So, how do you pronounce Wilkes-Barre?
In addition to being one of the few cities in the United States that features a hyphen, the name of our fine city can also prove to by tricky to pronounce.
The two widely accepted ways to pronounce Wilkes-Barre are "Wilkes-BERRY" and "Wilkes-BEAR".
Named in honor of British Parliament members, John Wilkes and Isaac Barre, Wilkes-Barre was first named in 1769 by Major John Durkee. Throughout its history, the city's name has gone through various spellings, including Wilkesbarre, Wilkesborough, Wilkesburg, Wilkesbarra, Wilkes Barry and Wilkes Berry. The Luzerne County Historical Society refers to the following passage from 1909's A History of Wilkes-Barre by Oscar Jewell Harvey about the current spelling and pronunciation:
"It is unquestioned...that John Durkee named this town 'Wilkesbarre'; which form of the name was recognized and confirmed by the Legislature of Pennsylvania in 1806... thus giving legislative authority to a name which custom had then sanctioned for more than thirty-five years. There is, therefore, the very best authority for using the form 'Wilkesbarre', or, more correctly written--in view of the etymology of the name--'Wilkesbarré'. But, on the other hand, we have in opposition to this a form which has been in almost general use here in Wyoming Valley for fifty years, or more, through a desire on the part of our people...to keep Isaac Barré in memory. 'Barré'; was his name, and 'Wilkes-Barré'; should be, and IS, the name of our town!
As to the pronunciation of this name...The name--a compound word of three syllables--is pronounced neither Wilks-bä r, Wilkes-bä r, Wilks-bare-ry nor Wilks-bare-eh as so often heard, but Wilks'-ba-ra--with a slight accent on the first syllable; 'i' in the first syllable being sounded as 'i' in 'pin', 'a' in the second syllable as 'a' in 'mat' and the final 'è'; as 'a' in 'mate'. The French 'e' with the 'close' accent has the sound last noted."