You Might Be Pronouncing These Alaska Names Wrong…We Can Help!
Alaska, a land that is massive, a land that was originally inhabited by a number of indigenous people groups, and a land where many of their words and place names still exist. After making a post about what pet peeves our followers had in regards to Alaska, we decided to set the record straight (or at least try to) regarding the pronunciation of many Alaska names! These were pulled directly from the post and it seems that many of these are pervasive! In no particular order, here are 15 ‘Alaska words’ that you might be saying wrong. Also, don’t try to ask SIRI for help with any of these…she can’t seem to get many of these right either. Please note that these aren’t technically correct phonetic spellings of these towns, but are written in a way that is hopefully very easy to understand.
Eklutna is a small native village 24 miles northeast of Anchorage. Notably known for its recreation, campgrounds, and also Eklutna lake, which is the main water source for Anchorage. Often this Alaska name is pronounced ‘ehk-loot-nuh’, or even ‘elk-oot-nah’.
Matanuska can refer to a river, a glacier, or a valley that comprises both of these things! The Matanuska-Susitna valley houses much of the population of Southcentral Alaska, north of Anchorage. Often pronounced ‘mat-tat-oosk-a’, or further butchered version, this region is a great place for recreating, sightseeing, fishing, and many other activities…including confusing people with tough Alaska names!
Home to just shy of 600 people, Kasilof is a small town on the Kenai Peninsula. Though small in population, Kasilof is a tourist destination large in part for the sport fishing that happens in the Cook Inlet just off the banks of where these people live. The pronunciation of this town is most often incorrectly said as ‘castle-off’.
Our Alaska names tour brings us to Valdez, home to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline terminal, amazing fishing, and serene beauty. Often referred to as ‘Little Switzerland’, Valdez is ripe with sky-piercing mountains, scores of glaciers, and incredible beauty. Because of its phonetic spelling, most folks incorrectly say ‘Val-dez’ when talking about this Alaskan town.
5) Bragaw Street
As far as tough Alaska names goes, this was an interesting one to me, but I’ve had the pleasure to bear witness to the butchering of this Anchorage street name several times. It could be that people are talking about Bragaw Street often because there is a Costco (one of two in Anchorage) on this street, or there isn’t much of an adherence to seeing which letters are on the signs, but alas, we often hear ‘bruh-graw’, ‘ber-graw’, and any other addition of phantom r’s or a’s.
Kenai may not need an introduction, but it needs correcting. Its namesake bears the Kenai Peninsula, the world-famous Kenai River, and even a Kenai Lake…along with the town of ‘Kenai’. I will admit that without any help, it is difficult to get this one right, at face value. Notable mispronunciations are ‘key-nay’, ‘ken-aye’, or a closely related pronunciation cousin of Quinoa, ‘keen-way’
Neighbor to the town of Kenai, Soldotna resides on the banks of the Kenai River and offers a massive opportunity to enjoy salmon fishing, tourism, and a place to call home for more than 4,000 Alaskans. For some reason, this is one of the Alaska names that often rolls off the lips incorrectly in the forms of ‘sell-dot-nuh’ or ‘sow-dot-nuh’.
The quaint seaside town of Seward. I would bet that a large portion of Alaskans visit Seward annually for hiking, fishing, camping, or a myriad of other activities that this town on the Kenai Peninsula offers. Situated on the shores of Resurrection Bay, and naturally, by the sea, many visitors refer to this place as ‘sea-word’. However, the town of Seward is named after William H. Seward, the United States Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln. Read more about the Alaskan holiday of ‘Sewards Day‘.
Knitting, the New York Knicks, knife, and, ironically knowledge all have their very own silent ‘K’ at the beginning. Often, we default to shucking that ‘k’ sound on words we see starting with ‘kn’, but this is one of the Alaska names that would be an exception to that rule. In this case, it isn’t pronounced like your brother-in-law, ‘Nick’ who always comes over and drinks your beer. Keep the ‘k’ sound this time. The Knik Arm is the northernmost extension of Cook Inlet, which the Knik river feeds, and is ultimately fed from Knik glacier. Because of these geographic landmarks living in the Matanuska-Susitna valley, we often see local businesses, street names, and elementary schools bearing the ‘Knik’ name.
Home to roughly 250 people, Tanana is located at the confluence of the Tanana and Yukon rivers. Tanana is a very remote Alaskan village and lies almost squarely in the middle of the state. You may recognize the name from the Discovery Channel series ‘Yukon Men’, which featured several residents of this town. Though spelled like ‘Banana’, its not pronounced ‘tuh-nah-nuh’.
Like number 10 on our list, Nenana is an old Alaska native village situated at the confluence of the Tanana (see correct pronunciation above) and the Nenana rivers. Being on the Parks Highway south of Fairbanks 55 miles, Nenana is obviously much more accessible but still only home to just under 400 people. Ending in the same ‘nana’ as Tanana, you’d think pronunciation would be similar, which isn’t the case. If you said it the same way, it would sound something like ‘knee-nuh-nah’, which will only get you weird looks and giggles once you leave.
Often we see a pervasive mispronunciation from people far and wide, making the same error with the same letters. I’m not sure why this is happening, but the fishing town of Yakutat falls victim to this same error from many travelers. Many people pronounce this ancient Alaskan Indian town ‘yak-uh-tack’, when there clearly isn’t a ‘k’ on the end. Interestingly enough, many who travel to Alaska in search of surfing the cold Alaskan waters point themselves toward Yakutat as well. Hang ten and now you can say this Alaska name correctly!
Not necessarily isolated to Alaska, the mispronunciation of the word arctic, and subsequently the spelling as well, means many people either aren’t aware of or choose not to pronounce the first ‘c’ in the word. Commonly said ‘ar-tick’, anything above the 66th parallel is a region of the northern hemisphere which is…the Arctic! An easy reminder is that the word has TWO letter c’s.
Denali, the tallest mountain in North America. Also, the name of the National Park that houses the mountain, the word Denali commonly has two pronunciations. From our poll, it seems that the folks in camp ‘den-al-ee’ (me included) do find it cringe-worthy when people pronounce it ‘den-all-ee’ or ‘den-awl-ee’. It’s a subtle difference and truthfully I wasn’t sure which pronunciation was actually correct. We do know that this Alaska name comes from the Athabaskan word meaning ‘the great one’, so after a bit of looking into it, the National Park Service featured an audio clip of the late Chief Mitch Demientieff of Nenana, Alaska, reading an Athabascan legend about the origins of Denali, the Great One. Sure enough, you can hear Chief Demientieff say the word Denali twice, and both times pronounces it ‘den-al-ee’. I’d say that is good enough evidence for me to continue saying it the way I always have!
This one is also not isolated to Alaska, and you can hear people say this species of fish incorrectly fairly often. While there is most definitely an ‘L’ in the spelling of the word, you definitely do not pronounce it. Saying it ‘sal-mun’ is an egregious violation of the word and many Alaskans die inside a little when they hear their beloved salmon being said with the ‘L’ sound included. Tight lines and no ‘L’s!
We hope this list helped to shed some light on the correct way to say many of these Alaska names. Have a correction or a pet peeve of your own? We’d love to hear it in the comments below!