Dear Matthew Alice: Why is Garnet Avenue in Pacific Beach invariably pronounced “Gar-NET” by locals? It's just one of the gemstone streets, and I've never heard January's birthstone pronounced that way. Are these kinds of local pronunciation quirks common, or are San Diegans just a bunch of rubes? — Mark, Kensington
I think “quirky” captures one facet of the San Diego personality fairly well. A sort of Richard Ramirez-meets-Peewee Herman thing. And we have a widespread reputation for rube-osity, too. But I’m not sure either explains the GARnet/GarNET mixup. We’ll have to settle for the best educated guess, in this case, from the Pacific Beach Historical Society. As guesses go, it’s a pretty sensible one.
Garnet is one of the streets that acquired its name decades ago, when P.B. was incorporated into the city of San Diego and duplicate street names in the two areas had to be eliminated. P.B.’s OGs (original gentry) pronounced the name as it should be, like the jewel, “GARnet.” Because they witnessed the name-change, they recognized that the street was part of a series of gemstones. But during World War II, with the influx of people from the hinterlands, the broader picture was lost and the syllable emphasis gradually shifted. This much we know to be factual; from here on, it’s speculation. The change is perhaps related to the pronunciation of Barnett (BarNETT) Avenue, which runs past the Naval Training Center and the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in the Old Town/Loma Portal area. Undoubtedly, sailors and Marines and also the defense industry workers on nearby Pacific Highway would have been familiar with Barnett. So when they went home to P.B., they might be inclined to call the street GarNET. So you might say it was quirky rubes from out of town who messed it up, one more P.B. phenomenon we can blame on the Zonies and Oakies and whoever else you want to pick on.