We learn how to pronounce words before we can spell them. When it comes to place names, if we hear them day and day out, and see the name everywhere, I doubt we realise that the way we pronounce a name can quite often be different from how it is spelt.
If you were born in London, or lived there a long time, Greenwich is always Gren-nitch, Holborn is Hoe-bun, and Leicester Square is Lester Square. Though Marylebone, which is pronounced Marry-leben, still doesn’t sound right to me. If you live in Glasgow, locals may pronounce the name of their city as Glezga, though BBC Scotland announcers soften the s to say Glass-gow. But most Southerners will pronounce it as Glasgo rather than Glas-gow (as in how) without a second’s thought.
But there are many places in the UK, that if you’ve only seen the names written down on a map or in a newspaper, could well cause you embarrassment should you try to pronounce them as they are written. Here a few better known place names in England with ‘counter-intuitive’ pronunciations that often catch people out.
Beaminster in Dorset is ‘bemster’, Bicester in Oxfordshire is ‘bis-ter’, Lewes in East Sussex is ‘lewis’, Loughborough in Leicestershire is ‘luff-buh-ruh’, Teignmouth in is ‘tin-muth’, Towcester in Northamptonshire is ‘toaster’, Warwick in Warwickshire is ‘worrick’, and Wisbech in Cambridgeshire is ‘wiz-beech’.
The pronunciation of some English place names is very different from the spelling.
Alnwick in Northumberland is ‘annick’, Belvoir in Leicestershire is ‘beever’, Cholmondeley in Cheshire is ‘chum-lee’, Costessey in Norfolk is ‘cossy’, Darwin in Lancashires is ‘darren’, Furneux Pelham in Hertfordshire begins with ‘furn-ucks’, Mousehole in Cornwall is ‘mou-zl’, Prinknash in Gloucestershire is ‘prinnish’, Torpenhow in Cumbria is ‘tre-penna’, Wymondham in Norfolk is ‘wind-um’, and Woolfardisworthy in Devon is pronounced economically as ‘wools-ree’.
In Wales, if you can’t speak Welsh, pronunciation will be difficult anyway. Some of the more difficult place names are Caersws which is ‘car-soose’, Llandudno is ‘hlan-did-no’, Pwllheli is ‘poohh-helly’, and the little known Ponciau in Wrexham is ‘ponky’.
Scotland has Auchinleck in East Ayrshire which is pronounced ‘aff-leck’, Dalziel in North Lanarkshire is ‘dee-el’ or ‘deeyel’, Hawick in the Borders is ‘hoyk’, Kirkcaldy in Fife is pronounced somewhere between ‘kir-caw-dee’ and ‘ker-coddy’, Milngavie in East Dunbartonshire is ‘mull-guy’, and Penicuik in Midlothian is ‘penny-cook’.
There is a story of an American couple passing through Milngavie who became aware that it had a confusing pronunciation, so they thought they’d better ask a local. When having lunch they asked the waitress ‘can you tell us how you pronounce the name of this place and say it slowly so that we can pick it up’. The obliging lass said, slowly and clearly ‘B-u-r-g-e-r K-i-n-g’.
For those seeking further examples, you can do no better than to consult this list in Wikipedia.