Historical Place Names With Unusual Pronunciations


Pronunciation is a dead giveaway of so much about a person. Where you come from, how educated you are – how you say things gives people an indication of who you are, whether you like it or not.

In the UK there are so many curiosities, pronunciation wise, but I’m going to let you into the insider’s club, and tell you about the pronunciations which even people living in the UK may not know about.

Unless you have been there, grown up there, and been educated there, you really have no way of guessing how the following historical places are pronounced, because they don’t conform to any rules of pronunciation:

[templatera id=”35421″]

How Do You Pronounce Glamis Castle?

Glamis is the name of a village in Angus, Scotland, and the name of a castle there. Glamis Castle is known for being the childhood home of Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, and the birthplace of Princess Margaret Rose, her daughter, and the late sister of Queen Elizabeth II.

It is pronounced ‘Glamz’ (rhymes with ‘lambs’), and I know this for sure because I checked with the Castle, who also sent me something on the origin of the name.

‘Glamis’ probably comes from the Celtic Gaelic word  ‘Glamas’ which means ‘open jaws in act to snatch’ or ‘carpenter’s vice’. Glamis is both the name of the castle, and of the village near it. You can find out more about this beautiful landmark here – it is open to the public for tours and receptions.

[templatera id=”35423″]

How Do You Say Caius College?

Caius College, or to give it its full name ‘Gonville and Caius College’ is one of the most famous colleges at the University of Cambridge.  It is usually shortened to ‘Caius College, Cambridge’, or even more simply, ‘Caius’.

What you will never know from English pronunciation rules, is that it is not pronounced anything like the way it is written. Caius is named after one of its founding fathers – John Keys, who was a Master of the College from 1559 until 1573.

Keys had spent some time studying at the University of Padua in Italy, and decided to latinise his name – ‘caius’ is Latin for ‘keys’. The spelling of Keys changed, but the pronunciation did not.

I’m a trivia nut, so I can’t resist adding that Dr. Caius has been immortalized in the halls of literature by The Bard himself. He plays the bumbling Dr. Caius in The Merry Wives of Windsor.

[templatera id=”35421″]
[templatera id=”35425″]

How Do You Say Magdalen College?

I knew ‘Magdalen’ was pronounced ‘maudlin’, but I had no idea why. I wrote to the College’s Archivist, Dr Robin Darwall-Smith who kindly replied with this fascinating information:

The pronunciation of “Maudlin” (with the first syllable rhyming with “or”) in fact goes right back to the earliest days of our existence, in the 15th century. In those days St. Mary Magdalene was usually known in English as “St. Mary Maudelayne”, the first syllable being pronounced as in “cow” – just as in France she was “Madeleine” and in Italian “Maddalena”. However, in the 16th century or so, the saint in England got her “g” back, and she became “St. Mary Magdalene” again. We, however, continue to used the old pronunciation, and do so to this day. Some other English words preserve this old version of the saint’s name. The adjective “maudlin” originally meant “as sorrowful as the Magdalen”, and there is a particular type of cup called a “maudlin cup”, which was associated with the saint.

The Magdalen College website can be found here.

[templatera id=”35421″]
[templatera id=”35426″]

 How Do You Say Althorp?

It is the seat of the Spencer family, she grew up there, and she is laid to rest there. The present Earl Spencer is her brother.

How Do You Say Althorp

I thought I would lay the controversy to rest by contacting Althorp directly, and this is the reply I got from Earl Spencer’s Personal Assistant:

I have doubled checked with Earl Spencer and he has confirmed that both pronunciations are in fact correct, and both are used regularly

That settles that. If you would like any further information about visiting Althorp, have a look at their website here.


[templatera id=”35421″]

Some Other Posher-Than-The-Rest Placenames And Surnames

How many do you know how to say?








Do you have any place names to add? Remember to search the site by location or have a look at our English word directory in case your word has already been covered. I’d love to see your comments…..If you enjoyed this article, have a look at my articles on how to pronounce , London place-names, and UK place-names in general.

[templatera id=”35427″]