15 Alaska Names You're Probably Mispronouncing!

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.

1- Eklutna (ee-kloot-nuh)

[caption id="attachment_12533" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]alaska names via Frank Kovalchek Flickr[/caption] 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'.

2) Matanuska (matt-an-oosk-uh)

[caption id="attachment_12534" align="aligncenter" width="683"]alaska names Matanuska Glacier via Jessica Albana Flickr[/caption] 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!

3) Kasilof (kuh-see-loff)

[caption id="attachment_12535" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]alaska names Kasilof River via USFWS/Caz VanDevere Flickr[/caption] 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'.

4) Valdez (val-deez)

[caption id="attachment_12536" align="aligncenter" width="1000"]alaska names Valdez harbor via lwtt93 Flickr[/caption] 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 (bruh-gaw)

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.

6) Kenai (keen-eye)

[caption id="attachment_12537" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]alaska names Brown bears at the confluence of the Russian River and Kenai River, Kenai Peninsula, Chugach National Forest, Alaska. Via Forest Service Alaska Flickr[/caption] 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'

7) Soldotna (sole-dot-nuh)

[caption id="attachment_12538" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]alaska names Riding a giant wooden salmon in Soldotna, Alaska! Via Amy Meredith Flicker[/caption] 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'.

8) Seward (soo-word)

[caption id="attachment_12539" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]alaska names Seward Boat Harbor[/caption] 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'.

9) Knik (kuh-nick)

[caption id="attachment_12540" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Knik Glacier via Tyler M. Yates Flickr[/caption] 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.

10) Tanana (tan-an-ahh)

[caption id="attachment_12541" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]alaska names Tanana fish camp via Joseph Flickr[/caption] 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'.

11) Nenana (knee-nan-uh)

[caption id="attachment_12542" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]alaksa names Mushing the Nenana River via Markus Trienke Flickr[/caption] 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.

12) Yakutat (yak-uh-tat)

[caption id="attachment_12543" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]alaska names A surfer climbs aboard an iceberg near Yakutat! Via Mike Kline Flickr[/caption] 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!

13) Arctic (arc-tick)

[caption id="attachment_12545" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]alaska names A walrus enjoys an Arctic beach! Via Rob Oo Flickr[/caption] 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.

14) Denali (den-al-ee)

alaska names 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!

15) Salmon (sam-unn)

[caption id="attachment_12547" align="aligncenter" width="480"]alaska names Sockeye salmon[/caption] 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!

16 comments

I’m actually not 100% sure but I would assume Am-Ack

Kyle April 17, 2021

Actually, the correct pronunciation of Kasilof is Kuh-see-luff. The last syllable is traditionally pronounced as “uff” not “off” which is a newer pronunciation. I grew up in Ninilchik near Kasilof. Ninilchik is another place name that often gets mispronounced. It is pronounced ni-NIL-chick.

Wayne Leman April 17, 2021

how do you pronounce Amak Mt.?

Diane Hoffbauer April 17, 2021

Try adding an ik to Chugachik as in an island in Kachemak Bay. Some pronounce it as chew-gach-ik, others change it to chew-ga-chik. Seems like it should be pronounced like the Chugach Mountains but with an ik on the end.

Interesting info in the Dictionary of Alaska Place Names

Dave Brann April 17, 2021

I graduated from Chugiak (Chu gee ack) High School, which is in a town Named Eagle River (Ee gul Riv err)

MJardine April 17, 2021

I’ve always found that people from Outside have trouble with CHUGACH, not knowing what to make of it.

thomas e crowley April 17, 2021

It’s spelled Unalakleet, yet it’s pronounced You-na-kleet. It’s flat out skipping a syllable.

Brian Lacey April 17, 2021

Wow! Those definite need to be added!

Angel Moore April 17, 2021

I have been to Alaska, and the way I heard a native pronounce the name “Tlingit” was not with a “k” sound at the beginning. It’s the crossed “l” sound, which you pronounce thus: press your tongue against the roof of your mouth and blow air through the sides of it. It stands to reason; Navajo has the same sound, and the two kinds of Indian are similar in origin, so of course they would have a related sound.

JJ April 17, 2021

We just got here from from Kansas (can-zus) and this article has been helpful. We were listening to the news to see how town names were pronounced. Hard to catch it there. Thanks! P.s. is Tok really Toke? Newscaster said Tawk.

Regina munz April 17, 2021

Yep, Tok is really pronounced ‘Toke’, as you mention. The newscaster was incorrect.

The Alaska Life April 17, 2021

I used to live in Tanana and always pronounced it Tan an aha. No one ever corrected me, and to my hearing they pronounced it the same way I did, but I have lived in Knik for over 40 years and got into an argument with someone in the Lower 48 I knew that insisted it was pronounced as NIK, I couldn’t convince them that I freaking live here and knew damned well how it was pronounced and it is like Kin ik, or as it is here Kuh nik. Gad, I am hard headed, but this person had me beat 10:1.

Jim Uhl April 17, 2021

What about Tok?? I always here pronounced wrong!!

RLKrize April 17, 2021

Tok (Toke), Chena (Chee-nah), and out local wildlife preserve Creamer’s Field which is often heard as Cray-mers despite formerly being a dairy and selling – you guessed it – cream.

Calthine April 17, 2021

How about Barrow (Oot-kee-aah-vic)?

Fenrir Layman April 17, 2021

You completely left out. Geoduck (Gooey Duck), Tongass (Tonguss), Tlingit (Kling-git), Gustavus (Gus-tay-viss), Unuk (You-nuck), and so many more.

Anita Hales April 17, 2021

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