Mexican.”

“Some people cry racism or whatever, but to me it just shows we have a shared heritage,” he says. “Whether we are fifth- or sixth-generation or not, we are going to call it whatever locals were calling it when they got here.”

Of course there are exceptions. Arellano, a Southern California native of Mexican heritage, cites the relatively recent migration to Southern California from the Midwest.

He blames those middle America accents for turning Los Angeles into that soft g sound we hear universally today (“anghe-les” instead of “ahn-heles”), and smaller towns like Los Feliz from “fay-leez” to “feel-ez.” “But the best one is how they turned a town named after Father Junipero Serra, not into joon-i-perro serra, but into ‘wanperro serra,’” he says.

There will always be sticklers, people who insist on the “correct” pronunciation of the place-names, but even native-born English speakers have problems with English-born names. There’s “hyewston” in Texas and “house-ston” street in New York City (given that it’s originally named after a man named Hugh, score one for Texas there), and Birming’um, England versus Birming-ham, Alabama.

To Arellano, the linguistic change is inevitable. “It’s gonna happen,” he adds. “Americans are going to butcher Spanish names, but I have to say it goes both ways. There is a town near here called Cudahy, and growing up I always heard it [from native Spanish-speakers] was ‘Carra-hie.’ The white locals called it ‘Cudda-hay.’” The same phenomenon is on view in Houston, where Tellepsen Street, named after a Norwegian immigrant, has been rendered into “tailspin” by those living in the barrio nearby.

For some long-time Texans, a sense of guilt is creeping in. Pronounce street names as you’ve always heard them and you risk being shamed by those with a better understanding of correct Spanish. But consider this: Nashvillians don’t pronounce Demonbreun correctly, nor do denizens of “Glasgie” (Glasgow, Scotland). In “Noo Yawk,” locals have so long and so routinely slaughtered the Dutch place names that littered the landscape, we no longer even know that places like Yonkers, the Bronx, and Flushing ever had any connection to the land of tulips and dikes.

Given that, why should residents of Refugio, Bogada, San Jacinto County, or San Felipe Street feel ashamed when they say their place names the way they were taught to?

Whatever will be, will be—que será, será. Or, as we might say, kay sirrah sirrah.

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  • When I was working for the San Angelo Standard-Times, we knew whether someone was new to the area based on whether they pronounced Eldorado like the mythical city of gold or “correctly” – El-doh-RAY-doh. Of course, a little CPS raid in 2008 introduced the world to that particular pronunciation. Closer to Abilene, Cah-loh-RAY-doh City is similar.

    For that matter, San Angelo itself is a great example of mangled language: Originally named Santa Angela, a post office error rendered it San Angela in its early days. Someone noticed the grammar error this caused and fixed it … by unwittingly changing the wrong word.

  • Maureen Demar Hall

    I’ve lived in Houston since 1979, still hear Beauchamp pronounced several different ways….Beach-um or Bow-shamp, neither of which sound French!

    • John Nova Lomax

      It comes from England via Virginia. Beacham was mangled in the old country.

  • phillipsulak

    I must protest “We completely nail Laredo …” Everyone I know (who isn’t from the border) says Lo Ray Dough. It should be La Reh Dough. And he left out Marquez! (Mar Kay).

  • José

    In my home county you’ll hear locals pronounce the name both ways, Spanish style “ee-DAHL-go” and gringo style “high-dal-go”.

  • Andy

    Manchaca.

  • Stephen Nycz

    Houston in NYC is from the Dutch ‘huis tuin ‘ (house garden) which sounds more like House-ton than youston.

    • Ruth Carpenter Flores

      Is the h silent in Houston? I hear some people pronounce it you-ston & wonder which is correct ?

      • John Nova Lomax

        It comes from Scottish: “Hugh’s Town.” It might also have a Dutch derivation, which would explain why New Yorkers say it differently.

      • John Nova Lomax

        The silent “H” thing was very powerful for awhile in the 1980s and seems to have faded away. It was a linguistic trend, I guess you could say.

