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On Pronouncing Wingate

August 15th, 2007 by jimm wetherbee in Reference

Wetherbee at WingateThe credit for the rebus on the left goes to my friend, Win Corduan at Taylor University. It is suppose to depict a “Weather-Bee” at a “Wing-Gate.” This page is devoted to the second half of the rebus, but if you want, you can also check out a discussion of the first half.

Let me start at what may seem like an odd place. Taylor University is located in Upland, Indiana. Now, say “Upland” to yourself. How does it come out, something like (1) “UPlind or (2) “UPlend” or (3) “upLAND.” More likely than not, you choose (1) or (2) unless you are from Upland, Indiana (there is also an Upland, California, but I have no idea how those Uplanders pronounce the name of their fair city). Most of the students at Taylor at the time (many of whom–like myself–were not from Indiana, let alone Upland or its environs) held that the locals were ignorant and just a little bit crazy. After all, most place-names that end with -land are softened (think of England, for instance). Residents of Upland took offens eand though we were arrogant and ignorant. Residents can call their city (and technically it is a city) what they like. It is their doamain after all. Moreover, it is called Upland because it is the highest point between Chicago and Columbus (a route on the Indiana Central Rail Road) and so is literally “Up Land.” This is the classic sort of town-and-gown thing that always goes on, particularly when the college is the primary economic force in the town. For the record, I now side with the residents.

As is now too apparent, the parallels between Wingate, NC and Upland, IN are unmistakable. Of course, it is a little more complicated for Wingate, because at least Upland doesn’t share the same name as its town. Incidentally, the town of Wingate adopted its name after the University (then a comprehensive school). Every so often the issue of how to pronounce the name of the school (and also the town) comes up in the school newspaper. Invariably, folks who are not from around here (OK, technically they are what are known as Yankees1 or northerners) pronounce the name “WINgate” saying that that is how it is spelled, and anyone who says otherwise is ignorant. Such an attitude makes me cringe (remember, I ended up agreeing with the Uplanders). Worse, a northerner calling a southerner “ignorant” is like throwing petrol on hot coals. The other side of the debate is basically that the town and the university were both pronounced something like “winGIT” or “winGET”2 long before we northerners tried to come in and gentrify the place. The debate still goes on. There are even two Facebook groups, each taking opposing views and neither too nice about it.3

So, what arguments could be marshaled on each side?

For the pronunciation of “WINgate” we have:

  • Its spelled W-I-N-G-A-T-E and should be pronounced accordingly

Other possible arguments not used include:

  • Etymologically it is related to gate and should be so pronounced
  • Historically, the family-name is tied to a place-name in England, and should be pronounced accordingly

For the pronunciation of “winGIT/GET” we have:

  • That’s how it always was pronounced
  • It’s a Southern thing, get over it

Other possible arguments not used include:

  • Etymologically it is related to gate and should be so pronounced
  • Historically, the family name is tied to a place-name in England, and should be pronounced accordingly

Let get the that’s-the-way-its-spelled nonsense out of the way first. Proper names in general have rules all their own. For instance, Why is Ronald Reagan “RAYgon” or “RAYgen” and Donald Regan “REEgen?” And while we are on the topic, just how are the following pronounced:

  • Poughkeepsie, NY
  • Cairo, IL
  • Lima, IN
  • Concord, NH
  • Plymouth, MA
  • Wooster, MA?4

Need I go on? It would not take much time to find examples of a great many northern place-names that don’t follow the regular rules of pronunciation, so just back off.

On the other hand, neither of main counter arguments are definitive either. I’ve lived here for less than twenty years. Not knowing how either students or residents have pronounced “Wingate” in the past, I cannot give a historical basis (unless someone has some archival tapes). Even so, what I can say is that there is no consensus among current Wingate residents on how the town’s name is pronounced. This should not be surprising. I know of at least two other cities (Louisville, KY and New Orleans, LA) that have more than one common pronunciation. In some cases the attempt to standardize pronunciation backfires. At one time city officials in Louisville attempted to get everyone to anglicize the pronunciation of the city (Louis Ville).

