Getting to a definitive pronunciation (NYC edition)
October 7, 2021 3:24 PM   Subscribe

After repeatedly hearing people pronounce the name of the street where I work differently (Vesey St. in Manhattan), I decided to look it up. Wikipedia says ("VEE-zee"). Great. But other sites that seem less reputable give a different answer, and apparently the original Dutch pronunciation would be different. The street is named after a person, so presumably the correct pronunciation is how he pronounced his name, right? Or could it nonetheless change over time? Is this a question for which there's a definitive answer and if so (for NYC) is there an authoritative source of info? More generally, are there street or place names that have multiple accepted pronunciations?
posted by slide to Human Relations (22 answers total)
 
When I lived in NYC, I assumed it was pronounced "VAY-see." I don't know if that's actually correct, though.
posted by Dr. Wu at 3:46 PM on October 7, 2021


Rev. Vesey wasn't Dutch himself; the original family (English settlers in Massachusetts) used Veazie and other variants.
(I've always heard the street name as V-Z and V-C)
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:48 PM on October 7, 2021 [2 favorites]


Disclaimer: I am not a native New Yorker but I have lived here for 13 years.

This can 100% change over time and there is no definitive answer. For streets that have eponymous subway stations, pronunciation is more likely to converge but not guaranteed (e.g. I hear "DEE-kalb", "de-KALB", and "de-KAWLB" in the wild regularly, whereas "SKER-mer-horn" seems pretty universal, as does "new YOU-trekt").

For Vesey St. in particular, both "VEE-zee" and "VEE-see" would sound fine to me, but "VEH-see" or "VEH-zee" would sound weird, as would "VAY-see" (sorry Dr. Wu!) not even to mention, like, "vuh-SAY".

As far as official sources, I am pretty familiar with New York City's public-facing geodata and to the best of my knowledge it does not include any source of authoritative street name pronunciations. Given the literally thousands of streets within New York City limits, some of which have multiple official names, it would be a major effort to produce such a dataset.
posted by goingonit at 3:49 PM on October 7, 2021


I usually hear it pronounced "VEE-see".
posted by theory at 3:52 PM on October 7, 2021


Another point about pronunciation is that it has a big overlap with accent, especially when it relates to vowel sounds. For instance, my dialect (Southern Ontario!) merges both "cot/caught" and "Mary/marry/merry", so there are pronunciation differences that people with a "New York accent" would be able to distinguish that sound essentially the same to me and that I wouldn't generally reproduce when speaking. We know, therefore, that the multiplicity of accents in New York City guarantees that the same street name will be pronounced differently by different people for reasons other than misspeaking or unfamiliarity. Unless you want to be the accent police you are pretty much bound to accept that these people are all "saying it right"!
posted by goingonit at 3:59 PM on October 7, 2021 [2 favorites]


The street is named after a person, so presumably the correct pronunciation is how he pronounced his name, right? Or could it nonetheless change over time?

Goethe St is Chicago is Go-thee (though the internet seems to disagree about this). When the buses started announcing stops there was debate about whether the purpose of the announcements was tourism (in which case it should be Goethe as in Goethe) or accessibility (in which case Goethe as in Goethe is fairly useless).
posted by hoyland at 4:01 PM on October 7, 2021 [2 favorites]


I also work on Vesey and the majority of my colleagues say VEH-see. One of the ex cops on security calls it VEE-zee and he covered the precinct for years. I always wonder the correct way when we get in a cab heading back to the office and will be watching this!
posted by icaicaer at 4:03 PM on October 7, 2021 [5 favorites]


I’ve always pronounced it VEH-see! Also watching this thread. Fascinating.
posted by functionequalsform at 4:15 PM on October 7, 2021 [1 favorite]


Houston St is pronounced Howston in NYC. Is it anywhere else?

