How do you say 'Sauget'? Many pronounce it wrong, but the Sauget family says that’s OK
Sauget Mayor Rich Sauget Jr. pronounces his last name and the village "so-ZHAY."
“I’ve heard so-GAYS, so-JAY, saw-GET — all different kinds of renditions,” Sauget said. “Being French, it’s a little bit hard to pronounce.”
The village of around 150 people, sandwiched between Cahokia Heights and East St. Louis, is like many St. Louis-area landmarks and streets: Area residents often pronounce its name differently than the family or the original French would have said it. But those family members and French language experts say that doesn’t necessarily make it wrong or worth correcting.
“St. Louisans are right to pronounce the way they feel comfortable pronouncing it,” said Lionel Cuillé, a French professor at Washington University. “I think these words have been appropriated into the English language — and sometimes it comes with a different sound.”
At a recent Gateway Grizzlies baseball game in Sauget, many St. Louis-area residents, mostly from the Metro East, pronounced the village’s name correctly — or slightly differently with the first syllable more like it’s spelled for English speakers: saw-ZHAY.
Garrett Murphy, the director of hospitality for the Grizzlies, says he’s heard the village pronounced both so-ZHAY and saw-ZHAY.
“I'm not 100% true on what is actually correct,” Murphy said with a laugh.
The 27-year-old has worked for the team for three years and said he occasionally has to set the record straight with new interns every summer about the soft "g" sound. But exactly which variation of the first syllable is correct is still a mystery.
“I'm not too sure specifically which one, but I've heard both from a lot of people that are high up in the organization, so to me it's confusing,” Murphy said.
For just as many people pronounce the first syllable “saw,” there are also plenty of area residents who say it the way the family does.
“I feel like people just butcher it all the time,” said Brianna Anderson, who pronounced that first syllable “so.” The 31-year-old said she grew up coming to Grizzlies games and learned the pronunciation from her parents.
“I don't think I've ever said it the wrong way where somebody had to correct me,” she said.
Other French names in St. Louis
Jane Chouteau has a similar experience with her last name. Her great, great, great, great-grandfather is René-Auguste Chouteau — one of the founders of the St. Louis settlement in the 1760s.
She said she pronounces her last name "SHOE-TOE." Most St. Louisans pronounce the avenue that runs parallel to Interstate 64, also named after her ancestors, "SHOW-doh."
Through extensive reading of the Lewis and Clark Journals, she’s learned that her ancestors would have said SHOW-doh back when they were settling in the region in the 18th century. The change to SHOE-TOE came during Napoleon Bonaparte’s reign when he codified the French language.
She said she doesn't correct people or try to make them pronounce the street the way she says her last name. In her mind, language evolves and changes over time.
“It's silly. I mean, who cares how it's pronounced?” Chouteau said. “Who cares about codification of the French? Well, the French care very much about the codification of the French language, but I don't care how it's pronounced.”
In fact, Chouteau said her grandmother ended up lost in south St. Louis once. In an attempt to figure out where she was, the grandmother asked others around the city where the avenue named after her family was.
“Well, nobody could tell her where SHOE-TOE Avenue was because it's SHOW-doh Avenue — as everybody knows,” she said.
Cuillé, the French professor, said he had a similar experience with his son’s friend, who ordered a roast beef sandwich with au jus — or aw-JUSS, as the friend pronounced it. Initially, Cuillé said he was confused, but then it dawned on him.
“An aw-ZHOO roast beef sandwich,” Cuillé said. “I will never correct my son’s friend. This is beautiful.”
Like Cuillé and Chouteau, Sauget said he’s learned to just respond to whatever variation he hears. He said he doesn't bother correcting people.
Sauget guessed only about 5% of people pronounce the village or his last name correctly. He doesn't mind.
““I’m just happy people are communicating with me and calling my name in the first place,” Sauget said.