This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California

How to pronounce the names of things in the Phoenix area


If you visit somewhere, or move there, one of the most embarrassing things is to mispronounce the name of something. I lived in California for a long time, and there's nothing more hilarious to locals than hearing someone mispronounce the name of a street, or a town. It seems like even the nicest people will laugh in the face of someone who mispronounces something, and it's unpleasant to be laughed at, so if you're new around here, I want to set your mind at ease, and help a bit.

The really good news is that most of the names you see are very straight-forward. But I'm going to cover as many as I can think of, just to set your mind at rest.

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• Phoenix. Pronounced FEE'-Nix. It's an ancient word for a legendary bird that would be reborn from the ashes after it burned up. Other than the weirdness of a Ph being pronounced as an "f", that's all it is. By the way, for some strange reason the o is before the e, and I remember that the first time I wrote it, I got it wrong, and my boss at my new job simply smiled gently, and transposed the two letters. It's nice to have people like that when you're new in town.

 • Tempe. The accent is on the second syllable, like this: Tem-PEE. This is about the only name that is regularly mispronounced, and while it's not the end of the world, it marks you as an outsider, and of course idiots will give you the "horse's laugh".

The streets downtown are mostly named after U.S. Presidents, so if you went to third grade, you'll be fine pronouncing names like Washington, Jefferson, Adams, etc. And don't worry, the most modern President you'll have to know is Roosevelt.

I'm racking my brains this morning, drinking a LOT of coffee, and I'm darned if I can really think of any more. But hopefully that should make you feel good. I remember that my dad, who used to play a lot of golf, would confuse Dunlap Avenue with Dunlop (they make golf balls, and tires), but I doubt that's going to happen to you, if you know the difference between an a and an o, and pay attention.

By the way, out here we always use the word "the" in front of freeway names, as in "take the 101" or exit on "the Black Canyon Freeway". It's a tiny detail, but not putting the word "the" in front of a freeway name sounds as weird to us as people who say, "I'm going to hospital". It's just how we do it here.

I've lived in the Phoenix area for a long time, but I remember being new in town. I didn't want people to laugh at me, and I hope this helps. If you can think of some more, write it in a comment, and I'm sure I can help. In the meantime, I'll keep pondering this, and drinking more coffee.

Welcome to Phoenix! I just love it here, and you will, too.

Image at the top of this post: Flying over downtown Phoenix, looking north. The intersection at lower left is 7th Avenue and Jefferson.