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Your guide for pronouncing some pretty tricky Idaho place names

A sign along a road that reads Welcome to Weiser. Inc. 1887. We love our kids, our community & our country.
J. Stephen Conn
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Flickr Creative Commons

Here's one way to find out if someone is from Idaho: ask them to pronounce Boise, Coeur d'Alene or Pend Oreille.

If there’s one thing that trips up folks from outside Idaho, it’s our weird and wonderful place names. Counties, cities and rivers in Idaho can be hard to pronounce, if you don’t know them well.

These 10 words can be tough for new Idahoans – here's a guide to help you navigate:

Boise (BOY-see) though most outsiders say (boy-ZEE). It’s Idaho’s capital city and the county seat for Ada County. Boise is a French word that means "wooded." The Idaho State Historical Society says in the 19th century, French-Canadian fur hunters used the name for the Boise River.

Coeur d’Alene (kore-duh-LANE ), another city, and county seat, this time Kootenai County. Coeur d'Alene is the name of an American Indian tribe who lived in the area and called themselves the Schitsu'umsh. They got the name Coeur d'Alene, which means "heart of an awl," from French-Canadian fur traders.

Kootenai (KOO-tun-ee), the name of another Native American people, is a county in North Idaho. It's also a street on the Boise Bench.

Nez Perce (nezz PURSE), careful, that’s not nezz PEARCE, it’s PURSE, like the handbag, another county in Idaho. It's French and means "pierced nose." It's the name of an American Indian tribe, given to the Nimíipuu (Nee-me-poo) by French-Canadian trappers.

Kuna (KYOO-nuh), a city. Depending on who you ask, it translates to either "the end of the trail" or "green leaf, good to smoke."

Pahsimeroi (puh-SIMMER-oi) is actually a river in Custer and Lemhi Counties. It's a Shoshoni name.

Picabo (PEEK-uh-boo) is a city in Blaine County. It's an American Indian name that means "shining waters" and was made famous by the U.S. Olympic skier Picabo Street, who was named after the town.

Owyhee (oh-WYE-hee), a county in southwest Idaho. "Owyhee" and "Hawaii" are two different spellings for the same word. How did Owyhee end up in Idaho? The Idaho State Historical Society explains.

Buhl (BYOO-ull), a city name ripe for mispronunciation.  You’ll find it in Twin Falls County.

Weiser (WEE-zur), a city known for its yearly fiddle fest, and its hard-to-say name. It’s in Washington County.

So, where do place names come from? Each city or town usually has a unique story surrounding the origin of its name. But for geographic names, that’s a little more formalized.

The Idaho Geographic Names Board is the body that considers new names for unnamed geographic features and any proposed name changes for features that already have a name. That could be a mountain peak or other geographic spot. The board is made up of the Idaho State Historical Society Board of Trustees.

Once a name is proposed, the Idaho Geographic Names Advisory Council (IGNAC) does some research then makes a recommendation to the Names Board. They make a decision, yes or no, and send that on to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.

Extra Credit:


Do you know these names?  Test your Idaho knowledge with some towns further off the beaten path:

  • Acequia (uh-SEEK-we-uh), a city in Minidoka County.
  • Ahsahka (uh-SOCK-uh), a community in Clearwater County.
  • Arimo (AIR-uh-moe), a community in Bannock County.
  • Benewah (BEN-uh-wah) is a county up north.
  • Keuterville (KYOO-tur-vill), a community in Idaho County.
  • Weippe (WEE-ipe), a community in Clearwater County.
  • Laclede (luh-KLEED), a community in Bonner County.

Plus, we've put together a second post, 9 more places only Idahoans can pronounce.

Special thanks to the Idaho Press Club’s Idaho Pronunciation Guide.

As Senior Producer of our live daily talk show Idaho Matters, I’m able to indulge my love of storytelling and share all kinds of information (I was probably a Town Crier in a past life!). My career has allowed me to learn something new everyday and to share that knowledge with all my friends on the radio.

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