A Beginner’s Guide to Pronouncing River Names

Posted June 21, 2011 by Jeremy

Here at AO, it’s pretty standard knowledge that we run ten of California’s best rivers. Heck, the phrase dominates our brochures! Most rafters who call in know the basics of river rafting and some even know the technology behind more advanced nuances of the sport, such as predicting flows. But one thing that is a constant struggle, even for reservationists like me, is consistently pronouncing some of the river names. While classics like the South Fork American, Middle Fork American and Cherry Creek are rarely mispronounced, we also run big trips on the Tuolumne, Kaweah and Merced Rivers.

Following is a beginner’s guide to pronouncing the names of these rivers, and a little reasoning for why they are spelled in such a confusing fashion.

Tuolumne River

[Pronounced “Too-all-um-mee” River] This gorgeous river, situated near Yosemite National Park, flows through a deep, wooded canyon. When you meet in Groveland, Calif. to begin your trip with All-Outdoors, you would be hard-pressed to miss the tranquil, nationally-preserved environment of the valley and surrounding towns.

Whether you hit the Tuolumne at high water for one of California’s most potent, intense spring runs or take a more technical, normal water trip in the summer, you’re going to want to tell all your family and friends about every detail. Unless you want to take a shortcut and call the river by its nickname “the T,” make sure to learn that pronunciation before you get off the river so the guides don’t poke fun at you all day!

Kaweah River

[Pronounced “Kuh-we-uh” River] One of the more wild and crazy rivers we run is situated closest to the Los Angeles region, in an area near Sequoia National Park. With snowmelt-reliant flows normally peaking around Memorial Day, make sure you jump on this river early on in the season. All-Outdoors can take you on an unforgettable, technical river full of class IV and IV+ rapids that will provide a wet and rough day on the water.

The Kaweah has adopted plenty of confusion-induced nicknames over the years. Anything from “Kaw-way” to “Kay-uh-way-uh” to “Kuh-something” has been muttered by nervous callers over the years. Now you know, that the “Kuh-we-uh” River is well worth your time; both learning the pronunciation and shredding the whitewater.

Merced River

[Pronounced “Murr-said” River] If you like roller coasters, the Merced River is right for you. Flanked by local homes and in the spring, lush hillsides, this river gives you a couple sections of huge, rolling rapids that really do give the feeling of Space Mountain on water. Also located near Yosemite National Park, the Merced is similar to the Tuolumne in that it is designated as a Wild and Scenic River.

The main mistake when rafters refer to this river is calling it the “Murrst,” though I have heard “Murr-ked” on occasion too. Just remember when talking about it, that it’s two syllables, not one! And when you tell people you went on the roller coaster river, and they ask which one? You’ll know exactly what to say.

(above: Good times on the Mighty Mer!)


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