At Curious City we get lots of questions about why so many Chicago street names have seemingly odd pronunciations. Recently we answered one about how the CTA pronounces certain streets. But until now, we haven’t explained where those pronunciations come from.
Maureen Wurster has wondered about street pronunciations for a while. She grew up in the Chicago suburbs but her parents were raised in the city, so her initial attempts at pronouncing certain local streets cracked them up.
“I remember them especially laughing at me for the way I said Paulina and Throop,” she recalled.
So Maureen wrote Curious City, asking:
Why do we say "Troop" instead of "Throughp" with the "th" sound and "Paul-EYE-nuh" instead of "Paul-EE-nah"?
For the answer to the Throop question, we turned to Bloomsburg University linguist David Durian, who studies the Chicago accent. He says the pronunciation might have stemmed from early Irish and Polish immigrants who settled around that street. He said their native languages didn’t have a natural “th” sound, so these speakers likely substituted a “t” sound. For example, in Bridgeport many people say 33rd Street as “Turdy-Turd.” So Durian thought this might be the case with Troop. But he wasn’t sure.
So we dug deeper and discovered the pronunciation’s origin: Amos G. Throop. Throop was a Chicago real estate developer, who later founded Caltech University in Pasadena. And it turns out, he pronounced his own name like the word “troop.” Caltech archivist Loma Karklins confirms this, adding that there’s “a Unitarian church in [Pasadena] named after him and that’s pronounced ‘troop.’ And, there’s a building named after him on campus, and that’s ‘troop’ as well.”
But Throop isn’t the only Chicago street whose pronunciation derives from the name of a real person and sounds different from how the word might look. Starting with Paulina, we’ve listed five more below.
A takeaway: If you want a Chicago street named after you, it helps to know a real estate developer — or be married to one!
Paulina Street: 1700 West, from 7742 North to 9156 South
Most Chicagoans pronounce this street with a long “i” instead of the European long “e” way, but it still throws off out-of-towners. Why’s it pronounced like Paul-EYE-nah to begin with?
Well, because that’s the way its namesake, Paulina Taylor, likely said her name. According to Don Hayner and Tom McNamee’s Streetwise Chicago: A History of Chicago Street Names, Paulina was the wife of real estate developer Reuben Taylor who, in the 1800s, sold off land that is currently Union Park to the city of Chicago. He named a nearby street after his wife. In the 1800s, many people of British descent pronounced Paulina the way Paulina Taylor did. For instance, it’s the way Shakespeare Online advises pronouncing the name for the character Paulina in William Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale. Reuben Taylor, by the way, named a much larger street nearby — Reuben Avenue — after himself, but it was eventually renamed Ashland by another developer.
Pronounce it: Paul-EYE-nah
Melvina Avenue: 6200 West, running from 7156 North to 6458 South
This street also gets the long “i,” just like Paulina.
The reason: According to Streetwise Chicago, it’s named after a small southwestern Wisconsin town that also pronounces Melvina with a long “i.” But who was this town named for when it was founded in 1866? Amanda Melvina Hunt. She was the wife of John Hunt, who owned the land the town was built on, and served as its first postmaster, according to Place Names of Wisconsin by Edward Callary. You can read about the history of place names in this Curious City story.
Honore Street: 1828 West, running from 7352 North to 11852 South
This street was named after real estate developer Henry Hamilton Honoré, who helped establish the Chicago parks and boulevard system. According to Streetwise Chicago, Honoré was from Louisville, Kentucky, and of French ancestry, which would have meant his last name was pronounced with three syllables: a silent “h” and an “e” that sounded like a long “a” at the end. Some historians also credit Honoré for renaming Reuben Avenue as Ashland Avenue. The street ran through Honoré’s subdivision, and he is thought to have named it in honor of Kentucky statesman Henry Clay’s Louisville estate, which was called Ashland.
Clybourn Avenue: 426 West at 1200 North to 2400 West at 3174 North
This diagonal avenue was named for butcher Archibald Clybourn (or Clybourne), one of the city’s founders. According to Streetwise Chicago, he built a 20-room mansion near his own stockyard on Elston Road in 1829. He also helped feed settlers fleeing the Blackhawk War of 1832 while they took shelter in a local fort.
Roosevelt Road: 1200 South from 128 East to 5958 West
A lot of Chicagoans pronounce this street as it looks, with the “roo” like in “kangaroo.” But the street was actually named after U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. According to the Theodore Roosevelt Association, the former president insisted, and even wrote in an 1898 letter, that the first syllable of his name should be pronounced like the flower.
“As for my name, it is pronounced as if it was spelled "Rosavelt." That is in three syllables. The first syllable as if it was ‘Rose.’” (To Rev. William W. Moir, October 10, 1898.)
Pronounce it: ROSE-ah-velt
More about our questioner
Maureen Wurster is an artist and writer who works in digital marketing. She lived in the Chicago area most of her life before recently moving to Seattle. She says she likes her new town: “The people here are nice, almost so nice it’s off-putting.”
But Maureen says she misses her homebase, including its quirky street pronunciations. She says, after learning how to say the names of many Chicago streets, she relished sharing them with others.
“I lived in Bridgeport for a long time and would have friends come in, and they would say ‘troop’ and I would say ‘You’re saying it wrong, ha ha’,” she recalls.
“But I also remember asking people and trying to look up why we say it, and nobody knew. So, it’s so interesting that you found all this out.”
Special thanks to Bill Wade and Bev Mayhall, who also sent in questions about why we pronounce some street names the way we do.