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Wikipedia photo of Portsmouth Park in North Portland, Oregon.
Portsmouth Park in Portland | Credit: Wikipedia

Portsmouth — Pronouncing Portland’s street names can be a challenge or a bit of fun, depending on where you’re from and your tolerance.

Cooch or Couch? Glisan or Gleeson?

Well, Lucinda Bowman asked that question on the Nextdoor app a few days ago and the post has received close to 200 comments.

“I’ve been a speech pathologist for 26 years,” Bowman said. “When I moved to the neighborhood in 2014, right away, a friend and neighbor — and she’s a speech pathologist — she said, ‘I’m just going to come out with it. It’s called Ports Mouth, not Portsmouth.’

“And I said, ‘What? How can that be?’ Because that’s not the New England or English [pronunciation]. She said, ‘Nope, the people who live here, they call it Ports-mouth.’ I went, ‘Oh God.'”

Even more challenging for Lucinda is that the Portsmouth (or Ports-mouth) resident lives near Van Houten and Houghton, both of which have atypical pronunciations.

“In walking the dog down my Van Houten Street during the pandemic, I just got to thinking about the street names in the area and, how based on if people have grown up here and lived here their whole lives, that’s really the way you should be pronouncing the street names because you’re honoring the natives,” Bowman said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s not the way you know it to be pronounced or the actual English pronunciation.”

She decided to crowdsource to find the final verdict and posted it on the Nextdoor app and the post went viral. 

“I didn’t realize I was going to get such a huge response, but I think people on Nextdoor see so many like, ‘Cat got hit by a car,’ lost dogs, or complaints like car break-in,” she said. “It was a light post. I didn’t think it would get such a huge response, but a lot of people were very curious. A lot of people were really responding like, ‘Oh my God, this is so great! I love language and linguistics.'”

“Basically, what I found out is the people who live here have a certain way of pronouncing it. However, if someone is English or from the East Coast, they refuse to pronounce it the way. They’re like, ‘Nope, I’m not calling it Ports Mouth. I cannot.’ But people who had been residents for 60 years were telling me some of the pronunciations, so I really appreciated that, hearing from people who’ve been here for so long and went to Portsmouth Elementary.” [Editor’s note: Portsmouth Elementary is now named Cesar Chavez]

And what did she decide on as the final verdict? 

“I’m going to go by the way people pronounce it here, which brings me up to NOPO. The old people here say, ‘No, you can’t call it NOPO,'” Bowman said.

“What would the old timers call NOPO?,” Nathan asked. “They would just say North Portland?”

“Yes, they say North Portland,” Bowman said. “So, yeah, it really depends. But I always, always go by the people in the community. So I will say it how they say it.”

“Well, until the community changes,” Nathan said. “And then they start saying it …”

“Yeah, except for NOPO,” Bowman said. “I didn’t know that one. I call it NOPO.”

“Yeah. I’m going to stick with NOPO,” Nathan said. “But maybe I’ll bend a little bit on Ports-mouth.”

And while we’re at it, what are your thoughts on NOPO? Can it all be capitalized or just the N and P?