The 15 Hardest Town Names to Pronounce in Washington
I’m a lifelong resident of the great State of Washington. I was born and raised in Wenatchee, a Yakimaniac since 1995 (except for a couple of wet, experimental years in Seattle 2016 - 2017), and other than brief stints in a ‘state of confusion, the Pacific Northwest has been and will always be my home.
Washington has been a state since 1889 but many of the names people seem to have the hardest time pronouncing have been around much longer. Native American names are predominantly the ones I hear twisted around the tongues of guests, transplants, and travelers – but many locals too. Who among us hasn’t heard someone gratuitously add an ‘R’ to WaRshington?
While not obsessed, I am curious about the proper pronunciations, so I set out on a quest to find out the proper way to say some of the most challenging names in our state – cities, counties, and even wide spots in the road. I was surprised to find that I wasn’t so knowledgeable after all.
Here are 15 of them, along with an audio clip of the correct pronunciation.
Aeneas -- ANN-ee-us
Aeneas is an unincorporated community in Okanogan County. Northeast of Omak and southwest of Republic in the middle of nowhere. Frankly, if you’re there, and you’re not a resident, you’re probably lost or on the lam or researching ‘The 15 Hardest Town Names to Pronounce in Washington’.
Anacortes -- ann-a-COR-tiss
Anacortes is a beautiful area is just south of Bellingham in Western Washington on Puget Sound and has the unique distinction of having been called the hometown of the late Burl Ives. Burl, in turn, was known not only for being the voice of the snowman on the beloved holiday classic Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer but also as ‘The Pride of Anacortes'. Kind of a mutual admiration society.
Inchelium is a little spot is near Tonasket in North Central Washington. Don’t blink while driving along highway 97 or you’ll miss it. Not trying to do any eye-shaming here…...blinking is completely normal. And hey, who’s to say what ‘normal’ is? So, if someone is giving you a hard time about your blinking tendencies, you send them to me and I’ll straighten them out with an eye chart from hell.
Well, this is an island that’s just a stone’s throw from Anacortes. Just take my word for it, you don’t need to go throwing stones at Anacortes or anyone for that matter.
Lummi -- LUH-mee
Named for the Tribe of the same name, Lummi is a beautiful island community is actually a bit north of part of Canada which has many Canadians exclaiming “How’s it going up there, eh?”
Pend Oreille -- PAWN-do-RAY
Ok, Pend Oreille is a County in Northeast Washington but it’s one that I’ve frequently heard mispronounced over the years, not just by non-residents. Actually, I remember being a teenage newsreader during my first radio job. I confidently butchered the name during a newscast and the news director came running down the hall with a look of both terror and disgust on his face. He made me memorize the Associated Press Pronunciation Guide.
Poulsbo -- PAULS-bo
Here’s another one that’s often mispronounced ever so slightly. I hear ‘pools-bo’ quite a bit. If that’s you, knock it off. It’s a very Norwegian-influenced community and they might force-feed lutefisk to you if you can’t get it right.
Pysht – pisht
Pysht is an unincorporated community located on the Olympic Peninsula in Clallam County. Let’s see, the way to remember how to pronounce this one is – think of how you’d express yourself if you had to have your jaw wired shut for a year. You might really be…….Pysht.
Sequim -- skwim
This area is a little slice of heaven. Sequim is right next to some rainforest but receives less than 16 inches of rain per year. And did you know, because of the ideal climate, the Sequim area is known as the ‘Lavender Capital of North America’?
Skamokawa -- ska-MOCK-a-way
Skamokawa is an unincorporated community in Wahkiakum County – situated right along the Columbia River. Loosely translated it means ‘smoke on the water’. I feel a little Deep Purple coming on. How about you?
Steilacoom -- STILL-a-cum
This is a beautiful little town in Pierce County near Tacoma but without the aroma. Charming and mispronounced routinely by folks who insist on over-pronouncing it. It’s not “STEEL-A-COOOOOM”.
Swinomish is south of Anacortes and if you have a full tank of gas and some time to kill, you can actually hop on highway 20 in the Methow Valley and keep on going west. Some very lovely scenery along the way. Unlike some of the other cities in the state with the ‘omish’ suffix, this one kicks off with a hard SWINN!
Tshletshy -- ta-LEE-chee
The Tshletshy ridge in the Olympic National Park. To be honest, I needed the pronunciation guide for this one.
Tulalip -- too-LAY-lip
Tulalip is a large community within the reservation of the federally recognized Tulalip Tribes of Washington. North of Everett and a very fine Casino.
Wahkiacus is an unincorporated community in Klickitat County right along the Klickitat River. It’s west of Goldendale and just south of Soda Springs Campground with a view of Mt Adams. This is also one of my go-to words when performing an impromptu impression of the late Jerry Lewis. Just blurt it out ‘Jerry-Style’ as though you’d taken leave of your senses and the locals will embrace you warmly. Or, you’ll never be heard from again.
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Gallery Credit: Keri Wiginton