I’M constantly struck by how many people have moved to Savannah over the past decade or less, from other parts of the country.
Unfortunately, a phenomenon that I see more and more is that the new folks tend to ask other new folks first about the lay of the land, which just compounds mistakes and misunderstandings.
As a result, it’s more and more of a challenge to reinforce local culture and folkways.
Change is the one constant, and I fully realize there’s no point in wanting to keep everything the same, or even keep things somewhat similar.
But, Savannah’s local culture is ostensibly the main reason so many people move here. I mean, it’s definitely not for high wages, or copious career opportunities, or excellent public schools.
In that spirit, I offer you an updated version of my 2017 column, “A guide to local pronunciation.”
Abercorn Street, not “Abercrombie.” 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 and it hurts my ears. 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! This problem is getting much worse. Unfortunately, it’s hard to take seriously your earnest new Facebook petition to make Savannah exactly like the city you just left if you can’t pronounce the name of our county correctly.
HAB-er-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 on the Great British Baking Show and you’ll do fine.
YAM-a-craw, not Yahm-a-craw. This area immediately to the west of the historic district is in the news more and more because of all the development sprouting up around it. This is the name of the native tribe the first Savannah colonists encountered. While no one’s sure how they actually pronounced it, locals say YAM-a-craw.
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 or Bar-Nard. This usage is rapidly fading.
FOR-syth Park, not For-SYTH. However, the county in middle Georgia is pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable. This one engenders strong debate even from locals.
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. Montgomery Cross Road began as just that — a “cross road” from the area of White Bluff Road to the other side of the county. You see this misspelled almost everywhere, but when you go on the Truman Parkway note the correct usage on the signs.
Louie-ville Road or Lewis-ville Road? A bit of a gray area, since Louisville Road 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. This one isn’t etched in stone by any means.
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 the pronunciation quirk. A losing battle, and within ten years probably no one will pronounce it the old way.
Atlantic, not “The Atlantic.” Talking about the restaurant at Victory and Drayton, of course.
Elizabeth on 37th, not Elizabeth’s. A common error, but it’s not a possessive name. You’ll see many incorrect internet listings.
Garibaldi, not Garibaldi’s. Again, no possessive, just the name. Garibaldi.
1790. Locals always just say the numbers, not the technically correct name “17hundred90.” Or occasionally, “the 90.”
The Collins Quarter, not Quarters or Collin’s. The cafe is named after an area, or quarter, of Melbourne, Australia.
Broughton Common, not Commons. Based on the concept of a “common house.”
Olympia Café, not Olympic. However, the original name was Olympic, until the Olympics Committee forced them to change it prior to the Games coming to Georgia in 1996.
Hutchinson Island with an “n,” not Hutchison. Not that big a deal and locals mispronounce it all the time too.
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 y’all, not ya’ll or you’ll. OK, not pronunciation but spelling. It’s a contraction of you and all, hence only one logical way to spell it, just like it sounds: Y’all.
Sorry folks, this one’s not debatable. Spell y’all right, y’all! cs