Having enjoyed more than one road trip around Great Britain, I found this Atlas Obscura article extremely amusing. It was only after bumbling my way around a mystifying tangle of letters in many town names, that I eventually had an epiphany forced upon me when I discovered that Leicester is pronounced Lester. Ah h–what? I’d encountered the word in another incarnation through pop culture (Elizabethan era version) references to Elizabeth 1 and her Earl of Leicester suitor and favorite. I’d pronounced (Well, thought it, as a child in the rural south had no one to discuss such topics with…though dogs and cows could be remarkably good listeners in a pinch.) it wrong up until I heard the city pronounced correctly. I then realized, with no small amount of awe, that the mundane name Lester, so common among the farm and factory folks of my surroundings, most likely had its origin in the elegant British word.

Much later, when Princess Diana drew my interest for the rest of my life, I was fascinated to find out that a London shopping area she frequented, Beauchamp Place, is pronounced Beachum. Not something an American is going to intuitively deduce.

This article is filled with examples of similar place names that make our weird American pronounciations seem logical…and simple. I no longer wrinkle my mental nose over Cairo, Illinois being called Karo…like the syrup of pecan pie fame, though it has no added letters and/or syllables to give it that extra umph of England’s charm.

In all honesty, though, I think all those head scratching British place names are intriguing, fascinating, and, yes, cool. As long as I don’t have to spell them.

Advertisements