– By Tom Schaffner
Speak Like a Local — 17 Street Names Pronounced the Chicago Way
Long before the existence of cell phones, the Internet or even an on-board public address system, Chicago’s suburban commuter railroads used a decidedly low-tech way of announcing each train’s next stop. Conductors walked through every car and, in their own inimitable style, bellowed out towns and Chicago street names that didn’t sound like any that I knew. “Next stop…BROOT’-feel. BROOT’-feel is next” (instead of Brookfield). Or “We’re coming up on LAV’-earn Avenue” instead of the correct pronunciation — Luh-VERN’ (accent on the second syllable). And that was just on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Line.
Other locations throughout the metropolitan area were often mispronounced by folks, as well. Soldier Field often became Soldiers Field, Comiskey Park became Cominskey Park and the name of our state often became ILLI’-noise instead of Ill-ANNOY’.”
Does it matter if a person mispronounces the Chicago street names and other locations throughout the area? Usually, no. Most people understand what you’re referring to and nod accordingly for clarity. Occasionally, however, mispronouncing some Chicago street names can be downright embarrassing — it clearly marks you as a rube from out of town, perhaps someone that can be taken advantage of.
A much better solution is to learn to pronounce Chicago street names and other important locations the way Chicagoans pronounce them — and sound like a local. That way you’ll look and sound like you fit in. To help you in this noble quest, we have prepared a Chicago street name pronunciation guide to assist you in your travels throughout the metropolitan area.
For those of you that are more verbal learners over readers, consider taking one of our Chicago city tours, and we’ll teach how to pronounce dozen of Chicago street names.
1. Armitage Ave.
The Chicago pronunciation of this North Side thoroughfare is AR’-mi-tidge, not AR’-mi-taj’. This slight mispronunciation not only gives the street a “Chicago” sound, it makes the French cringe, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
2. Berenice Ave.
If you don’t look carefully at the spelling of this North Side Chicago street name, you’re likely to say Burr-NIECE’. But that’s wrong, the correct pronunciation is BARE’-uh-niece.
3. Bryn Mawr Ave.
This North Side Chicago street name that cuts through the Edgewater neighborhood is named after a railroad stop near Philadelphia. To pronounce it correctly, ignore the “y” and the “w” and say BRIN’-mar.
4. Clybourn Ave.
Archibald Clybourn built the city’s first slaughtering plant in the early 1800s and out of towners have been butchering the pronunciation of his last name ever since. It’s CLY’-born, not CLEE’-burn.
5. Cuyler Ave.
Edward Cuyler built a railroad between Chicago and Janesville, Wis. and for this accomplishment had a street named after him. In Chicago, we pronounce it KAI’-ler.
6. Desplaines St.
The name is derived from plane trees in the area that French explorers thought resembled a similar species in Europe. Like most French-origin words that have found their way into the local vernacular, Chicagoans prefer to pronounce it without any silent letters and say it exactly the way it is spelled, Des-PLANES’. The same is true for the suburb, Des Plaines, which is just north of O’Hare and which also has a lot of planes.
7. Devon Ave.
Originally known as Church Road, it was changed to Devon in the 1880s by a developer who named it after Devon Station on the Main Line north of Philadelphia. Never say DEV’-in, the correct pronunciation is De-VAUGHN’.
8. Goethe St.
German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s last name is pronounced GUR’-tuh, but not in Chicago. We defiantly say GO’-thee and, are proud of it.
9. Honore St.
Henry Hamilton Honore was a real estate magnate successful enough to have this West Side street named after him. It’s not Hoe-NORE’, locals pronounce it HONOR’-ray.
10. Leavitt St.
A north-south Chicago street name on the West Side of the city, Leavitt looks as though it should be pronounced LEAVE’-it, but it isn’t. The correct local pronunciation is LEV’-it. Take it or leave it.
11. Melvina Ave.
Named after a Wisconsin summer resort, the Chicago street name is pronounced with a long “i” sound, as in Mel-VINE’-uh, where nothing could be fine-uh.
12. Nina Ave.
The history books say this street was named after one of Christopher Columbus’ boats, but Chicagoans pronounce it differently than Columbus did. For some odd reason, we say NINE’-uh, not NEEN’-uh.
13. Paulina Ave.
The wife of an early Chicago real estate developer, locals pronounce this Chicago street name Paw-LINE’-uh, not Paw-LEEN’-uh. Take that, Ms. Porizkova!
14. Racine Ave.
This one is not definitive — it’s split about 50/50. South Siders tend to say RAY’-seen and North Siders say Ruh-SEEN’. In France (Racine is a French name), they say RAH’-seen. Go figure.
15. Throop St.
Amos G. Throop, a Chicago real estate developer, pronounced his surname TROOP, totally ignoring the “h.” Chicagoans believe that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and do the same.
16. Vincennes Ave.
Named after an explorer, the French pronounce it Vaugh-SEN’. In Chicago, no one knows what you’re talking about when you say it this way. Butcher it like the rest of us and say Vin-SENZ’.
17. Wabansia Ave.
There are many ways to say it wrong, only one way to say it like a local. It’s Wuh-BAHN’-see-uh.
If you want to learn more facts about Chicago that will make you seem like a local, consider going on one of our Chicago city tours. All of our guides native to Chicago and love to answer any and all questions you have about the city!
Holder of two journalism degrees, including a masters from Northwestern University, Tom Schaffner is a native of the Chicago area and has spent nearly 50 years as a writer, editor, publisher and professional communications consultant. He was also the founder, editor, and publisher of the Chicago File, as well as the co-owner of L Stop Tours.