The “L” Word

Most Derby City natives claim they say it correctly. Those from beyond the Commonwealth have their fair share of input, too.

But, just how do you pronounce the “L” word?




It’s simple to spell: “Louisville.” Articulating it – not so much.

In fact, the debate on how to say the word has spurred many to seek a definitive answer to no avail, and prompted an ad campaign back in the ’90s featuring five possible phonetic varieties (Looavul, Luhvul, Loueville, Looaville, Looeyville) heard throughout the region.

“(The campaign was) really based on what we heard and how we thought we would spell it,” said Susan McNeese Lynch, former employee of the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau and current marketing consultant. “The reason why I (personally) honed in on this was because … I went on a Southwest Airlines flight and their whole opening introduction and the safety message was jokes about how to say ‘Louisville.’ George Carlin talked about how to say ‘Louisville’ (in his stand-up routine). I remember going back to people saying this is a major (campaign) because it shows … we don’t take ourselves too seriously and it places focus and emphasis on the name of our city.”

Courtesy Photo of Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau

Courtesy Photo of Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau

Yes, there’s more than one way to say the name “Louisville,” but does that mean that it’s right? Could there actually be a proper way to say our city’s name? The Voice-Tribune sought to settle the perplexing debate once and for all (yeah, right), asking notable Louisvillians, either from the city or those who have migrated here, to offer their unique pronunciation of the “L” word on camera. A compilation of their responses are the subject of a video you can find online at beginning June 28. We encourage you to check out the clip, which features Pat Day, Clear Channel’s Mandy Connell, WAVE 3-TV’s Dawne Gee, Coach Scott Davenport, 102.3’s George Lindsey and many more people you’re sure to recognize.

But, before we discuss how these Louisvillians said the name of their hometown on camera, let’s look closer at the history that led to all this confusion in what once seemed a simple word.

Named after King Louis XVI of France, the original pronunciation of Louisville was understood to be “Lewisville” – the “usual” English pronunciation, as in St. Louis, according to the Louisville Encyclopedia. But, it’s speculated that after the Civil War brought rural Kentuckians to the area, so too arrived the newfound “Lou-a-vul” pronunciationNonetheless, in 1934, a street directory noted that the city “was named in honor of Louis XVI of France, and is, therefore properly pronounced Loo-y-ville.” Yet, once again in 1970, “Lou-a-vul” began to gain ground, and the pronunciation stuck rather permanently, with such sources as Wikipedia and now acknowledging both the “Looeyville” pronunciation and the native-friendly “Looavul.”

“It doesn’t really matter how you say it, but it’s a great place to do business,” argued Carmen Hickerson, vice president of public affairs and communications at Greater Louisville Inc.

No, it doesn’t necessarily matter if you say “Looeville” or “Looavul,” but a lot can be said about someone who chooses one pronunciation over another, as those born and raised in Louisville are more likely to prefer the latter.

For instance, Lieutenant Governor Jerry Abramson, born in Louisville, subscribes to “Looavul.” So does Clear Channel Radio’s Matt Jones and Patrick Henry Hughes. The 2012 Boston Marathon winner Wesley Korir, a native of Kenya and former cross country runner at the University of Louisville now living in the city has also adopted the “Looavul” enunciation.

However, Hall of Fame Jockey Pat Day, originally from Brush, Colo. clearly states “Looeyville,” along with Gary Roedemeier, who grew up in Missouri.

Lynch argues one’s pronunciation is more often about expediency rather than geographic location or upbringing, however. “A lot of people when (they’re) on the telephone, they’d say ‘Looeyville’ to be more clear, but in conversation would say ‘Looavul.’ One single person could use different pronunciations.”

As witnessed by our research with a sample of Louisville’s population, there’s definitely more than one way to say the “L” word and it’s understood all the same; however, “Looavul” was most popular by a slight margin.

The world may never know if there’s a correct way to say it, but that’s what makes the city all the more interesting, especially to those who are new to the area.

“It’s a talking point,” said Nancy Stephen, Communications Manager at the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It still sticks with us. We have people stop in the visitors center every day. They don’t go one day or even one hour without saying, ‘How do you say Louisville?’”

Regardless of how you say “Louisville” or “Looavul” or “Looeyville,” the city’s still the same great place, home to the Kentucky Derby, Muhammad Ali, Louisville Slugger Museum and that beloved Southern hospitality. And the war of the word may just be a fun game that embodies what this city is truly about: endless possibilities.

“Our whole goal … was to make people comfortable saying it however they wanted to say it,” Lynch said. “Louisville is a place you can come and feel comfortable as you are.”

Contact writer Ashley Anderson at, 502.498.2051.

  • Charley Wachowski

    It’s Loo-ee-vuhl dammit! Ask anyone born, raised and living here for the past 63+ years AKA me.

    • Thanks for weighing in, Charley! ~Angie Fenton, Managing Editor of The Voice-Tribune