IF YOU really want to get local folks talking, start a discussion of how to pronounce local names and places correctly.
In the jovial spirit of the season, I wanted to again go over “The List” of local words you should pronounce correctly, whether you’ve lived here all your life or are just down here for a weekend.
There is room for debate on some items — but not much room. Where there’s some gray area I’ve indicated it.
We’ll start with the biggies and work down the list to the more obscure items:
Abercorn Street, not “Abercrombie.” The most timeworn tell indicating you’re not from around here. I don’t think this one will ever go away. Two hundred years from now, as climate change brings the waves of the Atlantic Ocean crashing onto Abercorn Street itself, some tourist from New York will loudly ask your great-great-great-great grandchild where “Abercrombie Street” is.
Braw-ton Street, not Brow-ton. I hear this a lot lately. It hurts my ears and it seems to come exclusively from tourists. The street is named for Thomas Broughton, a colonial governor of South Carolina.
CHAT-um County, not Chath-am. The second “h” in Chatham is silent, in the British fashion. Don’t pronounce it! Ugh. This is an awful new addition to the list, and I think it’s related to the recent boom in new arrivals moving to Savannah from other areas of the country. Through the “wonders” of social media (sarcasm intended), many start getting involved in local politics almost immediately. Unfortunately, it’s hard to take seriously your earnest new Facebook petition to make Savannah exactly like the place you just left if you can’t pronounce the name of our county correctly.
Haber-shum Street, not HAB-er-SHAM. Again, clip “Habersham” short like the English do. This is an Anglophilic city, founded by an Englishman. When in doubt, speak like you’re in a PBS period piece and you’ll usually do just fine.
How-ston Street, not Hew-ston. This ain’t Texas. Houston Street in New York is pronounced the same as Savannah’s. That’s because both streets are named for the same guy, William Houstoun (not a typo) of Georgia, a member of the Continental Congress and an original Trustee of the University of Georgia.
Bar-nerd Street, not Ber-NARD. Barnard Street should also be clipped in the British style. Not a serious faux pas, but definitely marks you as a Yankee. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
FOR-syth Park, not For-SYTH. I hear this one a lot lately too. However, the county in middle Georgia is pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable.
Montgomery Cross Road, not Crossroads. Two words: Cross and Road, singular. The toughest one to explain, and the one on the list that locals screw up as much as anyone. Local lore has it that Montgomery Cross Road began as just that – a “cross road” connecting White Bluff to Skidaway, back when most all that area was pasture. You see this misspelled almost everywhere, but when you go on the Truman Parkway note the correct usage on the signs. (However, complicating things further, in some early printed material I’ve found reference to “the Montgomery cross-roads.” So the debate lives.)
Louie-ville Road, not Louisville. A bit of a gray area, since Louisville Road itself is named for the route to the old state capital, which is indeed pronounced “Lewis-ville.” However, most local style pronounces it like the city in Kentucky — which our road is not named after, no matter what anyone tells you.
Maw-Paw Avenue, not Moe-pah. This refers to Maupas Avenue in Baldwin Park. A bit of debate over this, as some old-timers also call it “Maw-puss.” In any case avoid the strict French pronunciation.
It’s Wit-marsh and Wit-field. Whitemarsh Island and Whitefield Avenue aren’t pronounced how they’re spelled. George Whitefield was a founder of Methodism. His family name is often spelled “Whitfield” in historical records, which likely explains and/or alludes to the pronunciation quirk there.
Wall-Tower, not Wall-thower. Like Whitemarsh Island, the road on Wilmington Island called Walthour is pronounced differently from its logical spelling. I suspect with so many newcomers moving to the islands that both these local pronunciations will fade from memory.
Beaulieu is BYOO-lee. A community on the Vernon River. Our pronunciation combines a Southernism with the stubborn British aversion to French names; see Maupas Ave. above.
It’s a lane, not an alley. And it’s a totally Savannah thing. I confess, I’m from here and I tend to call them alleys as well. Let’s be honest – it’s an alley!
It’s an allée, not an alley. This refers to the intentional planting of an entranceway or avenue lined with grand trees, usually live oaks. Another French word!
It’s y’all, not ya’ll or you’ll. OK, not pronunciation but purely spelling. It’s a contraction of you and all, hence only one logical way to spell it, just like it sounds: Y’all. Spell y’all right, y’all!
• Lincoln Street is not named for Abraham Lincoln, no matter what ridiculously embellished stories your tour guide makes up for your entertainment. It’s named for Gen. Benjamin Lincoln.
• If you’re brand new here and you’re wondering why there’s an East Broad and not a West Broad, there was. West Broad Street was renamed Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in 1990. There was a South Broad Street at one time as well, renamed to Oglethorpe Avenue in 1897.
• If you’re wondering why a city founded before there was a United States has so many patriotic American street names... they aren’t the original names. Congress Street was originally Duke Street, President Street was originally King Street, and State Street was originally Prince Street. (Charleston S.C. has retained most of its colonial names, so their King Street is still King Street. However, their Queen Street was originally Dock Street. That’s why the Dock Street Theatre is on a corner of Queen Street. Who’s On First? A subject for another column some other time.)