Monday, February 27, 2006

How to pronounce "Kanawha"

A few minutes ago, Sitemeter tells me that somebody came to my site by Googling the keywords pronounce, kanawha. I don't actually have that information here... perhaps we should remedy that.
Below is a photo of the Kanawha River which runs through Kanawha County in West Virginia.

You pronounce it kuh-NAH-wuh... roughly. Run it together real fast until it sounds like kuh-NAW. If you have another way of spelling the pronunciation, leave it in the comments. If you are not from around here, you'd probably try to say CAN-uh-WHA but that's not correct. I've seen it spelled all kinds of ways on old maps... Canawa, etc. Naturally it's an Indian word, the meaning of which is uncertain.

21 comments:

the byrd said...

recently came across your site and I really enjoy your photographs...
according to the kanawha county website "Kanawha" comes from an Indian name meaning "place of white stone"

Rick Lee said...

Good to hear from you Byrd... a lot of other websites will tell you that Kanawha means "dugout canoe"... or other stuff. I need to ask my cousin Doug Wood. He knows a lot of Indian language and I'm sure he could enlighten us.

Stacey said...

Before too long, they'll be googling for the pronounciation of "Hurricane"... If you are from around here, you'll know it is pronounced "HER-uh-KUN", and not "HER-uh-CANE" :-)

Pete said...

Here in Oklahoma, we have a place called Konawa that's pronounced similarly. It's a Choctaw word meaning "string of beads." I wonder if there's some connection.

Rick Lee said...

Personally, I'd spell that HER-uh-kun. Emphasis only on the first syllable.

Pissed Off Hillbilly said...

My grandfather (and a lot of old timers) always pronounced it ka- NOY.

Stanton said...

There is an important nuance based on where the word falls in the sentence.
Whenever a word follows it, it (such as "Kanawha River" or "Kanawha County" it's usually promounced "cun-AWE-uh" with the last syllable greatly de-emphasized in the transition to the next word. When it ends a sentence (such as "The County of Kanawha") it the last syllable often disappears completely and it sounds more like "cun-AWE."

Of course when we are talking to someone who is not local then we annunciate better.

We should have stuck with "Botetourt", as we were known before 1863, or maybe we should have stayed "Fayette" which we were part of immediately after statehood.

kenju said...

Botetort? I sure never heard that when I was growing up!

Rick Lee said...

Botetourt? I think you're confused about something. There is a Botetourt County in Virginia down around Roanoke now. I'm pretty sure that Kanawha County existed as a Virginia county by around 1790. Daniel Boone was one of the earliest state legislators from the county.

Stacey said...

I have heard kuh-NOY before too. My father in law says that sometimes... of course, he still calls exxon stations ESSO. :-)

Rick Lee said...

The "kuh-NOY" pronunciation comes from the old Appalachian tendency to pronounce any final "uh" sound as "ee". As in "Flordee" instead of "Florida". My grandmother used this pronunciation. It's classic scots-irish hillbilly. So, kuh-NAW-uh becomes kuh-NAW-wee, which when shortened becomes kuh-NOY. I love this stuff.

Rick Lee said...

By the way... I found it interesting to hear a BBC newsreader pronounce Hurricane like we do... with the emphasis only on the first syllable.

Stanton said...

While I am often confused about something, this is not one of those things. The entire southern 1/3 of what is now WV was once Botetourt County, Virginia. It actually was an enormous pie shaped county that stretched from the Roanoke area to the Mississippi River. You can see a map here:

http://www.co.botetourt.va.us/about/images/1770map.gif

If you want to find any pre-1800 birth, death or land records for current day Kanawha County you must go to Fincastle Virginia, the county seat of Botetourt.

And it is prounounced "bought-a-tot."

Stanton said...

Oh, okay, I see the error of my earlier post. I didn't mean that we were Botetourt up until 1863. Kanawha County was created in 1789 while we were still Virginia. I should have said we were originally Botetourt, then Fayette, then Kanawha all before 1863.

I'll shut up now.

Rick Lee said...

You're right that it WAS Botetourt in the past, but you said it was Botetourt before 1863... the map is from 1770... Kanawha County was formed in 1789. Check out this map. It's from the late 1790's. I think it has Kanawha spelled Kenhawa.

Fred Friar said...

My dad (from Beckley) told the tail about as city slicker radio reporter describing a parade and "they are comming down the Kohn-eee--waai"

Tarheel said...

I was pleased to hear from "Pissed off HillBilly". My Dad was born and raised in North Carolina but came to the coal fields and factories of WV in the late 20's. As a young boy traveling with him by that beautiful river I was taught to pronounce it"ka-NOY". However, he also always insisted there was no such thing a a HillBilly in either NC or WV, only 'Mountaineers"!!!

Thomas with FiberNet said...

Rick,
I just found your blogspot by googling for “pronunciation Kanawha” today. For the 1st 2 weeks here in town I was looking for "Canal Blvd".

Obviously I just moved here from Louisville (pronounced “Luah Vul”) and wanted to introduce myself as a new FiberNet Solutions Rep for the area. Take care...
Thomas-

Rick Lee said...

Hey Thomas... great to hear from you.

Jerrold said...

Family name for us. Great grandmother full-blooded Indian; her son and grandson both named Kanawha. Kanawha, according to an encyclopedia which gave our family pronunciation as the pronunciation, stated "Kanawha" means "place of the white rocks".

Jerrold said...

Forgot to leave our pronunciation which is kuh-no'-wuh.