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20 towns named for other towns but pronounced differently
In Illinois and Kentucky, don't call the cities of Athens, ATH-ens. They're pronounced EIGHTH-ens, apparently.
 
They may not have the Acropolis, but Illinois and Kentucky each have an Athens of their own. 
They may not have the Acropolis, but Illinois and Kentucky each have an Athens of their own.  Corbis Images

The United States of America, the great melting pot. We take music, foods, words and traditions from all over the world, shake them up and blend them into something distinctly American. We took "O Sole Mio" and made "It's Now or Never." We took pizza and put cheese inside the crust. We take names from places all over the world to give to our towns and cities, and once they're ours, we'll pronounce them how we want to, thank you very much. Usually we simply use the English version of the word for a place: we don't say Par-EE, Texas, the French way, but PARE-iss, because that's how we say Paris in English. However, some towns that have borrowed city names from elsewhere don't even get the normal English pronunciation. Here are 20 American towns that have really cut the cord from the sources of their names.

1. Athens, Ill.; Athens, Ky.
When we talk about Greece, we talk about Athens, cradle of Western civilization, birthplace of democracy. But these towns in Kentucky and Illinois are called EIGHTH-ens.

2. Berlin, Conn.; Berlin, Mass.; New Berlin, N.Y.; Berlin, Wisc.
The German capital Ber-LIN has loaned its name to many an American town, but here we've turned it into BER-lin.

3. Cairo, Ga.; Cairo, Ill.
If we're talking Egypt, we're talking KAI-ro. But in Georgia it's KAY-ro, and in Illinois, KEH-ro.

4. Chili, N.Y.
There's a city in New York named after the South American country of Chile, which we would call CHILL-ee or if you want to get fancy, CHEE-lay—but there they call it CHAI-lai.

5. Riga, N.Y.
Right over by Chili is Riga, a name shared with REE-ga, the capital of Latvia, but in New York it's RYE-ga.

6. Delhi, N.Y.; Delhi, Calif.
Delhi, the capital of India, gets cities named after it in New York and California, but it's hard to tell because while we are used to calling it "Delly" the people in those cities pronounce it DEL-hai.

7. Lebanon, N.H.
Lebanon? Not in LEB-nen New Hampshire.

8. Lima, Ohio
The capital of Peru is Lima (LEE-ma). The town named for it in Ohio? LYE-ma.

9. New Madrid, Mo.
Spain has Madrid (Ma-DRID). But in Missouri they've got New MAD-rid. Or wait, is it Missouruh? I don't think Missourians even agree on that. New MAD-rid though? That they're all cool with.

10. Mantua, Ohio; Mantua, Utah
Mantua, beautiful Italian city of culture. Opera and Virgil. No wonder we've borrowed its name for towns in Ohio and Utah. Oh, except in those places it's not MAN-tyoo-a, but MAN-a-way.

11. Milan, N.Y., Tenn., Ill., Wash.
Milan is mi-LAN, or if you're really feeling it, mi-LAHN, and it's another Italian city we pay tribute to in our town names, everywhere from New York to Tennessee to Illinois to Washington state. Except in those places it's MY-lun.

12. Palermo, N.D.
Sticking with Italy for a little longer, there's Palermo (Pa-LER-mo), or, as they say in North Dakota, PAL-er-mo.

13. Pompeii, Mich.
Michigan honors the ancient Roman city of Pompeii. It's pom-PAY right? Not in Michigan, where the locals call it pom-pay-eye. What is that extra 'i' doing on the end there anyway? Might as well make sure you pronounce it.

14. Italy, Texas
Texas has a town named for the whole country of Italy. Itly. Just two syllables.

15. Russia, Ohio
The country of Russia is represented by a town in Ohio. ROO-shee, Ohio, to be exact.

16. Tripoli, Iowa
From the halls of Montezuma, to the shores of... Tri-POH-luh? While the capital city of Libya has miles of Mediterranean coastline, Iowa's Tripoli has no shore at all. So it goes its own way name-wise too.

17. Versailles, Ill., Ky., Ohio, Pa.
When we speak about the palace in France or the treaty that ended WWI, it's ver-SAI. For towns from Pennsylvania to Illinois, it's ver-SAYLES.

18. Montpelier, Vt., Va., Idaho, Ky., La., Md., Iowa
There are Montpeliers all over the place in the U.S. How do you pronounce yours? The Vermont way (mont-PEEL-yer) or the more French-style way people sometimes use (mont-pel-YAY)?

19. Vienna, Ill.; Vienna, S.D.
When we talk about the Austrian city, the Chicago all beef hot dog, or even the city in Virginia, vee-EH-nuh is the way to go. But for towns in Illinois and South Dakota, it's vai-EH-nuh.

20. New Prague, Minn.
The Czech city of Prague is full of old-world charm. The Minnesota city of New Prague has a new-world way of doing things, including pronouncing it PRAYG.

 
Arika Okrent is editor-at-large at TheWeek.com and a frequent contributor to Mental Floss. She is the author of In the Land of Invented Languages, a history of the attempt to build a better language. She holds a doctorate in linguistics and a first-level certification in Klingon.

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