At the end of one of my recent Friendly Connections teleconferences (called "Greenwich History"), one of my "loyal listeners" suggested I talk about the correct pronunciation of our town's name in the next session.
Is it "Green-witch" or "Gren-itch"?
I managed to find a number of articles on the subject. There is definitely a difference of opinion concerning the correct pronunciation.
The Greenwich Time states that the older residents - natives who were born and educated here - pronounce it "Green-witch" with the strong "e" sound, as in the color green. So if you have a connection to the Meads, Pecks, Reynoldses, Bushes, Brushes or Knapps, you've probably heard the "Green-witch" form. Natives say this is the pronunciation they were taught in elementary school. Once they got to high school, it was changed to "Gren-itch". New residents use the "Gren-itch" form.
Like any good researcher, I decided to check the Merriam Dictionary. That didn't help! According to this reference, there are several different pronunciations of the word: gren-wich, grenij, grenej, grinich, grinech, grinej, and grin-wich. (I won't even try to pronounce them!) Next, I turned to the "Judge's Corner". Judge Fred A. Hubbard wrote a column in The Greenwich Press from 1927 to 1933. These were collected and reprinted in a book with index. Hubbard subscribes to the pronunciation "Grenage". He notes the English pronunciation associated with Greenwich, England - home of Greenwich Mean Time (the time standard developed at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England). Richard Ferris - son or nephew of a Richard Ferris, who was a member of Queen Elizabeth's court - is credited with naming the town after Greenwich in England. (There's no record of any of the Town's earliest settlers coming from Greenwich, England.) Incidently, there was a Greenwich House built in England in 1300 as a favorite resort for the King. The town possessed four-miles of beautiful riverfront where the Naval War College and Greenwich Hospital was built. This was also the birthplace of Henry VIII, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. Edward IV died there. "Gren-itch" is the excepted form for this English town.
In a July 1934 editorial in the Greenwich News and Graphic, the writer concludes there is no conclusive answer. If you compare "Greenwich" to "Sandwich", then the "w" should be pronounced. Otherwise, it would be "sand-itch". According to all the sources I could find, nowhere is the "w" sound allowed. In other words, it's silent.
A letter to The Christian Science Monitor in Boston, reprinted in the November 5, 1955 Greenwich Time, didn't help, either! It criticizes the British for flagrantly mispronouncing such words as "Grosvenor" (Grovenor) and "Beauchamps" (Beecham).
We have to share some of the blame, also. The Greenwich High School literary magazine is called "The Green Witch". And the Greenwich High Boys Choir is called "The Witchmen". A weathervane on a commercial office on Field Point Road near the Library shows a witch flying on a broom! Let's not forget the train conductors who over the years announced "Green-witch", as well as "Gren-itch", as the train approached the station. (In an article written under the moniker "Phair Field", the writer claims some commuters slept right through the Greenwich stop because they didn't hear "Green-witch". I think this was a "tongue-in-cheek" article.)
I imagine this will continue to be a point of contention in town for some time. Natives will continue to use the historic "Green-witch" version. Maybe this isn't such a bad thing. It seems to spark a discussion of the town's history. It also adds character and personality to the town. Rather than accept the modern pronunciation, it represents an attempt to hold onto the Town's place in time. It also reflects the unique nature of Greenwich - a mixture of old and new. One thing's for sure: Green Witch or Gren-wich will continue to hold an important place in history of Connecticut.
Greenwich Time (Hearst Corp)
Greenwich News and Graphic
Hubbard, J. , Greenwich History: The Judge's Corner ; Nicholson, F. Ed.; Round Hill Productions, 2001.