Thursday, May 19, 2011

"Pennsylvania" names

A friend was telling a story about someone recently, and I caught myself saying "that sounds like a good Pennsylvania name."

The PA "Dutch" and Native American surnames and municipalities are pretty common in the Lehigh Valley, but they were new to me when I moved here. It took me a while to figure out how to spell names like Reichley, Breidinger and Schoenenberger. Even my GPS still has trouble pronouncing Schoenersville Road, Macungie, Muhlenberg, and Tilghman Street. Sometimes I'll take a guess at the "correct" pronunciation only to find out the locally-accepted pronunciation is actually the American-ized version.

I've also observed a trend of having first names that are two names put together: Joellen, Joelin, Jolisa, Jenelle, Leanne, Deanna, Shaunalee and Jolene are all names that I encounter regularly in PA that I almost never saw in DC. I think it's pretty cool to be able to combine names, especially if one or both names honor someone in your family. Even the Twilight kids did it (though Renesme could be stretching it a bit).

Are there any Lehigh Valley names you have read that you still can't pronounce?


  1. The thing that trips me up is that as a Jew, I often mistake a PA Dutch last name for a Jewish last name. I've never lived somewhere where a surname like Gross, or one that ends in Stein or Berg, didn't indicate Jewish heritage.

  2. I don't think I will ever know how to properly pronounce Schuylkill.

  3. Anonymous5/29/2011

    By default, I always pronounce the names the German way (I'm part German, used to be fluent in it, so it's second nature), with my French accent that puzzles the locals even further. I don't think they have any clue of what I'm talking about half the time. Keeps things entertaining.

    By the way, I realized from reading your "About" blurb that it's been/is going to be 5 years since you moved back to the Lehigh Valley! Time flies. What are your plans to celebrate? Happy fifth anniversary back.


  4. I think that a sign that you're really from the Valley is that you know how to pronounce Hokendaqua and Cattasaqua, but still call them "Hokey" and "Catty." I know I do.

  5. Hillary, do you think that's because this region was settled so long ago that people's names have evolved/changed over time? Or do they have Jewish heritage that's been forgotten?

    Lauren, Tom Coombe assures me that Schuylkill is "Skoo-kull," but I pronounce it like the sporting goods store commercials: "Skoo-kill"

    Aurelie, I hadn't thought about celebrating, but maybe an ice cream cake is in order. :)

    Katie, I have heard Nazareth called Nazo, and Bethlehem called B-town... nothing is sacred!

  6. Susannah6/28/2011

    As someone born in Philly (why do we call it that, for that matter?), I'd propose that it's actually pronounced (colloquially) as "Skook-ll". The syllable break is later in the word, and there's really no vowel that corresponds to the second part. It's not "ull" as in "cull, mull, skull, etc" but more like "uhll" as in "pull".

  7. Susannah, Tom Coombe from Easton Patch concurs, so I will start using your pronunciation of Skookll from now on!