I wonder how Denmark Vesey pronounced his name.
posted by mareli at 4:28 PM on October 7, 2021 [1 favorite]


Native NYer friend says "VEH-see." Rhymes with dressy.
posted by minervous at 4:37 PM on October 7, 2021


Lived in NY my whole life, I've always assumed it was VEH-see and pronounced it that way, but then again I've never worked in the Wall St. area.

As to the larger question regarding whether some places have equally legitimate place name pronunciations, I would think certainly so. Even for NYC, some people pronounce New as Nyoo, others as Noo, neither is definitively correct.
posted by xigxag at 4:43 PM on October 7, 2021 [2 favorites]


Native NYer here, I've also worked on VEE-zee.
posted by 168 at 5:21 PM on October 7, 2021


More generally, are there street or place names that have multiple accepted pronunciations?

I have not been able to get a consensus from Philadelphia natives on how "Passyunk" is pronounced, even though all of them act like I'm crazy for even asking, so I'm going to say yes.

Kosciuszko, as in the Brooklyn/Queens bridge and the Brooklyn street, also seems to have many accepted pronunciations among natives going back decades. (The traffic guys of my mom's childhood said Ko-shoo-sko, there's an Allan Sherman song that says Koz-ee-oss-ko, and a friend who grew up on the street says Koz-ee-ohs-ko; all of those are from New York natives in the '50s through the '80s, not new transplants who are confused.) None of these are the actual Polish pronunciation that Thaddeus Kosciuszko would have used, at least according to a Polish cab driver who scolded me once. I'm curious to find out whether the Kosciuszko memorial in Philly, which is more manifestly named after the person, has yet another pronunciation.
posted by babelfish at 5:48 PM on October 7, 2021 [1 favorite]


Houston St is pronounced Howston in NYC. Is it anywhere else?

Houston, Delaware is pronounced that way (as is Houston St. in Dewey Beach).

I have not been able to get a consensus from Philadelphia natives on how "Passyunk" is pronounced

I've only lived here for 14 years and never that far south or east, but I've mostly heard PASH-ee-yunk over PASS-ee-yunk.
posted by Pax at 6:02 PM on October 7, 2021


Native NYer. Worked downtown for a long while. Veh-see.
posted by AugustWest at 7:10 PM on October 7, 2021 [3 favorites]


Houston St is pronounced Howston in NYC. Is it anywhere else?

Houston Co., GA

As far as I know Houston, TX is the only Houston that says it Hew-sten.
posted by dudemanlives at 8:29 PM on October 7, 2021 [1 favorite]


NYC resident for 30+ years, always thought it was Veh-see, but can't recollect ever hearing anyone actually say it out loud, so I stand corrected.
Pronunciations are weird.... there's a street in my neighborhood spelled Schenck, which I (quite logically, I thought) pronounced "shehnk". Nope, it's pronounced "skank" according to long term residents here.
Okay then.
posted by newpotato at 2:43 AM on October 8, 2021 [2 favorites]


dudemanlives, there is also a Houston in BC that is Hew-sten.
posted by lulu68 at 3:51 AM on October 8, 2021


I've only lived here 75 years and pronounced it V Z. I'd shop at the Job Lot on V Z before it had to move elsewhere because they were building the World Trade Center.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:33 AM on October 8, 2021 [3 favorites]


I've always said "VEE-zee" because old grizzly NYC taxi drivers pronounced it that way.
posted by bedhead at 6:44 AM on October 8, 2021


Response by poster: Love the answers, from the specific to the general - thanks all! My takeaway from this sample is that there are multiple acceptable pronunciations of Vesey St, and so I'll just say what feels right on a given day. Kind of nice to not have to worry about remembering one way or another! (Though I'm guessing over time I'll gravitate to one versus the other... we'll see...)
posted by slide at 7:06 AM on October 8, 2021 [1 favorite]


VEH-see for this 23-year New Yorker. Never heard it pronounced otherwise that I can recall (but not a huge number of data points, to be fair).
posted by MattD at 12:09 PM on October 8, 2021 [2 favorites]


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