In 2012, Laurel Wamsley was new to Chicago and she says she relied on the announcements she heard on the ‘L’ and the bus to learn how locals pronounce city street names. And she says some of those pronunciations struck her as kind of weird.
So Laurel wrote into to Curious City asking:
How does the CTA decide how Chicago street names should be pronounced?
Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) officials say that most of the time there’s no real dispute over pronunciation. But there have been a handful of streets where there’s been some disagreement about which pronunciation to use.
In these cases, CTA spokesman Jon Kaplan says, officials meet and consider input from planners, historians, community leaders, and community members, and use street guides and historical documents “all in an effort to develop consensus over the pronunciation of some of the city’s more challenging street names.”
So how do you pronounce these Chicago street names, and how do your pronunciations match up to those of the CTA? Take our quiz and find out!
Play the clips below to hear actual CTA recordings:
Clybourn, Des Plaines, Devon, Goethe, Monticello, Paulina, Racine, Roosevelt, and Throop.
Have something to say about the CTA’s pronunciations? Let us know here. And while you’re at it, feel free to send us a recording of how you think the street names should be pronounced.
More about our questioner
Laurel Wamsley is a breaking news reporter at NPR in Washington, D.C. But way back in 2013, when she asked her question, she worked for the University of Chicago in the 1871 technology and entrepreneurship center. And when she wasn’t riding her bike to work, she took the ‘L.’
“I think especially if you’re a transplant to the city, the ‘L’ gives you cues about how to pronounce things,” she says. “So I was curious about where these [pronunciation decisions] came from, especially ones that people almost never pronounce out loud, like Goethe Street.”
Laurel has also lived in Austin, TX, where she was equally struck by local pronunciations for streets like Guadalupe (GWAD-ah-loop) or Manchaca (MAN-shack). But she also liked discovering these local pronunciation quirks because they told her something about the city.
Like Chicago, Austin has a real person record the street announcements. But today Laurel lives in Washington, D.C., where the transit voice is a lot less interesting.
“A lot of the announcements are in a robot voice, and I think that’s unconscionable,” she says. “There are a limited number of things that need to be said on [public transportation], so why not have a real human do it? I find it very dispiriting.”
Even more questioner credits
In addition to Laurel, we’ve received lots of other questions about street pronunciations. Special thanks to everyone who sent in questions that inspired our quiz, including: Bev Larsen, Sara Noyer, Gerta Sorensen, Jon Bir, Mark Hocker, Chris Monaco, Robbi Lustig, Erin Hart, Krista Kutz, Lauren Salas, and Elizabeth Barth.
Monica Eng is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her at @monicaeng or write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.