‘Manchaca’ or ‘Man-chac’? | The history of Texas (Mis)pronunciations
Author: Michael Perchick
Published: 10:34 PM CST February 20, 2018
Updated: 11:25 AM CST February 28, 2018
LOCAL 5 Articles

There can be a lot to handle when moving. From the unpacking to navigating a new city, simply pronouncing the names of cities and streets typically isn’t an issue for most people.

But in Texas, that’s not always the case.

Several locations throughout the state consistently trip up visitors, and continue to be the topic of spirited debate among locals.

“With the Anglos that founded this city, they were just kind of looking to find some viable pronunciations. And viable meant something that worked with their native language,” said Lars Hinrichs, an associate professor of English linguistics at the University of Texas.

Hinrichs, who is from Germany, has even experienced it himself.

“Koening (pronounced Kay-nig) Lane -- the German pronunciation of that lane would be 'Koo,' but the 'Koo' is not a sound that exists in English or Spanish,” said Hinrichs.

While America is a cultural melting pot, the origins of Texas may be even more so.

EXPLORE

‘Manchaca’ or ‘Man-chac’? | The history of Texas (Mis)pronunciations

LOCAL
Chapter 1

Guadalupe Street: 'Guada-loop-aye' or 'Guada-loop'?

With a state so large, settlers of many backgrounds established their own names and languages throughout. That’s led to many different pronunciations.

Take for example, Guadalupe Street, which runs right by UT.

“At first when I came to Austin, I said “Guadalupe” (pronouncing the final syllable). But people told me, ‘It’s Guadalupe (dropping the final “E”)’,” said Hamza Almalki, a UT freshman from Saudi Arabia.

“I thought it was Guadalupe (pronouncing the final syllable). Just from living in Southern California for a while, I got used to pronouncing that extra 'E' on the end,” siad Aubrie Mendez, who was born and raised in Ohio.

Even Siri pronounces the final “E.”

But most Austinites pronounce it without the final syllable.

“English speakers come in, and I think these English speakers who were dominant at the time just didn’t speak Spanish," Hinrichs said. "And they did the best they could, though they were not particularly worried about making their version of those names Spanish sounding."

While cultural understanding has vastly improved since the 1800s, Hinrichs said change is not easy.

“Traditions are hard to break,” Hinrichs noted.

Further complicating matters, “Guadalupe River” – same spelling – is pronounced with the final syllable.

While the final syllable debate over “Guadalupe Street" will be up to interpretation, the debate over “Manchaca” could be a battle over history.

Chapter 2

Manchaca: 'Men-chaca' or 'Man-chac'?

Austin Independent School District’s Menchaca Elementary School, named after Tejano Army Officer Jose Antonio Menchaca, is located on Manchaca Road. Different spellings, different pronunciations.

“Well it is a school. So let’s face it – they’re not going to spell his name incorrectly. It’s a school,” said Bob Perkins, a retired Travis County judge who has spent the past several years fighting to change the name of the street.

According to his research, the misspelling began as an honest mistake after a battle when a log incorrectly wrote it with an “A."

“The lieutenant who came out there to Captain Seguin’s campfire did not know Spanish, because virtually every name that’s in there – they’re all Hispanics from San Antonio – almost every name is misspelled someway,” said Perkins.

Perkins believed the misspelling was turned into a mispronunciation when the unincorporated area of Manchaca was purchased by William Pelham.

“The enmity against Mexicans and Mexican-Americans was high in 1850,” Perkins said.

In response, Perkins argued that Pelham dropped the final “A” and changed the pronunciation to “Man-shack.”

“(Pelham) builds his house there. He’s the first settler out there. There’s nobody out there, the property’s totally undeveloped. All the people that came in for the next 30 years, from 1850 to 1880, they’re moving into a place that’s spelled 'Manchac' and should be pronounced ‘Man-shack,'” said Perkins.

While the “A” was added back decades later, the pronunciation stuck.

Chapter 3

A petition to put the 'E' in 'Manchaca'

Perkins is now working with Austin City District 3 Council Member Sabino “Pio” Renteria to formally change the spelling of the road from “Manchaca” to “Menchaca.”

This week, they formally submitted a petition to the Austin City Council to consider the name change. Letters will be sent to all homeowners living on the street. If no one objects, the matter will go directly to council for a vote. If at least one homeowner takes issue, there will be a hearing on the topic.

