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In the UK, place names ending in "ham" are typically pronounced with a final /əm/. For example, Birmingham, Buckingham, Clapham, Sandringham and Tottenham. (I haven't been able to find any counterexamples.)

However, in the USA, I don't know whether the pattern is consistent. I found the following:

  • Bellingham is pronounced \ˈbɛlɪŋˌhæm\.
  • Framingham is pronounced \ˈfreɪmɪŋˌhæm\.
  • Bingham is pronounced \ˈbɪŋəm\.

(Sources: Collins English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster.)

So how is the name Hingham pronounced in the USA: \ˈhɪŋˌhæm\ or \ˈhɪŋˌəm\? I have not been able to find the name in any of the sources I consulted (in addition to Collins and Merriam-Webser: Wikipedia, Longman Pronunciation Dictionary and the Oxford BBC Guide to Pronunciation.)

  • How do you pronounce "Louisville"? How do you pronounce "Cairo". In the case of "Louisville" you can't even get agreement on opposite sides of the town (the one in Kentucky, not the one in Mississippi or Colorado). – Hot Licks Apr 4 at 13:29
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    @HotLicks 'How do you pronounce "Louisville"?' As a non-native speaker of English, I look that up, e.g. in Merriam-Webster, which gives me ˈlü-i-ˌvil , -vəl. That's also what I did for the names I listed in my question. You can't expect non-native speakers to be aware of every local variation in pronunciation. – Tsundoku Apr 4 at 13:39
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    I grew up in Louisville, and many people there pronounced it "luv-al". Plus there's "lou-ee-vill", "lou-uh-vill", and several others. – Hot Licks Apr 4 at 13:52
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    The market-town of Hingham in Norfolk, from which the one in Massachusetts perhaps takes its name, is pronounced by the locals as Hing'um. – WS2 Apr 4 at 15:25
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    Buckingham is an edge-case. Some people pronounce the 'h' - in a kind of 'misplaced correctness' type of way, adding h's where they don't really belong. – Tetsujin Apr 5 at 9:54
15

I lived in Massachusetts for 27 years and did some house-hunting in Hingham, and everyone I ever heard say the name of that town pronounced it \ˈhɪŋəm\ .

Note that other two-syllable towns in Massachusetts ending in -ham follow the same pattern of a stressed followed by an unstressed syllable: Dedham, Needham, Raynham, Wareham. On the other hand, Waltham, where I worked for a few years, was always hollered out by the MBTA conductors as WalTHAM (wɔːl'θæm). Go figure.

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  • Thanks. That makes me wonder whether that has something to do with the length of the name: two syllables, just like Bingham, whereas Bellingham and Framingham have more than two syllables. – Tsundoku Apr 4 at 13:23
  • That's certainly a possibility. – Robusto Apr 4 at 13:43
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    Don't know if this helps: How to properly say Massachusetts town names (Youtube) – Michael Harvey Apr 4 at 14:05
  • Bellingham was named after Sir William Bellingham, who had been instrumental in outfitting the voyage of Captain George Vancouver. Bellingham was Irish, which may have influenced the pronunciation of his name. Or there may be other reasons. The residents of Washington State have their own way of pronouncing things, since many of their place names are transliterations of indigenous names that are sometimes learned through sounding out their written forms. Anyway, here’s a word about Bill: en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sir_William_Bellingham,_1st_Baronet – Global Charm Apr 4 at 14:10
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    Waltham in that case, has kept its UK pronunciation. It's a place [or 2, Waltham Cross & Waltham Abbey] just to the North of London . Wol-thəm is how it's pronounced [I can't do proper phonetics, sorry] On Bethlehem, in London from Beth-li-hem it became shortened to Bedlam [of which you've probably heard]. – Tetsujin Apr 5 at 9:44

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