How to Pronounce Esplanade Avenue
New Orleans is an old city, founded in 1718. It was originally a French colony and, under the rule of the French Bourbon dynasty. It was a crown colony. We will delve into a bit of French, and New Orleans history in today's introduction to get the lay of the city's linguistic landscape before delving into how to pronounce Esplanade Avenue. Like many things in New Orleans, this can get complicated. We'll try to keep it simple, but nothing in New Orleans is simple, not even simple syrup.
Why is New Orleans, New Orleans?
This existential question should be better put as, "Why is New Orleans called New Orleans?" Why isn't the city named after the King of France, the way Louisiana is named after the king. The State of Louisiana is named after King Louis XIV (also known as Louis Quatorze). Louis Quatorze died in 1715, three years before New Orleans was founded. His son and heir, Louis XV, was only born in 1710, so he was only 8 years old when New Orleans was founded, though Louis XV was still, officially, the King of France.
An eight year old can't found a colony under usual circumstances, let alone govern a country, so there was a regent put in place to oversee all things French until young Louis XV came of age. That guy was a cousin of Louis XV (determined by a very complicated genealogy by marriage that we're also not going to get into here). The regent's name was Philip II, the Duke of Orléans. Voilà! The new city in the new colony was christened La Nouvelle Orlèans. Nowadays, we call the city it's English name, New Orleans, but it's pronounced by natives more closely to the French; every letter is pronounced. Here's how many people born and raised in New Orleans pronounce the city's name: NU OR-lee-anz.
I know you've been told it's NU OR-lins, and you can get away with pronouncing the city's name that way, but it isn't technically correct. Even the people in the American part of the city, Uptown, pronounce all the letters, which isn't the case with many street names, as we'll see.
Whatever you do, don't say "N'awlins." Nobody from New Orleans calls their city N'awlins. You may think your being cute when you do it, but there isn't anything cute about it. The sound grates on a New Orleanian's nerves. If you want to fit in in New Orleans, just be yourself. Don't go out of your way to seem like a native. If you dance like nobody is watching, you'll fit in. Don't say Nola, either, unless you're talking about Nola.com. We may write Nola by way of short hand in letters or text messages, but we never say it out loud.
In case you don't get it, Nola is an acronym for New Orleans, Louisiana. For our foreign readers, LA is the postal abbreviation of Louisiana. Get it? New Orleans LA: NOLA: Nola. It's like Soho or DUMBO, or SoWa. Real estate agents think it's cool to truncate names into abbreviations that become words. Just as Bostonians complain that Boston is not New York, so New Orleanians like to point out that their city is very, very different from New York City. Or as many people hereabouts like to point out: LA is not L.A.
You can call your dog Nola in New Orleans, don't call New Orleans Nola unless you want people to roll their eyes behind your back.
How to Pronounce Esplanade Avenue
In Boston, there's a park called The Esplanade. In Boston it's pronounced ess-plah-NAHD, the way it would be pronounced in France. That's the French pronounciation, the way the word is spoken in much of the world, francophone or not. New Orleans isn't Boston. It isn't in France, either. New Orleans is a world of it's own. In New Orleans, Esplanade is pronounced ess-plan-AID.
There is a bit of an Americanization in the pronunciation of Esplanade Avenue. Even though the street is Downtown, in the Creole part of New Orleans, most New Orleans street names have undergone a sonic metamorphosis and as the city's distinctive accent has evolved from its founding in 1718. A lot can happen to a street's name over 300 years. Here are some examples:
Burgundy Street is pronounced burr-GUN-dee.
Chartres Street is pronounced charters.
Calliope Street is pronounced cal-ee-OHP.
These are just a few that many visitors encounter beyond Esplanade Avenue being pronounced ess-plan-AID. Pronounce street names the way you wouldn't naturally be inclined and you'll probably be closer to the way New Orleanians pronounce those names than if you'd done otherwise. Dauphine Street is pronounced dough-FEEN.
There isn't much rhyme or reason to the pronunciation rules. Conti Street is an old street that runs parallel to Esplanade Avenue from the French Quarter to City Park Avenue. It's pronounced cont-EYE. Tonti Street crosses Esplanade Avenue between the 2200 and 2300 blocks of Esplanade Avenue. Tonti Street is pronounced TON-tee. What's the difference? One starts with a C, the other starts with a T.
Uber drivers will tell you that Esplanade Avenue is pronounced ess-PLAN-dee. That's what their GPS system tells them, "Turn left on ess-PLAN-dee." You'll save a few bucks taking Uber, but your Uber driver won't get the same training or have the same background as a City of New Orleans licensed taxi cab driver. Those guys are professionals. They're not shuttling people around the city part-time. They've passed a city-administered test (and the city has high standards for its taxi drivers, just as it has for its licensed tour guides). New Orleans taxi drivers know the city like few other people do. They certainly know how to pronounce Esplanade Avenue.
Now that you know how to pronounce Esplanade Avenue, we hope you'll consider staying La Belle Esplanade (which is pronounced the French way) and that you'll make our humble inn your personalized New Orleans lifestyle headquarters for the duration of your stay. We only have five boutique suites and we only accept reservations directly through La Belle Esplanade's website. Plan ahead and we'll be happy to share all we know about New Orleans in general, and about Esplanade Avenue in particular.
With a handshake from your man on Esplanade ---Matthew King. April 11, 2017.