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It’s no wonder that people find Arkansas names hard to say. The first Europeans in Arkansas were French, and they adapted many native American words into names that are still used today. Some of the names, like Little Rock (originally La Petite Roche), have been Anglicized. However, many names around the state are still either French, Native American (Arkansas had many tribes: Quapaw and Caddo origins are pretty common) or a mixture of the two. Because of this unique mix of origins, many Arkansas names, including the state name itself, are pronounced in ways that defy standard English.
The state’s name is a mixture of French and Native American. Arkansas comes from the Quapaw word, “Akansea.” Early French usage added the S to the end of the singular form.
Arkansas (AR-can-SAW) – There’s an urban legend that it’s a state law to pronounce Arkansas correctly. It’s not a law, but the state code does state:
It should be pronounced in three (3) syllables, with the final “s” silent, the “a” in each syllable with the Italian sound, and the accent on the first and last syllables. The pronunciation with the accent on the second syllable with the sound of “a” in “man” and the sounding of the terminal “s” is an innovation to be discouraged.
I have a friend who always said we should all be called Arkansawyers instead of Arkansans, because there is no Kansas in Arkansas.
Benton (BEEN-ten) – Benton is a city in Central Arkansas. When you put the been in Benton, you’re saying it right.
Cantrell (can-TRUL) – Cantrell is a road in Little Rock. Outsiders say “Can-trell” like trellis.
Chenal (SH-nall) – Chenal is a street and neighborhood in Little Rock. Shin-ell is the most commonly heard butchering of this name, which is a little ironic since the name comes from the Shinnall Mountains in the area. The developers wanted it to sound more French, so they altered the spelling.
Chicot (Chee-co) – Chicot is a lake, some streets, and a state park. It’s a native American word, and the T is silent.
Crowley’s Ridge (CROW – lees) – Crowley’s Ridge is a geological feature and a state park found in Northeast Arkansas. The pronunciation is debatable. I’ve had park interpreters tell me different things, but people from the area say it’s pronounced like the bird (the alternate being CRAWL-ees).
Fouke (Foke) – Fouke rhymes with poke. This small city is famous for its bigfoot sightings, but the name is fun to hear people pronounce. I’m convinced “bigfoot” is just a Northerner who came to visit, got stranded in Fouke and got so distressed by the name he retreated the woods.
Kanis (KAY-nis) – Kanis is another road in Little Rock. Outsiders often pronounce it like a can of soda instead of like the letter K.
Maumelle (MAW-male)– Maumelle is a city near Little Rock. The double ls are said like “well,” and the e is silent, as in French.
Monticello (mont-ti-SELL-oh) – Thomas Jefferson may have pronounced it “mon-ti-chel-oh,” but the Arkansas town pronounces the ce with an s sound.
Ouachita (WASH-a-taw)– Ouachita is lake, river and mountain range in Arkansas. It is also a native American tribe. In Oklahoma, where the tribe was also present, they have Anglicized the spelling to Washita. That probably prevents the “Oh-sheet-a” attempts at saying Ouachita that commonly take place in Arkansas.
Petit Jean (Petty Jean) – Petit Jean is a mountain and a story about Arkansas history. It often gets pronounced like the French “petite.” That may be the proper way, but it’s not how we say it here.
Quapaw (QUAW-paw) – Quapaw is the name of a native American tribe that originally inhabited Arkansas. Downtown Little Rock has a historic section called the Quapaw Quarter.
Rodney Parham (Rod-KNEE Pair-UM) – This road in Little Rock gets butchered by outsiders. They say Par-HAM. There’s no ham in Parham, though a couple of good restaurants that serve ham can be found there.
Saline (SUH-lean) – Saline is a county and river in Central Arkansas. Many try to pronounce it like saline solutions: SAY-lean. Arkansans from the county generally say the first syllable less sharply, so that it rhymes with huh.