Ruh-SEEN or RAY-seen? An investigation

The bell city’s name comes from the French word for “root,” the handle given to the area’s river in various languages stretching back centuries to its native inhabitants, says Chris Paulson, executive director of Racine Heritage Museum.

The 17th century French explorers who gave it the name that eventually stuck didn’t stick around themselves, though. The Yankee, English and Welsh settlers of the 1830s and after apparently didn’t care much for the proper French pronunciation of their new home – “Rah-SEEN,” with that distinctively French swallowing of consonants.

Today, schwa-ing that first syllable is the proper pronunciation, Paulson says, adding that the historical society hasn’t studied the emergence of the long “a.”

Jerry Karwowski, who figures he has given about 100 presentations on Racine history over the past few decades, is a “Ray-” guy. Sometimes.

“When you’re off guard, it’s Ray-cine; when you’re on guard, it’s Ruh-cine,” he says.

He says the long “a” is more common on the city’s south side and among less formal speakers, including the city’s black and immigrant communities. Karwowski’s Polish grandparents called their new American home “RAY-seen.”

But, he notes with a laugh, “they also called it ‘Mee-waukee!’


“How the heck do you pronounce ‘Racine’?” appears in the February 2019 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop or find the issue on newsstands, starting Jan. 28.

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