(ABC4) – There’s almost no better way to tell if someone is from Utah or not than by asking them to pronounce “Tooele” out loud. Go ahead and try it if you’re sitting next to a recent out-of-state transplant, it’s a hoot.
The Beehive State is known for its unusual vernacular and creative spin on spelling or pronouncing certain words, and a good chunk of the state’s 253 incorporated municipalities are no different.
If you’re a native, Tooele and others are a cinch, but for those who are new to the state – and the migration numbers say there are a lot of you – here is a guide on some of the weird city and town names in Utah, how to pronounce it properly, and where the name came from.
Couple these bits of local trivia with the area’s favorite joke – Welcome to Utah, if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes! – and you’ll be speaking like a native in no time:
This is an easy one, it’s pronounced exactly like the fuzzy animal with the big teeth and the weird flat, flappy tails. The city itself isn’t the only thing that pays homage to the dam-building creatures – the county, the valley, and the nearby river all take Beaver naming. While the city is currently still quite small with a population of just over 3,000, it played a major role in the state’s history as an important stop between St. George and Salt Lake City.
However you think this city’s name should be pronounced, you’re probably wrong. The correct way – or Utah way – to say the name of this place, which is located about 115 miles east of Salt Lake City is actually DOO-shane. There are several theories about how this city near the Unita Mountains got its name, but the most legitimate is associated with a French religious figure, Rose Philippine Duchesne, who was given sainthood by the Catholic Church.
There is no Sesame Street in the tiny town of Elmo, located in central-eastern Utah with a population hovering around 400. That makes sense though since the town wasn’t named after the fuzzy red puppet, but rather the four families that first settled the area in 1908. To arrive at the name, the folks took the first letter from each of their last names; Erickson, Larsen, Mortensen, and Oviatt, and voila, Elmo.
At first glance, this city name seems easy enough. However, pronouncing Hurricane in the same way as the word that describes a storm with a violent wind will be a dead giveaway; you’re not from around here. The correct way to say the name of this town is “Her-ah-kun,” not “Her-ah-cane.” The Southern Utah city was given its name by LDS Church leader Erastus Snow in 1896, but the reason why the residents have given it such a weird pronunciation isn’t immediately clear.
The metropolis of Koosharem, Utah, the centrally located town with a population of under or about 400, was given its name by the Piute Tribe that was indigenous to the area. It means “Grass Valley,” which is considered to be a secondary name for the place. So you want to brag to your friends that you can speak Piute, just point a little south of the dead center of a map of Utah and say “KOO-share-um.” Here’s a fun fact; one of the biggest trophy elks on record was shot in Koosharem in 2008.
Lehi, Manti, Moroni, Nephi
The names of these Utah cities, which all end in “I” and share a certain musically biblical quality to them, may seem foreign to outsiders, but when you realize they’re names taken from the Book of Mormon, it makes a lot of sense. Lehi, Moroni, and Nephi were all prophet figures in the book, which the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints considers to be holy scripture. Manti was the name of a setting in the text. Now you get it, don’t you?
Like a couple of the other names on this list, it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll pronounce Mantua correctly on your first try. It’s not MAN-two-a, as you might think, it’s actually MAN-a-way. The history goes that the town received its name as an homage to LDS Church leader Lorenzo Snow, who was from a similarly named township in Ohio. That Midwestern town was in turn, named after Mantua, Italy, which some Italian organizations consider one of the most important cultural centers of the Neapolitan era. No shade to Mantua, Utah, but you won’t find a Palazzo Ducale in Box Elder County.
Let’s say someone calls you out on your grasp of the Piute language, you can always drag your finger a little farther down the map and confidently say “PANG-qwitch,” which means “Big Fish.” The city holds up to its namesake, the nearby lakes are known as some of the best spots in the state to fish for rainbow trout.
Last, but certainly not least, is perhaps the crown jewel of oddly-named Utah cities, Tooele, which rests 30 minutes to the west of Salt Lake City. Is it TOO-elle-e? TOO-lee? Neither. It’s actually too-WIL-ah. Why is that the pronunciation? How does that make any sense? No one is really sure. Some think it comes from the Ute Tribe’s word for “tumbleweed,” although this hasn’t been confirmed and doesn’t add up since the name was used before tumbleweed was introduced to the area. Others say the name has Goshute or even Aztec etymology. In the end, there is no definite answer, and an old copy of a report from the Tooele County Clerk’s office confirms that no one really knows where the name came from.