  • Uh, Clem

    I suspect that Lamesa (luh-meesuh) might have originally been La Mesa, since the land around it is flat as a table, but true Texans tend to pronounce city and town names however they want. At least Big Spring (where I grew up) only suffered from the occasional addition of an “s” to make the little water source plural. Being from the big city and all, we were always ready to point lost travelers to Loop, Forsan, Coahoma, Knott (and West Knott, which was about 400 feet west of Knott), Gail, Garden City and a few other communities that could be spotted from the lofty top floor of the Settles Hotel.

    • John Nova Lomax

      Big Springs, New Braunsfels, whose counting the s’s

      • pwt7925

        For those of us who grew up in Big Spring, the addition of the “s” at the end was/is an affront. Only one spring.

  • Michael Brown

    Seemed to forget Bexar county. You know Bear county.

  • Marsha Vaughn

    Llano (LAN-oh) the town, or “Llano Estacado” (YAH-no) the region? Still confused about that one.

  • Don Morran

    Also, Gruene. That one generates a lot of variations, but seldom Green.
    Quitaque also has several attempts. Kit a kway rings true for me, but KITTY kway is OK.
    Lancaster is definitely not LAN kaster, the way Yankees say it. LANK us tur.

  • Patricia

    And then there’s Kuykendahl – kirk-en-doll

  • Buddy Cuevas

    Blanco? My ex-wife is from there, she and everyone else corrected me when I pronounced it properly. They insist upon “blank-o”.

  • Leigh Williams

    Manchaca isn’t Spanish. It’s Czech, or some such. But really, who would ever guess that?

    • Kozmo

      Isn’t Manchaca a bastardization of “Menchaca”?

  • TrialDog

    Heck, if we don’t even know how to say MAY-ner or BURN-it, how are we going to pronounce names from a different language. Reminds me of the time we were passing through Los Fresnos, and I asked the driver if they knew what “Los Fresnos” was in English. They didn’t. “The Fresnos,” I pointed out.

  • President King Santa Linda

    Chillicothe. I still don’t know how to pronounce that. Someone help me.

    • Kozmo

      I remember this from childhood in north-central Illinois!

      “Chill-uh-CAWTH-ee”

      Passed thru it again in 2015.

      • John Nova Lomax

        I don’t think that’s the Texas pronunciation of the town by the same name, but I might be wrong. I think there’s no “ee” on the end here.

  • Pamela

    What, no Palestine (Pal-es-teen instead of Pal-es-TINE like everywhere else in the world?)

  • Jim Tucker

    Left out Buda.

  • fodderphil

    FWIW, over my 70 years so far — 15 living mostly in El Paso (El Pass-uh to at least some former Anglo mayors) and San Antonio through parts of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s — I eventually was able to complete, in 1996, my long-time quest to visit all 254 TX counties. Consequently, I Iearned along the way many local pronunciation nuances, and finally wound up several years ago creating a random list of 100 Lone Star place names, mostly cities and towns, with which I’ve had a lot of hoots sharing. Some already have been mentioned in this article and comments.

    Here is the link to my nine-page website, on which you’ll find the above-referred pair of documents on P. 9, Other Passions: http://www.philrosscoloradoauthor.com/

  • Rdeesjoy

    Every place has it pronunciation by the locals. Louisville, KY — Actually has a few pronunciations that have been immortalized as bumper sticker. A common one is Lu-ah-ville. Is Missouri, Miz-zu-ree or Miz-zu-rah? The modern English language sounds nothing like the English language of Shakespeare and King James. American English is different from British English and from Australian English. It is the nature of language to change in pronunciation and usage over time. My rule of thumb is the locals declare the pronunciation of a place. The rest of us are better off following their lead — or no one local will no what we are talking about!

    • Kozmo

      “Know” what we are talking about. Other than that, Plus-One!

    • Cheryl Pfennig

      Agree! I grew up in Louisville! I think there are nearly as many mutilated pronunciations in Kentucky as there are in my new Texas home. My favorite in Kentucky remains the beautiful bluegrass region of Versailles (Ver Sales) Kentucky. And I also agree–the locals know best, follow their lead as best you can, although I challenge anyone not raised in Louisville to try and say it “correctly”

  • planojoe

    Isn’t this typical of a conquering country? Acquire the food & butcher the local language and customs? Not any dif than the Brits and India and their other colonies. The Brits got the curry and the Indians learned British English and customs.

