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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Odd City Name Pronunciations

In 1997, the singles group from my church went on a murder mystery train ride on the Fremont Dinner Train. We had a marvelous meal and a great time trying to solve the mystery as we traveled from Fremont, Nebraska to Hooper, Nebraska in a 1940s style train (round trip is about 36 miles).

As we approached Hooper -- a town of less than a thousand people -- several passengers on the train informed us that the pronunciation of the city sounds like "hooker" with a "p."

"Huh?" I said.

"Yeah, like hooker with a p."

How could that be correct? I didn't argue though.

Recently, I found a message on an ancestory bulletin board asking why it is pronounced that way and so far nobody has answered the question. I also found a newspaper article written about the city and many of the locals chimed in about the proper pronunciation, but again, nobody really said why.

Some 13 years since that dinner train ride, I hear the city pronounced the way locals always say it and I smile, as if I'm in the know or something.

Oddly, we have another city in Nebraska that isn't pronounced the way it looks.

The city is Norfolk, Nebraska -- a city of nearly 23,000 people, located about 90 miles northwest of  Omaha. Many locals pronounce the city name as "Norfork."

One television station attempted to find out the proper pronunciation so it asked the mayor (who said both pronunciations are correct) and a number of citizens, all of whom had varying opinions for varying reasons, but most natives seem to favor "Norfork." One woman in the video said it was Norfork "because of the fork in the river." Another said it was Norfork because "it's always been that way."

Residents in Norfolk don't seem as dogmatic about the odd pronunciation as the people in Hooper. But I have to wonder if the founders of these towns didn't alter the pronunciations of these towns purposely -- maybe to identify the non-natives easily. Or maybe to be different. Or maybe there really are good explanations that nobody seems to know about.

But it's kind of fun to talk about.


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