I've accepted the wrong-headed local pronunciations of "Couch" and "Willamette." But the way you all say "Aloha" (the town) is the last straw. Were Oregon's place-naming pioneers just dumbasses? —San Franpsycho
Come come, mispronouncing place names is one of America's most time-honored traditions (second only to dumbassery).
Perhaps the upscale Bay Area, with its highfalutin "literacy" and "non-incestuous marriages," is free from these geographic malapropisms, Fran—that might explain why your little ears are so sensitive to them.
Those of us who grew up in flyover country, however, can confirm that in the rest of the nation, mangled place names are the rule rather than the exception.
Allow me to present the following list of city names, along with their accepted local pronunciations. All these towns are, I swear to God, less than 100 miles from my grandparents' house in Southern Illinois: New Athens (AY-thins), New Baden (BAY-din), Vienna (vy-ANN-uh), Cairo (KAY-roh), Versailles (ver-SAYLZ) and Eldorado (el-doh-RAY-doh).
Pretty embarrassing. That said, none of the Oregon examples you cite in your question falls into the same category of mispronunciation as these.
As mentioned in a previous column (Oct. 8, 2014,) confusion about "Willamette" is the result of bad spelling, not misinformed elocution. Meanwhile, Captain John Couch and his forebears pronounced their name to match the slang term for vagina for generations—the street had no choice but to follow suit.
Which brings us to "Aloha," pronounced locally so as to rhyme, more or less, with "Samoa." Did some addle-pated cowpoke of yore attempt to name the town after the Hawaiian greeting but miss the mark?
Maybe not. The nephew of Aloha's first postmaster says in 1912 his uncle named the post office (from which the still-unincorporated community took its name) "Aloah," after a resort on Wisconsin's Lake Winnebago.
According to the story, the post office then garbled the spelling—"Aloha" instead of "Aloah"—but the original pronunciation still survives. It's a pretty thin reed, I admit, but I'm grabbing it.