How do you really say the name, anyway?
by Melissa Ruffner, Historian and Author
Photo by Jerry Chinn
Well, just how – and why – do we pronounce the name of our town?
Here’s a little bit of the back story. In the early 1980s, I wrote the first complete history of Prescott, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce. It was a two-year labor of love, since I was born here in 19**, but that’s a story for another time.
When my youngest daughter, Leila, was stationed with a Marine Corps Wing Site Support Element at Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts, I took the opportunity to deliver a copy of my Prescott: A Pictorial History to the William Hickling Prescott home at 54 Beacon Street in Boston.
The then-president of the Colonial Dames of America shared with me that visitors from Arizona often asked how the Prescott descendants pronounce their name. She told me that William H. was the grandson of Colonel William Prescott, a Revolutionary War hero, and during the colonists’ overthrow of the British in Boston, they changed the pronunciation from “Pres-COTT” to “Pres-KITT” to show their allegiance with the newly declared “Americans.”
As background, when people took surnames, they often chose their vocation (Miller, Baker, Smith…) and who they were the son of (AdamSON), or where they lived. Prescott was the priests’ “COTTage” in a village. Descendants in England still pronounce their surname “PresCOTT,” and descendants of the new Americans still use “PresKITT.”
A student of mine at Yavapai College submitted a term paper identifying about a dozen towns named Prescott and indicated which were named after our William H. and which were named after other folks, including C.H. Prescott, a railroad official. We have several Sister Cities, so perhaps we should adopt Prescott in the southeast corner of Washington State.
Then, if a new resident or visitor mispronounces the name of our town, they can merely explain that they are referring to our Sister City. Or, do they call it “PresCOTT?” I know…do you?