You've heard New Orleans pronounced a half-dozen ways in songs, by movie characters and by residents. Now you're heading to the city in southeastern Louisiana near the Gulf of Mexico and you're not sure exactly how you're supposed to pronounce the place without embarrassing yourself in front of the locals.
Nicknamed the "Big Easy," New Orleans is "known for its round-the-clock nightlife, vibrant live-music scene and spicy, singular cuisine reflecting its history as a melting pot of French, African and American cultures," according to Google.
But, that melting pot of dialects lends itself to variations on the pronunciation of the city's name -- making it difficult to know the correct way to say it. Indeed, it's helpful to first know of the many ways not to pronounce New Orleans.
You may have heard the name pronounced, "N'awlins," but that's inaccurate. No one who lives anywhere near the city pronounces it this way. Louis Armstrong crooned "Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans," pronouncing the city as "New Orleeeeeenz" -- and the same pronunciation has shown up in a number of songs before and since. But, that, again, is not the correct way to say the city's name.
Making matters more confusing, Orleans Parish is pronounced "Orleeenz." The parish is conterminous with the city of New Orleans -- meaning that they share a common boundary. But, the parish is pronounced differently from the city it overlays.
Then, there was an episode of the television show, "The Simpsons," where one of the characters, Marge, took part in a musical adaptation of "A Streetcar Named Desire." One of the songs in the show was a parody/satire about New Orleans, and in it, Harry Shearer -- a resident of New Orleans -- jokingly pronounced the city as "New Or-lee-inz." Some of the longtime residents of the New Orleans do pronounce the city's name in a similar fashion -- as "Nyoo aw-lee-inz." But, that is still an incorrect pronunciation.
The Correct Pronunciation
The correct way to pronounce the city is "New Or-linz" -- spelled phonetically as "ȯr-lē-ənz," according to Merriam-Webster -- and using these three exact syllables. So, don't complicate it. If you want people to understand you and treat you like a local, this is the way to go.