The Rock County Crucible

Husband grew up in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, where there are lots of people with German,  Dutch,  and Eastern European names. That does not help him for my challenge to try and pronounce names in the Rock County Star Herald. This week the paper listed all the high school graduates in the county, and he again marveled at the weird and contrary ways names are pronounced in southwest Minnesota.

There are a lot of people of Dutch and German heritage in the area, yet the rules for name pronunciation  are different than in Sheboygan.  Why, for example, is Stenenga pronounced “sten en gay”, yet Steensma is pronouced just like it is spelled?  Other vowel combinations with “ui” also are also different than in Wisconsin.   He finds the pronunciation of “ue” even more vexing.  In Sheboygan, the “u” would invariably be silent, and the pronunciation would be the same as long e.   In Rock County, the  “e” would typically be silent, with a long  “u”.  Names with two identical vowels, like “aa” and “oo” are pronounced the same in both places.  I think one reason is Rock County’s settlement by immigrants from Ostfriesland, in northern Germany/Netherlands, where the language is a mixture of Dutch, German,  and old English, and where  Plattdeutsch is a popular dialect.  There are also lots of people of Norwegian heritage in Rock County, unlike in Sheboygan. Husband grew up with people who had names like Hopfensberger and whose ancestors came from Bavaria. I find the lingering linguistic differences fascinating.

Husband noticed, too, that many of the graduates had East Asian, South Asian,  and Hispanic names, and he described Rock County as  a crucible in which disparate peoples are all mixed up together to make something good.  He just wants to make sure that if we move there, he will know how to pronounce the names.

Tell about your linguistic challenges and the linguistic oddities you notice.

47 thoughts on “The Rock County Crucible”

  1. When I’m taking orders at the flower shop, there’s a lot of spelling to do on names. Sometimes I feel like I’ve typed every name there is in the entire metro area, but then someone gives me one I’ve never seen before.

    I recall taking an order once from someone who was from out of town, for a recipient with the last name of Tschida. It’s pronounced sort of like cheetah. When the customer said the name, I immediately said “T-S-C-H-I-D-A?” She was surprised I knew it, but there are so many Tschidas in St. Paul – there’s a Tschida Plumbing, and there used to be a Tschida Bakery, and there’s a major league baseball umpire named Tim Tschida. I don’t know where the name comes from originally.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Lake Tschida, a reservoir formed by a dam on the Heart River, is a popular camping and fishing spot out here, at least for the first part of the summer. After that it turns green and cloudy, and few people will swim there or eat the fish then.

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  2. I was stuck for an answer to the question today but thank you tim for reminding me of things.
    In High School, my best friends last name was “Chrush”, pronounced “Kr-uu-sh”. My mom could never pronounce it.
    This scene reminds me of that:

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I can’t answer the question directly but when I was digging into the genealogy of my mother’s mother’s people in northeastern Iowa, all of whom were from Bohemia, I got very familiar with a lot of Bohemian and Czech names, which made me realize that people with that heritage were really common around here and names I would previously considered vaguely eastern European were more specifically Czech.

    Another thing- in the U.S., there are many towns and cities that have taken their names from foreign places. Here in Minnesota there are New Prague and Montevideo, for example. It seems like they almost never pronounce their town’s name like the original namesake. Why is that, I wonder?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I grew up in St. Louis we are one of the main thorough fare through the whole city is Laclede. Not pronounced like the French would do it. And then there’s a large suburb in the west close to where I spent my high school years named Creve Coeur . Also not pronounced like the French would. Not even close. So sad.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I think there is a New Berlin in WI and the emphasis is on the Ber, not the lin. Then again, there is a little town in Pipestone County called Cazenovia.

