Virginia Placenames Pronunciation *1-3

*1content by Don Desrosiers

*2wordsmithed by Adam Helman

*3Standard pronunciation symbols are not used
    because most readers are unfamiliar with them.
    A key to standard symbols is available here.

How to Talk Virginian

Since VA seems to be in vogue, I felt as a public service I would include some information on "How to Talk Virginian". While all areas of the country have various idiosyncrasies when it comes to the names of places and things, this guide may help when stopping to speak with some of the local population so they don't spot you as an obvious out of town tourist. A few of these pronunciations have been previously mentioned in trip reports.

As with much regional pronunciation, when in doubt, reduce the word to as few syllables as possible and you will generally be pronouncing correctly. I will omit obvious instances where front teeth are missing or where as the police report says, "alcohol was involved." In such cases, you are on your own, although using any pronunciation rules from home will generally suffice. As occurs in most locales, a place like Waynesboro is frequently rendered close to "Waynes-burro", while Bedford often comes out as "Bed-ferd". These are left as an exercise for the reader.

Places Known to Highpointers

Botetourt - "BOT-a-tot". Possibly the most non-obvious pronunciation in the bunch.
The nice thing is that is sort of rhymes within itself.

Buchanan - This one depends on context. First is Buchanan County, home of Big A Mtn. It is properly pronounced "buh-CAN-on" (almost "buh-cannon"). Next is the town of Buchanan, in Botetourt County. Again pronounced "bu-CAN-on". Finally, there is James Buchanan, 15th US president, and pronounced "BEW-can-on". Some things are not easily explained. Similarly, exactly why Buchanan is in Botetourt County is not obvious, but then again Dickensonville is in Russell County.

Buena Vista - "BEW-na VIS-ta" or "BV". Pronounced as "BWAY-na VEES-ta" or "BWAY-na VIS-ta"
and you are talking about somewhere else.

Charlottesville - Home of "You-vee-ay". You can go with the full name or shorten to "See-ville".
Either is acceptable. Jefferson Park Ave (US 29) is always "Jay-Pee-Ay".

Covington - First syllable rhymes with "love".

Fauquier - Two syllables or three? "Faw-KEER" or "FAW-key-er"?
Remember your basic rules from above and this one is easy.

Fluvanna - "flew-VAN-a". Generally obvious, but maybe not.

Galax - "GAY-lax"

Giles - soft "G"

Gloucester - "GLOSS-ter" (same as in Massachusetts)

Henrico - "hen-RYE-ko"

Loudoun - Despite what some wags would have you believe, this county is NOT pronounced "Low-Down".

Norfolk - Frequently mispronounced. Properly "NAW-fuk". Really. And make the second syllable as short as possible, almost "fk". Think of, "We don't drink. We don't smoke. Norfolk. Norfolk." If you can make that come out in a humorous manner, you have it exactly right.

Poquoson - Mostly this is just spelled a little strangely. Go with "puh-CO-zin",
although taking out the second hyphen would be a plus.

Pulaski - "pew-LAS-key". Both the town and the surrounding county.

Roanoke - The "A" is silent: "ROW-noke". Rhymes with "slow poke". It has been noted that the "upper classes" will pronounce all three syllables. This is true. My sister-in-law graduated from a high school in "Row-noke", went to a prestigious school in the eastern part of the state (with two first names), and after graduation came back to live in "Row-a-noke". We still love her.

Staunton - "STAN-ton". Rhymes with "plan fun".

Talliferro - One of the streets on the way to the Norfolk HP. "Tolliver". Just go with it.

Tysons Corner - The HP of Fairfax County is here. The second word is silent. Locals work at "Tysons".

Wytheville in Wythe County - "WITH-ville in YTH County". This is admittedly another unusual one since both places refer to the same person, George Wythe, a former Virginia governor. I used to work with someone from Wytheville. He also found this dichotomy of pronunciation quite humorous. You will also hear "WITH County". We allow this.

Miscellaneous Points that You may Pass on Your Trips

Amissville - On US 211 between Warrenton and Skyline Drive. Rhymes with "Famous-ville".

