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Why do they pronounce Kerr Avenue like ‘car’?

Ben Steelman
Joseph T. Kerr

Joseph Theophilus Kerr, 1848-1928, was a truck farmer, General Assembly member and New Hanover County commissioner. It is for him that Kerr Avenue is named. (Courtesy of the Bill Reaves Collection at the New Hanover County Public Library)

Hard to say. The Wilmington thoroughfare is named for Joseph T. Kerr, a Confederate veteran who was a prominent New Hanover County truck farmer in the late 1800s. (Some of Kerr Avenue apparently runs through, or over, some of his former fields.)

The “car” pronunciation seems to predominate among locals. (One longtime resident says he was told to pronounce it like Deborah Kerr, the actress.) A Kerr Avenue business underlines this pronunciation with a pun: “Kerr Wash.”

Some residents, however — including, reportedly, some of Joseph T. Kerr’s own descendants — prefer the “cur” pronunciation. The issue is still kind of up in the air, and the rules could change in another generation or so.

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16 Responses to “ Why do they pronounce Kerr Avenue like ‘car’?”

  1. On June 17, 2009 at 12:25 am Jim Brumm wrote:

    Kerr Drug, which advertises often on UNC-TV, also pronounces its nme “car.” Is there a connection with Wilmington’s Kerr Ave.?

  2. On September 3, 2009 at 5:55 am Jonathan W. Washburn wrote:

    I handled a real estate closing for a man named Ed Kerr. He told me Kerr Avenue was named for one of his ancestors, and that the pronunciation within the family was “KERR” rhymes with “SIR”. He said his family has no idea why folks keep saying KERR rhymes with TAR, but maybe it has something to do with Kerr Drugs. Ever since that closing with Ed Kerr, I have been doing my part by referring to the road as KERR AVENUE, yes SIR. Anyway, it looks like Kerr, Sir. Some locals at first assume I am not a local, since I don’t say this “their way”, but I promptly point out my generations of Wilmington ancestors.
    Thanks, Ben Steelman, for bringing this up.

  3. On October 13, 2009 at 2:50 pm zalie zeiden wrote:

    According to the website, about.com, “Kerr” (as in Deborah Kerr) is the Scottish version of the English surname “Carr” and means “marsh, wet ground overgrown with brushwood.”

  4. On October 19, 2009 at 5:50 pm Bobby Jordan wrote:

    It is in fact pronounced “car”. I am a decendant of Joseph T. Kerr and my grandfather was insistent that “car” is the proper pronunciation. Joseph T. Kerr is actually buried in a small cemetary that is on property now owned by the airport. As a young child and teenager I was fascinated by the history of that small cemetary, which at the time was next to my great-grandparents house. I believe the house has been torn down and the cemetary is no longer accessible due to the airport buying the family property and fencing in the area.

  5. On March 2, 2010 at 11:08 am David Tart wrote:

    It’s fascinating to me that, in the comments section, you have two people claiming connection to the Kerr family, and even they disagree on the pronunciation!

    Can’t someone from the Kerr family settle this debate?

  6. On July 31, 2010 at 12:11 am charles godwin wrote:

    I am the great great grandson of J.T.kerr live in his house until it was sold to airport and can answer anly question about name or pronuciation.I can give family history and any other information on family.

  7. On October 8, 2010 at 1:40 am Will Davis wrote:

    I can tell you that Kerr Lake was named after former North Carolina governor W. Kerr Scott, and is pronounced like car. Recently, I met someone whose surname is Kerr. Her family pronounces it like car. Furthermore, she informed that me she’s Irish, and that’s how the Irish pronounce it. The English, she said, pronounce it cur.

  8. On February 23, 2011 at 1:54 am Bryce A. Kerr wrote:

    As a person who has lived with the last name Kerr my entire life, it is only fair that I should be allowed to throw in that my entire family and extended family has pronounced it like “sir” for generations. I am a descendant of Paul Kerr who moved to the States from Ireland just prior to the revolutionary war, and as far as I know, that is how he pronounced it as well. I am originally from the north as Paul’s grandson Robert Huston Kerr I moved us into the midwest during the 1800’s and have never heard it pronounced differently until I moved to NC. Steve Kerr the basketball player also pronounced it like “sir” for further proof. I would assume that the “car” thing is local, just like how the rest of the nation pronounced appalachian with a “shun” at the end as opposed to the local hard “ch” sound.

  9. On December 18, 2011 at 5:14 pm charles godwin wrote:

    I don,t give a dam how they pronounce it anywhere else but the way that that the man it was named for [[[car]]]

  10. On December 18, 2011 at 6:34 pm J Shepherd wrote:

    The real qustion is… What’s a truck farmer?

  11. On December 19, 2011 at 1:32 pm Ben Steelman wrote:

    A truck farm specializes in growing vegetables commercially for market. This used to be big business in New Hanover County as late as the 1960s.

  12. On April 27, 2016 at 11:40 am Julie Kerr Weaver wrote:

    He is my great great grandfather. His daughter Lottie Kerr is my namesake. She pronounced it “car”. We are of Scottish decent.

  13. On April 27, 2016 at 4:12 pm Robin B wrote:

    Joseph T. Kerr was my grandmother’s grandfather. She grew up on Kerr Avenue, and many of my family members have the middle name Kerr. My entire life she always insisted it was pronounced ‘car’ because he himself pronounced it that way, and so did everyone in our family. Since he, Jospeh T. Kerr, said his name is pronounced ‘car’, and he erected the sign in front of his house calling the road Kerr (car) avenue, shouldn’t that be how the road is pronounced? And I don’t think people who comment about having loose connections with people who may or may not be related to the actual man the street is named after are very relevant to the pronunciation.

  14. On April 27, 2016 at 4:16 pm Robin B wrote:

    It should be noted that the article has a huge error in the first sentence, naming Kerr Ave after “James T. Kerr”, when in fact, it is Joseph T. Kerr. It’s corrected later in the article and in the photo.

  15. On May 4, 2016 at 8:57 pm Mike G wrote:

    Another twist. When I moved here in the late 80’s I was told by locals that it was North Kerr (Sir) and South Kerr (Car). Beats the terr out of me!

  16. On May 9, 2016 at 9:26 am Si Cantwell wrote:

    Thanks for pointing that out — we’ve updated it.

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