WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — A quick Google search of the place the Eyewitness News studio and the Times Leader Media Group call home. Yields dozens of forums where people have openly discussed the pronunciation of the Diamond City.
Eleven letters made from two names separated by a hyphen sounds simple, right?
“Wilkes barre,” said Kareem Bell, a Wilkes-Barre resident.
But the correct way is…
“Wilkes-Barre. Its barre with two r’s,” Bell explained.
“We are in a place named for John Wilkes and Isaac Barre. I have my theories on why there is a bunch of pronunciations,” said Tony Brooks, for the Wilkes-Barre Preservation Society.
Curator of the Preservation Society that bears the city’s name, Tony Brooks says those theories center around the Wyoming Valley’s immigrants.
“You come to this very odd naming town, with a hyphen in it to boot, i just think they mispronounced it. And then their children and grandchildren mispronounce it too,” Brooks added.
“A lot of people think it’s one word, but as you know, it’s two,” said Miriam Kenney, a lifelong Wilkes-Barre resident.
Actually it’s the only hyphenated city in America.
“There is another one in North Carolina, Winston-Salem, but they were two cities put together. We are the same city,” Brooks stated.
Mayor Brown says even with being the largest city in Luzerne County, the name after the hyphen is just as confusing to locals as it is to visitors.
“It’s so uncommon in name. We have people come to the Kirby Center and pronounce it Wilkes-Barre and I get out of my seat and shout out that it’s Wilkes-Barre,” said Wilkes-Barre Mayor, George C. Brown.
Ironic since Isaac Barre is quite the popular guy.
“He actually has two other towns names for him, Barre, Vermont and Barre, Massachusetts. And if you call them up, no one has a problem saying their names,” said Brooks.
“The proper French pronunciation is Wilkes-Barre. Because he was an Irishman of French derivation. His name was Barre,” explained Roger DuPuis, Times Leader Media Group, editor.
“Whether you call it Wilkes-Berry, Wilkes-Bar, or Wilkes-Bear, come on out. It’s a great city, it’s a beautiful city.”
“Wilkes-Barre is the correct pronunciation, this guy just informed me. I made a mistake the first time.
I have a different outfit on and now a different answer. I made a mistake the first time. Now I know the correct pronunciation is Wilkes-Barre,” Bell added.
Tony Brooks also shared that the city’s Chamber of Commerce, began a strawberry in Wilkes-Berry Campaign in the 1920s to encourage folks to pronounce the city’s name correctly, but it really did not catch on with the residents.
A nice joint effort with our friends at the Times Leader. Check out the Times Leader version of this story in the Friday print edition and online at TimesLeader.com.