      There is this town in Montana that wanted to boost its visibility by changing its name to Joe, to ride to fame on the name of Joe Montana the football player. I don’t think that happened, though.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. Bill, I assume the explanation is a combination of the fact local people don’t know how a place name was pronounced in someone’s home country and the fact they just don’t care. Foreign place names are “anglicized.” That presents headaches to people who know how such places are pronounced elsewhere. Quite often, pronouncing something authentically sounds pretentious. That big island east of Grand Portage was probably called EEL royAWL at one time. Better to call it ISLE ROYal now so you don’t sound snooty.

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        1. Besides, thee same people don’t have any trouble pronouncing the names of the foreign cities—in an Americanized form, but different from the way they pronounce their own locale. I say it’s perverse.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Of course, our own Jacque grew up in Nevada, IA, a town locals call ne-VAY-duh. Since you dislike the way Americans say Cairo, you must hate the way Iowans pronounce that little town south of Des Moines: Peru, Locals call it PEE-roo, emphasis on the PEE.

          Liked by 1 person

        3. That’s my point. It’s not like they can’t pronounce Peru, or don’t use that pronunciation when talking about the country. So why pronounce their locale differently?

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        4. This reminds me of an evening that my friend, Patty (I could write a book about that woman) and I stopped in at W.A. Frost on Selby Ave. for a nightcap. I ordered a glass of Grand Marnier using standard French pronunciation. The waiter looked perplexed and clearly had no idea what I wanted, so I spelled it. Oh, he said, a grand marnier, pronouncing it exactly as an English speaking person who doesn’t know French would. I thought Patty was going to fall off of her chair.

          Liked by 2 people

  4. Growing up in an area about 50 miles north of the Twin Cities, there were lots of last names ending with either -in or -en that were pronounced -EEN with emphasis on the last syllable. Examples are Wallin, Nordin, Medin, Lodin, Bellin, Noren, Sjodin, etc. Back in those days most of the folks were of Scandinavian descent. Is that why? There were plenty of -sons too, but no unusual pronunciations.

    BTW, I know one of the Tschida families in Minneapolis.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. My linguistic challenge was to shed the accent that I grew up with as a child. Smack in the middle of the Midwest they say things like worshington (Washington) and potty-o (patio). I started getting rid of some of those pronunciations when I was still living there and got a lot of grief for it.

    One of my happiest linguistic memories was sitting in the little side walk café in Boulder Colorado and when I ordered French toast, the waitress said to me “you must be from Minnesota.” I was so happy.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. When I worked at the Hazelden youth facility, there were kids from all over the world there who thought the Minnesota accent was so funny. They would ask us who live here, “Do that OOOOO thing?”

      My dad and his family from Nuh VAY duh, were “warshers” and “squarshers” but I taught myself not to say those words that way.

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  6. I have cousins who grew up in Seattle and still live in Washington. I could never understand why they said “worsh” instead of wash. I don’t remember if they said “Worshington”.

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      1. I have a different opinion, Ben. I always hate “it” when it happens, But when it becomes obvious that someone will soon die, I think it is usually a blessing if things happen quickly. One of the unfortunate prices we pay for modern medicine is that death is often a protracted, messy process. My choice, if I were offered one, would be a quick exit.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh, Barb, what a long life she had, and it sounds like she was well-loved by you and the rest of her family. I am so glad you got to hold her hand to say good-bye.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Carbondale, IL is located in an area also referred to a Little Egypt. Near the southern tip of the state lies Cairo, but unlike the city in Egypt, in Southern Illinois it’s pronounced Kayro.

    Somewhere in the vicinity there was a tributary to the Big Muddy River named Beaucoup Creek. Locally it’s pronounced Buck-Up Creek. This inspired some of us to say “mercy buck-up” instead of “merci beaucoup.”

    Liked by 3 people

  8. OT: problem solving with YouTube. Just a little side note. Today my television remote quit working. Of course, there is no or virtually no product support from the manufacturer or retailer.

