Chicago streets are aligned in a user-friendly grid, but their names can prove a little more obscure. Even locals are left guessing at the correct pronunciations of some of the city's more idiosyncratic street names. Take this quick verse as an example:
Chicago has seen such wondrous growth,
With weather often hot or cold, or both.
Tell me, if you were sworn on oath,
Would you live on Burton, or would you live on Goethe?
Gotcha! The Goethe pronunciation is “Gur-ta." Outside of Germans, five-time Jeopardy champions, and bus drivers, few locals actually know how to pronounce Goethe. “But what’s in a name?” wrote William Shakespeare. And just like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Willie The Shake has a Chicago street named after him. Except, unlike Goethe, most people can pronounce his name.
Goethe has a lot of company in this town. Take Paulina, which is “Paul-eye-nuh,” not “Paul-ee-nuh.” Paulina was the wife of Reuben Taylor, a local real estate developer from two centuries ago. Back then, there was a Reuben Avenue just a few blocks east of Paulina Avenue, although at some point it was rechristened “Ashland Avenue.”
Paulina has an “eye” in it. Just like Cuyler, which was named for Edward Cuyler, who built a railroad between Chicago and Janesville, Wisconsin.
And then there’s Armitage, pronounced “AR-mih-tij.” The general consensus is that Armitage was named after the father of Chicago Alderman Edward R. Armitage, who's listed in a 1919 directory as having an office on Berenice. Berenice? How do you pronounce that? Is it something like, "Berra-nice to meet you?" If CTA buses qualify as authoritative, it’s pronounced “Bear-uh-neice.” As in, “I could definitely bear a neice, but I could not bear a nephew.”
Do you support the American throops abroad? No, it’s pronounced “Troop.” As in “Throop Street." It’s hard to miss that massive Home Depot at the corner of North Avenue and Throop Street. Who put the "h" in Throop Street is anyone's guess, but it definitely doesn't belong there.
Drive up to Evanston, or drive from Evanston to Chicago, and at some point you’re bound to cross Devon Street. I’m sorry. Did you say “Devin”? Devin Hester is one of the NFL's greatest-ever kick returners. In this case, however, we’re talking about Devon Avenue, pronounced “Dih-VONNE.”
Back in the late 1700’s, the Sioux Indians (pronounced “Soo”) were led by Chief Wapashaw. Wapashaw’s sister did not Berenice; she bore a nephew. His name was Augustin Rocque, and his French father married Chief Wapashaw’s sister. In the early 1800’s, Augustin established a trading post along the Mississippi River, just south of the present-day Twin Cities, in a town named Wabasha in honor of his pa, the big chief. Wabasha, by the way, is the oldest town in Minnesota. And it’s pronounced “WAU-bish-aw.” Now, knock off that final syllable, and you’ve got yourself another Chicago Avenue, pronounced “WAU-bash.” As in: We're throwing a big "bash" this weekend, and YOU'RE invited! And, yes, Wabash is named for Chief Wapashaw.
Henry Hamilton Honore (pronounced “ON-er-ay”) was one of Chicago’s earliest prominent businessmen. Henry’s daughter, Bertha, married Potter Palmer in 1871 and became one of the city’s most revered socialites and philanthropists. Honore Street is named for Henry Honore.
Weird that Honore is a street, not an avenue. In Chicago, north-south thoroughfares are typically avenues, not streets. And that’s the truth, take it or Leavitt. Ha! Gotcha! It's pronounced “LEV-it.”