City names in Massachusetts

Gloucester, Barnstable, Dedham

By M. Boroda

Gloucester_MARecently, I saw a list online of “fake Massachusetts names”. For somebody from or living in Massachusetts, they were very funny. Those of us who live somewhere else, however, might not see the humor.

So, what’s the joke?

Well, first you need a little introduction to American city names and how to pronounce them.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that cities in New England were named after cities in, yes, England. (Old England? No, they won’t like that.) After all, the people who started these New England cities sailed across the Atlantic ocean from England. Maybe they felt a little homesick. They missed their little hometowns. Solution? Bring the town here! Well, just the name. This means there’s an Essex in England and an Essex in Massachusetts. Cambridge, Bristol, Gloucester, and yes, even Boston are all places in England.

Pretty simple, right? Except… how did you pronounce “Gloucester” in your head? Gloh-sester? Glaw-chester? Gloh-kestair? No, sorry! It’s pronounced “glaw-sturr” (or “glawstah” if you have a Boston accent!) Welcome to the confusing world of city names and one of the reasons that list of “fake Massachusetts names” is funny.

Let’s look at two names on the list: Lameham and Unstable.

In English, many towns have the ending “-ham”, like Stoneham and Dedham. To pronounce these towns, you change “ham” to “um”. Stone-um, Ded-um, So, Lameham would be pronounced “Lame-um”. Got it? Now, what does “lame” mean? Lame is a slang term that means boring or not exciting. Lameham!

There are also towns that end with “-stable”, like Barnstable and Dunstable. The thing is, you don’t say “stable”! Instead, Barnstable is pronounced “Barn-stuh-bull.” Sounds like “stubble”! Now, this fake town called “Unstable” would be pronounced “Unstubble”. What’s funny about that? Well, “unstable” is an adjective meaning “not stable!” For example, don’t sit in that chair because it’s unstable.

So to review – Gloucester is “glawsturr”, Stoneham is “stone-um”, and Barnstable is “barnstubble”. So now you can read “Unstable” and “Lameham” like you live in Massachusetts. Next time, we will talk a little bit more about this list!

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