Hey, Google: ‘How Do You Pronounce Gonzaga?’
The more things change the more they stay the same. Gone are the days of turning on the TV during March Madness to find pundits stumbling through the pronunciation of Gonzaga, shocked that the underdog team was advancing across college basketball’s biggest stage.
Now, with more than two decades under the school’s belt as a top-ranked basketball powerhouse – and with its academic programs also gaining national prominence – the media knows the Zags well.
And yet, the mispronunciations persist. Spokesman-Review editor Rob Curley opined about the phenomenon in the wake of the team’s first Final Four appearance in 2017. He watched that game at a local bar where patrons began yelling at the TV in unison each time the announcer botched it.
As recently as last season, ESPN’s go-to college hoops commentator Jay Bilas tweeted “an important PSA” video urging people to finally learn the name, saying “They’ve been kicking everyone’s a-- for twenty years. We can get it right.”
The data backs up the phonetic confusion. The question “How do you pronounce Gonzaga?” is searched on Google over 2,000 times a month, making it one of the most popular queries with the word Gonzaga in it.
So, what is the correct pronunciation of Gonzaga?
When referring to Gonzaga University, it’s pronounced Gone - ZAG (as in "bag") – uh.
Dale Goodwin, who’s now in his 42nd year on staff, began writing it out that way when he was hired as sports information director in 1981. He quickly learned broadcasters said Gonzaga three or four different ways, so he began including the school name, along with players who had tricky names, in the team’s pronunciation guide distributed to media members and included in game programs.
To this day, it’s still listed that way in the Quick Hits section of the guide and on the school’s Facts & Figures page.
Why is Gonzaga pronounced that way?
The school’s name traces back to the patron saint Aloysius Gonzaga. Born in 1568, he renounced his family’s wealth to join a newly founded Catholic religious order called the Society of Jesus or Jesuits. While working as a young Jesuit, he risked his life to care for plague victims in Rome and ultimately died of the disease himself at age 23.
In 1726, Pope Benedict XII canonized Aloyisius Gonzaga, and in 1887, half a world away, Father Joseph Cataldo opened a school along the banks of the Spokane River and named it after his fellow Jesuit and Italian.
Which begs the question: How do Italians say Gonzaga?
A few years back, local news station KXLY caught up with Gonzaga history professor Dr. RaGena DeAragon to ask her. Although it may be anathema to the ears of Zag Nation, she explains the Italians say “Gone-ZAWG-uh” – not “Gone-ZAG-ah” like us.
“It’s probably regional,” Dr. DeAragon says. “We have a tendency to change regional names to suit our own regional accent.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean Italians say it the “right” way and Zags say it the “wrong” way or vice versa. As the video points out, people use the regional pronunciation when referring to places like the University of Notre Dame or the city of St. Augustine, Florida. Why should Gonzaga University be any different?
So, there you have it: Perhaps our pronunciation has ties to the Northwest accent. (Yes, there is such a thing. For proof you can read this academic paper about how people in the upper left corner of the U.S. say “bag,” “beg” and “bagel.”)
Or perhaps Dale Goodwin, the man who’s been helping folks with the name for over forty years, has the best explanation: “Because we’re Zags. Not Zawgs.”