58. The name of the place

Who are we? Not a trick question or an existential one. The question is: What do we call ourselves? In April 1882, the Los Angeles Times named us Los Angelenos. But what did that sound like? With a long e after the l or with a long a? By early the next year, the paper misplaced the Los, and we were collectively Angelenos.

Then briefly, we were Angelinos (as in Angelino Heights and the city's first real suburb, dating from 1886). That spelling didn't stick. But did the sort-of Italianate pronunciation - Anne-jell-EE-no - linger? Easier to master than the "enye" in the proper Angeleño?

The two-part name - Los Angelenos - comes and goes in later news items of the paper - accounts of marriages, trips, back East, a murder victim. The Times is uncertain exactly who we are . . . or it's just a case of bad copy editing and no stylebook.

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The name of the city was just as uncertain. The New York Times, always a little unclear about Los Angeles, decided in 1910 that "everybody on the Pacific Slope" called the city simply "Los" . . . which is what Anglo Easterners had called the town 60 years before. Los didn't stick either.

The Los Angeles Times attempted a reform of the pronunciation of the city's name, so mangled by Midwest tourists. And in 1914, the city school board directed that Miss Maria Lopez, the teacher of Spanish at the Los Angeles High School, make 100 phonograph recordings of the pronunciation of the city's name for use in the city's classrooms. "Loce AHN-hel-ess" was the school board's preferred pronunciation, which was described as being "practically the pronunciation" that was printed by the Times under its nameplate every morning. Except . . . the Times pronunciation was Loce AHNG-hayl-es, or something like it.

According to the Los Angeles Almanac: "During the 1920s and 1930s, the Los Angeles Times vigorously defended the Spanish pronunciation and printed directly below its editorial page masthead,"LOS ANGELES (Loce Ahng hail ais)."

Ess or Ais? Ahn or Ahng? Nobody was listening. The city name was commonly pronounced as if it were Loss-anne-glus, with a hard g in the glus part. There were supposed to be 26 (or was it 36?) different ways to say the city's name.

Today, you hear Loss-Anne-jell-us. With equal stress on every syllable. A name without a song in its heart, but one we can pronounce. Hybrid child of provincial Mexican Spanish and provincial Midwest American. And that's who we are.

The image on this page was taken by Flickr user Thomas Hawk. It was used under a Creative Commons license.

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