The petition is only for “Manchaca Road,” and would not affect the unincorporated community of Manchaca.

“I do live in Austin, and I’m a citizen of Austin, and Austin has this name that is misspelled. And I’m asking for that, and then also we’re asking the United States Geological Survey to change their maps to show “Manchaca Springs,” also spelled as “Menchaca Springs,” because I’m a citizen of the United States. I do not live in (Manchaca’s) zip code, so I’m not asking for that to be changed,” Perkins said, adding he would provide assistance to anybody who lives in that zip code should they want to move forward with efforts to change the spelling.

But the roots of the area’s names are still up for debate.

Chapter 4

Manchaca’s mysterious roots

According to a 2015 Facebook post by the Manchaca Onion Creek Historical Association, the area was not named for Menchaca.

They argue it was named for “Manchaca Springs,” adding early maps and newspaper articles referred to it as “Manchac” or “Manchaca Springs.” They further assert that “manchac” is a Choctaw Indian word, and the area could have been named after Pass Manchac and Manchac Bayou – two areas that the Choctaw camped on while traveling from Louisiana to Texas.

KVUE reviewed maps from the 1800s – and found the usage of “Manchaca” and “Manchac Springs” in different versions.

“Manchaca”:

“Manchac Springs”:

KVUE requested an interview from the Manchaca Onion Creek Historical Association, but did not receive a response.

According to the Texas State Historical Association, Manchaca was named for “Manchaca Springs,” where Jose Antonio Menchaca once camped. Outside Menchaca Elementary School, there’s a marker from the Texas Historical Commission that the community was named after Menchaca’s campsite.

TSHA notes that William Pelham served as the area’s first postmaster.

Chapter 5

Texas' (Mis)Pronunciations: A definitive list

Other areas throughout Texas have created similarly fierce debates. While the Texas Almanac has a pronunciation guide, that hasn’t slowed down disagreements.

Texas Almanac pronunciation guide by kvuenews on Scribd

Mendez said she was surprised by how many pronunciations differed.

“I think it all depends on where you come from,” Mendez said.

Another name that tripped her up “San Marcos,” where people are split between the pronunciation of “Mar-cus” versus “Mar-cos.”

Hinrichs believes as the area continues to change demographically, so could their pronunciations of such locations.

“I think here at UT and in Austin as a whole, we’re likely to see some sort of change with these sort of place names in the next 10 to 20 years. There might be a tipping point soon where (we’re) just going to orient to the Spanish model (for certain cities) and not to the traditional (Anglo-Austin) model,” said Hinrichs.

Another common (mis)pronunciation: “Pedernales.”

In a 2009 video from Texas Parks and Wildlife, Bill McDaniel with Pedernales Falls State Park, explained the pronunciation differences.

“We get asked all the time what’s the correct pronunciation. To me, ‘Pedernales’ is a little bit harder to say. It’s easier to say ‘Perdenales.’ (President Lyndon Johnson) had something to do with – he got tongue with ‘Pedernales,’ and said ‘Forget that, it’s ‘Perdenales.’’ So we say it both ways,” McDaniel said.

Even one of the state's most popular chains hasn't been spared from a debate over pronunciations.

"We have heard 'Waterburger,' with a 't' like 'water-burger'. We've also heard 'Wadderburger,' with a 'd' as well. But it is pronounced 'What-a-burger'," explained Mary Reedy, a Field Brand Developer with Whataburger.

So what are some of the most commonly debated (mis)pronunciations?

KVUE Investigative Executive Producer Joe Ellis compiled this list:

  • Amarillo
  • Bastrop
  • Bexar
  • Buchanan
  • Boerne
  • Buda
  • Burnet
  • Blanco
  • Cibolo
  • Elgin
  • Gruene
  • Guadalupe (Street in Austin)
  • Guadalupe (River in New Braunfels)
  • Humble
  • Lago Visa
  • Lampasas
  • Llano
  • Luchenback
  • Manchaca
  • Manor
  • Medina
  • Mexia
  • Nagodoches
  • Pecos
  • Pedernales
  • Pflugerville
  • Refugio
  • Salado
  • San Marcos
  • Seguin
  • Tow
  • Uvalde
  • Waxahachie
  • Welasco