This is for everyone who has plans to travel to London!
Get Started With The Correct Pronunciation Of London Place Names
Even if you are English-speaking, you may be forgiven for not know how to pronounce many of the top London place names, because there is often very little to connect the way a name is written with the way it is phonetically pronounced.
There are no rules to follow, except perhaps to be on alert that even the simplest names may sound diabolically unlike anything a reasonable person would expect.
If you want to feel like a London insider instead of the typical tourist, learn these key pronunciations.
How Do You Say Marylebone?
Don’t be fooled by the way it is sometimes spelled ‘Mary-le-bone’.
And don’t be side-tracked by the history of the name – it was originally named after a church called St. Mary’s by the Bourne.
The district of Marylebone stretches from Regent’s Park to Oxford Street. Travellers to London may find themselves using the Marylebone Railway Station and Underground complex.
Sherlock Holmes’ Baker Street is in Marylebone, and Madame Tussaud’s and the Planetarium are right in Marylebone Road.
In short, there are plenty of reasons for tourists to learn how to say this one properly.
How locals in London pronounce Madame Tussauds?
I can’t speak for Madame Tussauds in New York, but in London, despite the ‘Madame’, you do not say ‘Tussaud’s’ as you do in French.
Why would you? The English don’t even pronounce their own words as they are spelled! In French you say ‘tew/soh’.
To be perverse, the English say ‘Madame Tussaud’s like ‘Madam two swords’. Remember to leave the ‘r’ out of ‘swords’ if you are from the USA or Canada when you use this as your reference point.
Beware Of ‘-ham’
English speakers, especially from the USA are always puzzled when I warn them of this.
They soon find out that a surefire way of revealing yourself as a London novice and outsider is to pronounce ‘-ham’ as written.
It’s a no no, it’s a dead giveaway, it is simply not done in Her Majesty’s Realm, starting with the official residence of the monarch, Buckingham Palace.
I was have seen news anchors from CNN and Fox news broadcasting from outside the palace gates and referring to it as ‘bucking-ham palace’.
If you don’t see the problem, here’s the insider scoop:
The ‘a’ is a neutral vowel, so it’s almost swallowed.
If you are a soccer fan and want to tour the iconic Tottenham Hotspurs stadium, chances are the taxi driver won’t even know where you want to go if you say ‘tot-ten-ham’.
If you are wondering why all these names end in ‘-ham’ it’s because ‘ham’ was the Old English word for a homestead, farm or village.
‘Clapham’ comes from a combination of ‘clop’ meaning ‘hillock’ and ‘ham’, so it would have meant something along the lines of ‘home on a hill’.
Don’t get so carried away that you think everytime you see ‘ham’, you treat it the same way.
It only sounds like a neutral vowel when it’s at the end of a word. If it’s at the beginning of a name like ‘Hampstead’, it is pronounced as written, and if it’s separated out as in ‘West Ham’ you pronounce it as written.
The Dangers Of Names Ending In ‘-wick’.
Berwick Street Market is a top rated attraction in London’s trendy Soho.
Don’t ever pronounce it as written unless you want to imprint the fact that you are a tourist at best, or have people shrug their shoulders because they don’t know what you are talking about, at worst.
The suffix ‘-wick’ is a tricky one. It has an interesting origin. At the beginning of a word it is pronounced normally and is derived from the Latin ‘vicus’ which is the origin of our word ‘vicinity’ and means much the same thing.
At the end of a word, it means a trading place, which makes absolute sense when you are talking about a market. You say ‘beh:rik’, not ‘ber:wik’.
The problem with ‘-wick’ is it doesn’t always apply. In names like ‘Brunswick’ and London’s ‘Gatwick Airport’, you pronounce those words as written.
This is where having Pronounce London comes in handy – it’s almost impossible to remember all the exceptions!
Greenwich is a huge tourist attraction, but whatever you do, don’t say either part of this word as written.
In much the way that ‘-wick’ is usually a danger to those unfamiliar with the vagaries of the Queen’s English, ‘-wich’ is also problematic.
You say ‘gren:nitch’.
Leicester Square And A Few Other Headturners
Leicester Square is in the heart of London’s West End. This is where movie premiers are held, and for the devoted fan, there are even bronze casts of your favourite actor’s hands to see.
If you want to get there, whether by tube, bus, or taxi, don’t even attempt to pronounce it as written.
There’s at least one syllable missing and the ‘i’ is only in it to fox the unwary traveller. It’s ‘Lestə’, incidentally also the name of a Midlands city and a truly delicious English cheese.
If you’ve been following this series, you will by now be saying ‘Buckingham Palace’ like a true insider.
When you go to see the Changing of the Guards you cannot miss that long, pink stretch of road in front of the palace, ‘The Mall’.
That’s not ‘mall’ sounds like ‘maul’ but ‘mal’ rhymes with ‘pal’. Why? Who knows. I have tried to find answers and the best I could get was a shake of the head and ‘because that’s how we say it’.
One of the closest tube stations is Holborn. Listen out for the way the tube station announces it, which is as written, and then shake your head and go ‘tsk, tsk’ because it’s WRONG.
It’s supposed to be ‘Ho/bən’ and I have had the pleasure of correcting a born and bred Londoner on this one, which is a rare one.
Southwark is a gem of an area – home to many interesting museums such as the ‘100 Black Men’ museum, and the ‘Bramah museum of Tea and Coffee’, as well as the somewhat more gruesome attraction of the London Dungeon.
It is as well to remember that it is pronounced ‘suthək’, and not as written, or you may find yourself thrown into the dungeon for mal-pronunciation.
Masterclass: Shops, Hotels And Posh Places
You don’t want to get all the way to London to see the world’s poshest store and then put your foot in it by pronouncing it as written. It’s ha:rədz not har:rods.
While you are in the area, make sure to visit that noble London institution of Fortnum & Mason, but as delicious as all their English goodies are, don’t say ‘Fort-num’ with the final syllable rhyming with ‘yum’.
It’s another of those pesky neutral vowels, so follow the audio.
If you want to make Londoners wince, by all means mispronounce Carnaby Street as kar:neɪ:bee street instead of the correct [put in audio here].
Don’t be put off by Chrisp Street Market, just pretend there is no ‘h’ in ‘Chrisp’ and all will be well. Burberry is a brand synonymous with London style, so make sure you say it bur:bə:ree, and not bur:buh:ree.
Frightfully well-connected visitors will stay at the Cadogan Hotel in Cadogan Square. What they won’t do is pronounce it as written. It’s ka:dug:gən with the stress on the second syllable and mispronounce it at your peril in high society.
Knaresborough Place is another tricky one. For the love of Britannia don’t pronounce that ‘k’. It’s neəz:bə:ruh pleɪs. The Egerton House Hotel looks like a no-brainer, but please remember that is a hard ‘g’, not a soft one, whatever you instincts might tell you.
There are so many more traps lying in wait when it comes to pronouncing London place names, it’s impossible to give hard and fast rules, or to warn you of the many exceptions to them.
This is why I created Pronounce.London: so the wary visitor and interested local can have a fast, easy reference that you can refer to on the go.