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This article was first published in the Skagit Valley Herald
February 24, 2002


It's the Padilla predicament: Let's call the whole thing off?
by Peter Kelley

This week, we examine the thorny linguistic question that has tormented Skagit County residents for generations: How do we pronounce the name of that estuary, wildlife reserve and interpretive center near Bayview State Park?

You know the one --- tide flats, marshes, eelgrass, shoreline trails and briny breezes.   The place where you always say to yourself right as you get out of the car, "Darn, shoulda brought my barn boots!"

It's Padilla Bay, of course. But how should we say it?

Is it Pad-ee-ya? Or Pa-dil-ah? Or maybe Pad-eel-a? Or should people do like I do --- just cover their mouth with their hand and say "Padih...padee...er, you know, that marshy place"?

Fortunately, Glen Alexander, education director of the Padilla Bay Interpretive Center has thought seriously about this issue, and has a more informed opinion than my own.

"There are many pronunciations of the name, so I'd say none of them is wrong," said Alexander, who is called "Alex" for short.

He said with a chuckle, "What it really comes down to in this county is, who do you want to offend?

If you go to the grocery store and ask for directions for Pad-ee-ah Bay, they're going to think you're some college-educated Californian. People who grow up here, they know that it's pronounced Pad-ill-a (like Manila), and that's how it should be pronounced according to their life experience, so if someone pronounces it Pad-ee-ah, they can get offended."

He offered a bit of history along the way: Alexander said exhibits at the interpretive center state that the name Padilla made its appearance locally when Spanish explorer Jose Narvaez sailed through Guemes Channel in 1791 and claimed the territory for Spain. Alexander said this fellow named the bay "Seno de Padilla" or "Small Bay of Padilla" and added that the governor for the Spanish North American colony (now Mexico) at the time was named Juan de Guemes Pancheco de Padilla Horcasitas y Aguayo.

The more anecdotes he tells, the more it seems there is little consensus when it comes to this pronunciation thing. Partly, he said, pronunciations vary depending on where the speaker is from.

"One day there was a school group here and a father had a name tag that read 'Mr. Padilla'" Alexander said. "I asked him and he said he pronounces it Pad-ill-a, like many of the people in this county do. So the fact that some people say Pad-ill-a here is not strictly ignorance," Alexander said.   "It is pronounced legitimately that way by others."

But wait, there's more. He continued, "Then I met a man who had that for his last name and he pronounced it Pah-dill-eea, " like the word media. "He was from the Philippines."

Alexander added that old Juan de Guemes Pancheco de Padilla Horcasitas y Aguayo, having come from Spain, may well have pronounced the Padilla with the D sounding like a TH and two L's creating what is almost "a soft J sound, like Asia," like Pad-thee-sha.

The question of Padilla pronunciation comes up often at the Padilla Bay Interpretive Center, Alexander said. And when it does, he is ready with an answer.

"It comes up even more because I've started pronouncing it "Pad-ee-ya" he said (like tortilla).

"I'm asked why, and the reason I do is that the Spanish-speaking people in this county pronounce it that way. We are a government agency, and that is a cultural group that is hard for us to contact-we don't get very many Spanish speaking people in here. So I figure the least I can do is pronounce it the same way they pronounce it, so they have a sense of welcome."

I told Alexander that idea seems like as good a plan as any.

He said, "Then let's not get into how to pronounce Guemes!"