Appalachian - North of I-64 go with "App-a-LAY-chun". South of there you would want to opt for "App-a-LATCH-un", although that dividing line is dotted. You probably won't be called on this one either way.

Boulevard - A large street in Richmond with its own exit from I-95. This road is a single name. Thus, one might say they live at "on Boulevard". Nobody lives "on The Boulevard". If you are from the upper mid-west you will be familiar with this construct. People there eat "hot dish".

Chincoteague - Where Misty was from. Pronounced "CHINK-o-teak".

Crozet - Just west of Charlottesville on I-64. Pronounced in the French manner, "Crow-ZAY". Rhymes with "José".

Falmouth - Near I-95 and US 17 and the Fredericksburg HP. First syllable rhymes with "pal". In contrast, "Fall-muth" is in Massachusetts.

Luray - County seat of Page County. Home of a tourist trap caverns. Goes against the basic rules of Virginia pronunciation whereby you take out syllables. Properly pronounced as if it were two words, "Lou - Ray".

Monroe - The county in West Virginia just to the west of Craig County, VA and the town outside Danville made famous by the song, "Wreck of the Old 97". Pronounced "MON-row". Rhymes with "JOHN-doe". North of I-64 you can pretty much go with "mun-ROW". The fifth president will likewise change according to location.

Onancock - North of the Accomack County highpoint. Pronounced exactly like you either figured or feared.

Oriskany - Small town in Botetourt County. Pronounced "ERS-ku-nee".

Pearisburg - On US 460 west of Giles County highpoint. Pronounced "Paris-burg".

Purcellville - On VA 7 in Loudoun County, east of the Jefferson County, West Virginia highpoint.
Pronounced "Purse-ville".

Weyers Cave - You will see this one while tooling down I-81 just south of Harrisonburg.
The first word rhymes with "Veers".

The Geography of Virginia

Not that hard, really. The state is shaped roughly in a triangle and things are pretty much named in a logical manner. However, there are a few terms that it is best to get right, particularly when talking to the indigenous population.

Northern Virginia - The stuff at the top of the triangle. Washington DC area over to about Winchester and down to about Fredericksburg. However, this changes depending on where you are. I was once down in Lee County (as far southwest as you can get in the state and in fact farther west than Detroit) and spoke with someone who was going to a party in "Northern Virginia". Turned out what he meant was Roanoke (which is maybe 150 miles south of Washington DC).

Southside - The triangular area south of Richmond. Bounded roughly by the James River and US-29 (more or less), and the North Carolina border.

The (Shenandoah) Valley - The area roughly parallel to I-81 from about Lexington up to Harpers Ferry, WV.

Northern Neck - The counties between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers about as far west as I-95. Includes Lancaster, Richmond, Westmoreland, Northumberland, and King George. Maybe a little of Spotsylvania, but don't push your luck.

Middle Peninsula - The counties between the Rappahannock and the York Rivers. Sometimes mistakenly referred to as the "Northern Neck" (see above). Don't even think of using that phraseology if my brother-in-law is around.

The Peninsula - Find I-64 on the map. Find Hampton. Follow I-64 NW as far as I-295. Between the York and the James, that is the Peninsula. McClellan led an ill-fated offensive up the Peninsula during the Civil War. The British got caught there during the Revolutionary War.

Eastern Shore - The area hanging just under Maryland over on the far right. Accomack and Northampton Counties are included.

Tidewater - The lower right corner of the triangle. The Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and Newport News area. You could argue for as far up as Williamsburg if you are so inclined.

The Shore - Part of New Jersey. I tossed this in to keep you on your toes.

Central Virginia - Pretty much everything else if it isn't in the mountains.


With all that said, the serious highpointer can more readily blend in with the indigenous population. Furthermore, being able to talk like (or at least reasonably imitate) a Virginian may gain you slightly easier, sanctioned access to privately owned highpoints.

This knowledge may also assist you while traveling within the bordering states of Maryland, West Virginia, and North Carolina.

return to Virginia state report page