    I went to YouTube and described my problem. A variety of solution videos appeared, one of which showed exactly the remote that quit working. The tape discussed a cure, a series of steps that made no sense to me. I blindly followed, and the remote was suddenly fixed.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. A remote that worked perfectly a day ago suddenly wouldn’t function except to turn the TV on or off. So the batteries were good, but still the thing wouldn’t permit me to select inputs or make other basic choices. I learned from the video that remotes are often touchy about small amounts of contaminants that get in them. Sure enough, I had just used hand lotion before picking up the remote. The improbable steps I had to take to get it up and running were designed to counter the contamination. I mention all of this is a way of saying there are an amazing number of videos addressing common problems that seem to defy solutions. In a perfect world, manufacturers would support their products. In the world we have been given, it is nice that videos can sometimes save us.

      Liked by 3 people

  9. Wind Down to Go to Bed Baboons,

    My dad’s mother’s maiden name was Hoel, a Norwegian name that was at one time Grubhoel (GRU’-bel) that they thought was more Americanized by shortening it to “Hoel” pronounced hole. One contingent of the family did not like it, so they said it was ho-EL’. Dad’s uncle, Guy Hoel, married Mary Cutter, becoming the inevitable “Mary Cutter Hoel.”

    Grubhoel, I discovered in Norway, was the name of their farm. The family name should have been Jergensen, which another contingent also adopted.

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  10. As a person who has lived much of her life in places where she was not a native speaker of the local language, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to observe language at work. I know I have mispronounced plenty of words in several languages, probably still do, but I find language endlessly fascinating.

    As my mom neared the end of her life, I thought about how ironic it was that she died having never really mastered Danish in either written or spoken form. What was perhaps even more ironic was that she never really mastered English either, and in Irish she could say only a few phrases.

    Now I find myself in the peculiar situation that I’m no longer fluent in Danish. The pronunciation of Danish has changed noticeably since I emigrated, and as my dear brother-in-law so kindly puts it, both husband and I speak oldnordisk. Our Danish pronunciation hasn’t changed since we left the country, but Danish in Denmark has evolved, as languages do. In my ears, it’s almost painful to listen to.

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  11. OT – I think I have mentioned on here before my friend Sara in Northfield who, together with her husband (who is Dutch) is trying to start an urban flower farm. Monday is the day they deliver flowers all over Northfield and surrounding area, plus the Twin Cities. Her husband does the Northfield area deliveries, and Sara does the Twin Cities run. Today Sara was in a car accident in Minneapolis. Her car was totaled, but luckily she escaped with a banged up knee. As she was sitting in the grass, waiting for her husband to arrive to retrieve her, a young woman from across the street where the accident happened joined her. This is Sara’s description of the situation:

    “Hi Margaret, I am actually ok. I’m icing my knee and if it isn’t better by Wednesday, my family doc scheduled a in-person appt. After getting home, I spent 2.5 hrs on the phone with car insurance, medical advice and dealing with Minneapolis impound lot. All very exhausting but I am healthy, essentially unhurt, and my family has spent the evening playing games. I think I will take half a day off tomorrow to read for pleasure. Then I will be ready to tackle the day to day with my usual energy! Thanks so much for your concern. A young woman who lives across the street where the accident occurred came out and insisted on staying with me until Erik arrived. She is 20, had slogans written (not tattooed) up and down her limbs from the Mpls protests, and had paint splashes all over her from painting murals. Her name is Faith, and she restored some of mine in the goodness of people. I gave her the flowers that I had not delivered. Already the fright is morphing into a positive memory of this feisty young woman who has decided to become a mediator to help fix the world. She was my bright light today.”

    Sara enclosed a photo of the young woman, holding a lovely bouquet of flowers. I was pleased to note that this young woman is black; my friend, Sara is very white. We shall overcome, I know it.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Steve, I don’t disagree with you about that. But in this case, it wasn’t expected so soon. And it’s unfortunate (presumably) that her sister didn’t have a chance to see mom.

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