As for “winGIT” being a “southern thing,” All I can say is that such an exercise only demeans the notion of a southern accent. I am not a Southerner, but I have noted that while one may be able recognize a southern accent when one hears it, it is more like a family than an individual thing. I suspect that there are some in the tidewater region that would be just as appalled at “winGIT” as any northerner.

Now for the other possible lines of support. As mentioned above, Wingate is actually a town in County Durham in the north of England. According to the Oxford Dictionary of Surnames, It comes from the Old English “wind geat,” (that is “wind gate,” or a place where the wind howls through a narrow pass). While the modern translation might support WINgate–though not even that is definite, as will be seen–the normal patterns of language shift are enough that “geat” could have gone to either “gate” or “get” and then from “get” to “git” long before the town in North Carolina was founded. Moreover, some variants to the name–such as Wyngett–suggest that winGET was a long established pronunciation.

Appealing to how the English pronounce the name is of no help at all in deciding the matter. I wrote the reference librarian at the Wingate Public Library, County Durham and received the following reply:

I can totally understand your predicament. The problem is that the pronunciation all depends on the individuals accent. I tend to find that it is generally pronounced ‘wing gate’ But the other options you gave are all used as well especially ‘wing git.’

Please note two things in the reply to my query. First, “git” and “gate” are both used, and in each case it isn’t “win” but “wing.” So, instead of settling on one pronunciation, there are four (or five). The shift from “nd” to “ng” (i.e., wind to wing) makes a good deal of sense as does the further transition from “wing” to “win.” The combination “ndg” would tend to merge to “ng,” and Americans frequently make the latter shift.

So, there are your choices. Anyone up for setting up any more Facebook groups on the topic? Now, if you ask me how I pronounce Wingate, well it depends.

  • In normal speech it tends to come out “winGET.”
  • If I’m on the phone, its “WINgate.” This may because I once did not enunciate the name of my home town, Fishkill, well enough only to find it later written as “Fishgill.” So, I overemphasize a bit.
  • While singing the Alma Mater, it comes out “WINGgate.” I suspect what is going on here is (1) I don’t want to emphasize the second syllable (for some reason whenever I say either “get” or “git” the syllable hardens and becomes more emphasized) and (b) “WIN-gate” is too hard to pronounce when singing; the “ng” at the end of the first syllable just makes the transition to the “g” in second easier.

Comments? Please feel free to drop me a line.
I hope to post comments or fold them into this essay.


As an alumnus of the school the two pronunciations were always WINgate
or WINGet. But the most interesting comment came from a radio announcer who,
when Wingate was playing Anderson University (SC), said that he could never
understand why the school was called “WINgate University” but it was
in the town of “WINGet”. That just didn’t come together for him.

Although I have always said “WINGet”, somehow “WINgate”
seems to go good as a university name.

1.I just can’t let this one go without comment. Real Yankees are those folks who settled New England before the American Revolution and never left or residents of one of the New England states whose families go back so far that no one can remember them being from elsewhere. This most assuredly excludes anyone from New York or New Jersey, let alone just anyone “north of Mason-Dixon.” My parents are Yankees (proud to say). Sadly, I am not.

2.There is often a lot of shifting between “e” and “i,” and sometimes it is not always clear which vowel is intended. For instance, some people pronounce “pin” and “pen” so similarly, that they must qualify their meaning. Consequently the use of “ink-pen,” which would at first seem redundant in most instances, becomes necessary.

3.I’m sure that it is all in good fun. On the other hand, so is this essay.

4.Readers have contributed the following: Avon, NY (A von, with a short “a”), Chili, NY (CHI li — long “i’s” on both syllables) and Charlotte, NY (char LOTTE).