  • Terry

    The correct spelling of your “Bogada” is “Bogata”. You got the pronunciation right.

    • John Nova Lomax

      Sorry about that. I have a passel of cousins from up there who I just visited and even I can’t ever keep the spelling straight.

      • Terry

        No problem. I had an aunt and uncle, he was mayor for 8 years, that lived there, now a cousin. Been there many times since I was a small child. It’s a wonderful, if small, place. They have property just out of town at Cuthand.

      • Terry

        Not a problem. Didn’t know if it was a spelling error, or a misunderstanding of the word. The community of Cuthand is just a few miles out of town. Or you can quickly drive to Detroit, or Paris.

  • Kyle Hancock

    Colorado City should be noted. Most people would assume Colorado would be pronounced the same as the state of Colorado. Not so. Growing up in Abilene, I learned from the local weathermen to pronounce it Colo-RAY-do City. Colorado City is the county seat of Mitchell County and two counties west of Abilene, County seat of Taylor County. Anyone who doubts me may call up the Chamber of Commerce and listen to their answering machine where the recorded message pronounces it Colo-RAY-do City! http://www.coloradocitychamberofcommerce.com/

  • Gtmogal

    How about Mexia? Mex-e-ah? Ma-har?

  • Kozmo

    Plus-one for noting the “Edinburg”/”Edinburgh” mixup (pronounced locally by Scots and English, BYW, Edin-BORO)!

  • Kozmo

    It would be polite to try to pronounce the original Spanish names as at least Mexican Spanish would pronounce them now. Otherwise it comes across as rude and/or ignorant. Come on, it’s not like Spanish is that hard to pronounce or learn some basic pronunciation guides! Don’t y’all take this (Spanish language) in school down here? I didn’t come to Texas until high school and even I know better than some of these garbled place names.

  • Kozmo

    Lyndon Johnson can often be heard in speech referring to the “Pedder NAH liz river”, so that’s an old-timey Texanism.

  • Kozmo

    “House-ton” (Houston) County in Georgia, too.

    And in Illinois, famously, there’s “Care-oh” for Cairo. You drive up the interstate to Chicago, you’ll pass by this as you cross the Mississipp. It’s not far from “New MAA-drid” (New Madrid), Missouri.

  • PatBryanTX2

    I’d occasionally have to call my company’s helpdesk in Toronto. Ivan baffled me once by asking about a job I did on Sahn FayLeep, then I figured he meant Sand Flippy. Another time he absolutely refused to try to pronounce Fuqua and I assured him it was not pronounced as an epithet hurled by a Canadian.

  • Art

    To mis-pronounce is to mispronounce, cut and dry. Suit yourself, if you want to sound uneducated.
    I know I’m being cruel. You can’t help it if your parents did not send you to a proper school or even had parents who could read writings on walls. No matter, it doesn’t have to be ‘thataway’, forever. Expect your children’s school to teach Spanish from Pre-K on. It doesn’t take much, maybe 10 minutes every other day.
    Number 1 thing NOT TO DO cause it offends people is brag about how you DON’T habla español, AND then proceed to give a rat’s ass about how you pronounce the words cause you don’t think it matters.
    CAPISH, y’all?

    • pwt7925

      Not cruel, just cranky.

  • Don Baker

    That would be an issue if I lived in Mexico. I don’t, so who gives a damn.

  • Laurel Miller

    I’m a native Southern Californian longtime Colorado resident (not “Colo-ra-duh,” although my 91-year-old Arizonan dad who went to school here pronounces it that way) about to move to Austin. I am so confused.

    • GibsonGirl99

      You ought to feel right at home then — we’re the home of dazed & confused, after all! Bienvenido a Tejas!!

  • Donald Mc Bride

    I find all this fascinating. Re Glasgow and Glasgie, four pronunciations are used in Scotland, which fits into Texas 9.5 times. Glasgow, when we’re trying to be polite. Glesgie, if you’re from the east coast. Most people in the west use Glesga, and most Glaswegians use Glesca.

  • Don Baker

    I would be concerned about that if I lived in Mexico.