Use Your Words

Me Talk Portland One Day: How to Sound Like a Local

From Sauvie to Glisan, Willamette to Couch, this is how we pronounce those tricky words.

By Daniel Couch Published in the Newcomer's Guide: 2018 issue of Portland Monthly

Rhymes with "damn it."

Willamette (will-AM-it): Despite the addition of the -ette, it’s not actually French.

Sauvie (SOH-vee): Sauvie Island was named for Laurent Sauvé, a French-Canadian dairy farmer. So it is actually French—and it’s not Sauvie’s.

Couch (COOCH): Capt. John Heard Couch’s great-great-great-great-grandfather moved to the US from Cornwall, a onetime kingdom in southwestern England. The Cornish pronunciation of his name moved with him.

Weidler (WIDE-ler): As with Couch, when we name streets,

Marquam (MARK-um): bridges, etc.,

39th Avenue (SAY-zar CHA-vez): to honor people,

Nicolai (NICK-o-lye): we tend to pronounce them

Dekum (DEEK-um): the way the people pronounced

Flavel (fluh-VEL): their names in life ...

Glisan (GLEE-son): ... except when we don’t. Dr. Rodney Glisan, a former army surgeon who moved west (and married a Couch), pronounced his name GLISS-en, but for some reason we say GLEE-son.

Naito (NIGHT-oh or NAY-toh): While it historically had an i sound, plenty of locals and even some family members of this parkway namesake, who died in 1996, say it with an a. In PDX parlance, there’s no right or wrong.

—Daniel Couch (no relation, rhymes with grouch)

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