I was invited, last week, to speak to a group of folks over in Louisville, which happens to be the county seat of Jefferson County - whose population is roughly the size of one of our local football stadiums on an October Friday night. The very nice lady who invited me wanted to make sure I was aware that the name of her town was pronounced "Lewis-ville" and not "Looie-ville," which is how it would be pronounced were I headed for Kentucky to make my talk.
"Not to worry," I told my new friend. I know how to pronounce Louisville when I am in Georgia. I even know that Louisville was created to serve as the Georgia state capital when so many cotton farmers had moved to the interior of the state that Augusta, our second capital, was too hard to reach. Louisville wouldn't last long as a capital. That distinction was soon bestowed upon Milledgeville, of course, and later Atlanta. See. I did learn something in all those years of teaching Georgia history.
But my conversation with the lady from Louisville did set me to thinking about why the names of certain towns are pronounced so differently in different parts of the country. Let me give you an example or three.
If you take a trip down to Warner Robins, for instance, to visit the Air Force museum there, you will find yourself smack dab in the middle of Houston County - which in pronounced like the word that means dwelling place with four walls and a roof - plus ton. House-ton.
But how would a person know that who ain't from around here? Everyone knows that the line in the movie wasn't "House-ton, we have a problem," it was "Houston, we have a problem." Like Howard Hughes' last name, plus ton. And Howard Hughes had a problem or two also, but that's a different story for a different day.
I used to live in deep south Georgia - way below the gnat line - in a little town called Meigs. I was just a stone's throw away from Cairo - which is pronounced, in these parts at least, like a girl's name - "Kay" with what you do to a boat - "row." For most of you I could have simply said that it is pronounced like the syrup - which is why Cairo High School's sports teams are called the Syrupmakers, but, again - another story for another day. That place in Egypt, where I am sure not many people sop their biscuits in syrup, is pronounced ... well, you know how it is pronounced.
And while we are in south Georgia - New York can call pronounce Albany any way they want, but folks in South Georgia go to "All-benny" to shop.
There are more, of course. Lots more.
I bet most of you don't think there is but one way to pronounce Athens. Well, if you think that you are wrong - at least as far as folks up in northern Kentucky are concerned. They have one, too, but they call it "A-thens," with a long A sound.
I ain't making this up, y'all. That's the way they say it.
During the American Revolution the French nobleman, La Fayette, was instrumental in helping us win our independence from the British. The former colonists were very grateful and his name was given to parks and counties and municipalities all up and down the Atlantic seaboard, including a town in the northwest corner of our state - but the folks up there put the accent on the end of the word. I tried two or three times and couldn't figure out how to explain their unique pronunciation of the word in print. Suffice it to say that not many Parisians would recognize the word and they don't pronounce it the way folks down in Savannah pronounce the square they named after the same Frenchman.
If you aren't a local, you wouldn't believe the way people in Taliaferro County pronounce the word, even if I told you. I will give you a hint, though. You might hear people speak of a Tolliver County, but look all you want - you'll never find it on a map. And to the folks who hail from down around Newnan, there is no "Cow" sound in Coweta County. And what's up with all the different ways people say "Monroe."
Well, you can call it anything you want to call it. All I know is that the people over in Louisville were super nice and I look forward to going back someday. And I was happy to tell them that I am from Porterdale - and there has never been but one way to say that.