CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – Philippi, Canaan Valley and even Appalachia might not seem that difficult to pronounce for most West Virginians, but for an outsider, these words can be very confusing.
Not pronouncing letters or even full syllables is common in West Virginia place names. In order to get the most accurate pronunciations, 12 News consulted West Virginia University guide from 1981 titled “A Guide to Pronunciation of Place Named in West Virginia” for reference.
After consulting the guide, here is a list of hard to pronounce West Virginia places that could slip up anyone not from here and even some West Virginia natives.
Unlike the city in Egypt that is spelled the same and pronounced KY-roh, West Virginias call the small Ritchie County town KAIR-oh. Cairo was once rich in oil and gas and had its own high school. Now it is most traveled by way of the North Bend State Park rails to trails; it is also home of the Ghost of Silver Run Tunnel along those trails.
Harrison County’s Hepzibah is a small unincorporated community and coal town located less than four miles north of Clarksburg. In Harrison, the town is pronounced HEP-zee-baw, not to be confused with Taylor County’s Hepzibah which is pronounced slightly differently.
Taylor County’s Hepzibah is also a small unincorporated community but is located just over six miles northeast of Bridgeport. The last syllable of this town is pronounced “bee” in Taylor county, making it HEP-zee-bee instead of HEP-zee-baw, despite them being spelled exactly the same. If you wanted to drive from one Hepzibah to the other, it would take about 26 minutes to make the 15-mile trip.
Canaan Valley in Tucker County can be difficult especially for people who are familiar with the Bible and are used to the biblical pronunciation KAY-nun. It’s pronounced kuh-NANE here in West Virginia. Canaan Heights and Canaan Valley Resort also put emphasis on the second syllable.
Philippi is the county seat of Barbour County, and both the seat and county were named for Philip Pendleton Barbour, who was a Congressman and United States Supreme Court Associate Justice. Many people wrongly pronounced the town FIL-ip-pie, but West Virginians pronounce it FIL-ip-pee.
Webster County’s small unincorporated coal town Erbacon is commonly mispronounced ur-bi-kon. Someone from Webster County would call it UR-bake-uh. Like Kumbrabow, the strange pronunciation comes from the town’s namesake, E.R. Bacon, who was a prominent investor in the area during the 20th century.
Kumbrabow State Forest in Randolph County is another place where a small change in pronunciation can really scream, “yeah, I’m not from here.” If you want to say it like a native, it’s kum-BRAY-bow, with the bow pronounced like how. The unusual pronunciation comes from the families who the forest was named for. The KUMp, BRAdy and BOWers families were involved in the forest land purchase. The shorted and then combined version of the names gives it a strange pronunciation. Kumbrabow is located in southern Randolph County and has a Huttonsville address.
Onego is a small unincorporated community in Pendleton County that is often mispronounced with three syllables. The easiest way to learn to say this town name is to imagine it was two words: One-Go, WUN-go. If you want to visit, it’s on Route 33 between Seneca Rocks and Harmen.
When thinking of weirdly pronounced West Virginia places, Hurricane is normally the first place that comes to mind. Although spelled the same at the swirling ocean windstorm, the Putnam County town is pronounced HUR-uh-kun.
Sometimes West Virginians just like to ignore that certain syllables are even there. Kanawha is an example of this. The river, county and state forest with the name are all pronounced kuh-NAW in West Virginia. Outside the state, strange variations like KAN-uh-WAH seem to be common. The name Kanawha comes from Native Americans, though it is disputed whether it’s from the Delaware word meaning white rocks or named for the home of the Piscataway, “Conoy” island which was pronounced “Kanaw”.
Chelyan is a census-designated community in Kanawha County located right off the West Virginia Turnpike on the banks of the Kanawha River near Chesapeake. Despite the natural urge to start the name with a hard “ch” sound, the community is actually pronounced SHEEL-yun.