How Many Arizona Place Names Can YOU Pronounce?
My family was nomadic long before it was fashionable. On social media sites like TikTok and Instagram, whole families give daily updates on the joys of living their lives in a converted van or bus, traveling across the nation and experiencing life.
My family was not that fabulous or interesting. We moved a lot, but those experiences didn't teach me the wonders of a butterfly gently alighting on my shoulder as we watched the sunrise on the rim of the Grand Canyon.
Instead, I learned how dodge flying objects in the way-back of our Chevrolet Caprice Classic station wagon for days on end, while my two bored sisters tried keep themselves busy. All this before streaming videos and handheld games were a thing. It was the dark ages, my friend.
When we reached our destination, we had to learn to adapt to our new surroundings quickly. Learning the names of places and how they're pronounced locally was always a challenge. Moving to the Southwest was another big language adaptation. There are words we say in Arizona that only someone who's lived here a while can master.
Driving into Phoenix on my way to visit family out of state, I noticed signs for Ahwatukee. According the Ahwatukee Foothills website, it's a "small town with big activities, Ahwatukee Foothills is the southernmost pocket of Phoenix at the base of south mountain park."
Great. But how do you pronounce this word? AHH-WHHAAA Tuck-ee? aw-a-tuckee?
I tried. It wasn't until I had brunch with an old friend who'd once lived there, when she casually used the word, mentioning she'd done business in AA-wu-htoo-kee. I made a mental note and began to wonder how many times I'd messed this one up.
In Cochise County, everything which isn't named "Cochise Something or Other", is named "Huachuca Whatever".
It's a lot of fun to hear out-of-staters try to tackle this one. HOO-AH-CHOO-KA? That's the most common attempt. With the question mark, of course.
Locals and military folks know it's wha-CHOO-ka.
Cholla is a name you frequently see attached to places in Arizona. Both Cholla Boulevard and Cholla High School are in Tucson, plus there's a Cholla Steakhouse in Scottsdale.
Merrium-Webster defines cholla as, "a shrubby cactus chiefly of the southwestern United States and Mexico, a cholla has cylindrical joints and needlelike spines partly enclosed in a papery sheath."
These cactuses (cacti?) are prevalent in Tucson. If you've ever stepped on the spines, you might be thinking the cholla makes you holla. Nope. The CHOY-uh makes you...I got nothing. But that's how you pronounce that word. Oh, and you're gonna scream for a bit. Those spines are serious.
Most of the challenging words and place names we use in Arizona are derived from Spanish or Native American names. But this one started out in the West Midlands in England. Merrium-Webster says Hereford is, "any of a breed of hardy red-coated beef cattle of English origin with white faces and markings". Which is a direct reference to the cattle raised by ranchers in Hereford, Arizona.
So how is this word pronounced?
"So, that's HERE - FORD?", outsiders ask. Nope. It's her-furd. Like the cattle. (Yeah. Somehow, that doesn't seem to help).
You've gotta channel your inner 10th grade Spanish class to get this Español place name - a word that means garlic - correct. Especially if you're not from around these parts.
Ajo Way in Tucson frequently gets mispronounced the "Gringo Way". But just like Señora Morales, my 10th grade Spanish teacher taught us, the letter "J" in Spanish sounds like the English letter "H", so the word is pronounced ˈä-ˌhō.
If everything in Cochise County is attached to the word Huachuca, most everything else throughout the state of Arizona carries the Saguaro moniker. The iconic tall, armed cactus is pronounced suh-wah-roe.
Don't even get me started on Mogollon, Palo Verde, and Canyon de Chelly! What other words do outsiders get wrong? Let us know.