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Too bad we can’t ask the creek how to pronounce its name

Brief by Central Staff

Language – July 2001 – Colorado Central Magazine

American spelling generally manages without accent marks, but proper names often arrive with the marks, and we try to use them.

Thus we refer to Cañon City instead of Canyon City or Canon City, and it’s in Frémont County, rather than Fremont County. That’s because it is named for John Charles Frémont, and that’s how “the Great Pathmarker” spelled his name.

Accent or not, it’s pronounced the same way. But Spanish names are another matter. The river that rises in Mineral County might be the “RYE-oh Grand” or the “REE-oh GRAN-day,” depending on the speaker’s background and perhaps to some degree, political correctness in a multi-cultural society.

Chas Clifton of Wetmore has brought a fairly obscure Spanish place name to our attention in this regard.

Near the Great Sand Dunes is Medano Creek. It comes from the Spanish word for dune: Médano.

Thus it should be accented on the first syllable, and that’s where the accent falls when the speaker is from Custer County, no haven of political correctness.

But at the Dunes, where the (perhaps more PC) feds hold sway, Clifton reports that the word is pronounced in a way that sounds like better Spanish, but isn’t: Me-DAH-no, rather than the correct MAY-da-no.

For our part, we’ll try to remember the accent when Médano Creek appears in these pages, and we’ll also note that it’s possible to go too far in attempting to pronounce proper names in a respectful manner.

Our “Quillen” is pronounced Quill-en, just as it is spelled, and the name probably comes from the Cuillin Mountains of Scotland.

It always struck us as a fairly straightforward word from the British Isles. But it got a Spanish pronunciation when our Abby was graduated from the University of Colorado at Denver this May and was announced as “KWEE-yane.”

Students were supposed to write their names phonetically on a card for the announcer, which led to one graduate being announced as something like John “I-made-it” Doe, to the amusement of the audience.

At any rate, there doesn’t seem to be a way to be sure you’re pronouncing a proper name properly, except to ask — and Médano Creek only babbles.