A guide to pronouncing 'Gonzaga,' the March Madness favorite everyone loves to flub

3 months ago 109

This story was originally published in March 2021.

Anyone who has filled out a March Madness men's basketball bracket this month knows that No. 1 seed Gonzaga is a favorite to make the Final Four for the second-straight year.

What everyone doesn't seem to know is how to actually pronounce the school's name.

"It seems to come up every year during NCAA Tournament time," Pete Tormey, Gonzaga's associate director of public relations, told TODAY. "To be honest, it's really kind of a regional pronunciation. Things are pronounced differently and we understand that, so it's kind of a tongue-in-cheek situation."

Andrew Nembhard #3 of the Gonzaga BulldogsMany college basketball fans know the name on Gonzaga's jersey, but not how to say it correctly. Andy Lyons / Getty Images

But no, it's not "Gun-zogga" or "Gone-zaw-ga," where the middle syllable rhymes with "jog."

The proper pronunciation is "Gone-zaag-a" — with the middle syllable rhyming with "bag" or "tag."

The small Jesuit Catholic school even has a pronunciation guide on its website, gently nudging visitors to say "Gone - ZAG (as in "bag") - uh."

But many folks still flub it.

"You mostly hear 'Gone-zogga,'" said Tormey, who has worked at the university for more than two decades. "I remember when we first made our first trip to the NCAA Tournament (in 1995), I think there was a newspaper in San Francisco, and they had a big picture of Godzilla with a headline something like, 'What's a Gonzaga?'"

Officially, the team nickname is the Bulldogs, but they informally go by the Zags (not the Zogs), which should be a tip-off about how to properly pronounce the name.

A Jesuit high school in Washington, D.C., Gonzaga College High School, experiences the same issues.

The school, which has about 1,000 students and is unaffiliated with Gonzaga University, is a sports powerhouse in the district, so most D.C. locals say the name correctly, with a hard "A" sound in the middle.

Drew Timme #2 of the Gonzaga BulldogsGonzaga star Drew Timme (and his mustache) would like you to properly pronounce the name of his school. Andy Lyons / Getty Images

But come tournament time, teachers and coaches there are amused to hear commentators pronounce the name on TV.

"Typically, they say 'the Zags' are playing or 'the Zags are on,' but then they say Gon-zoga?" said Casey O'Neill, Gonzaga high school's assistant athletic director and lacrosse coach.

"It doesn’t make sense. It’s 'Zaga.' There’s no ‘O.’”

Even TODAY's Carson Daly, a big sports fan (and West Coast native), has called them "Gon-zogga" on air, but then correctly pronounced "the Zags."

(Jump to 0:25 to hear Carson's pronunciation.)

Getting the school's name correct is only part of the challenge. The pronunciation of Spokane, the city where the university is located in Washington state, is also routinely butchered.

The city is pronounced "Spo-can," not "Spo-caine."

"It's like a potato-potahto, tomato-tomahto, thing for people," Tormey said.

The annual mangling of the school's name has become something of a rite of spring, inducing groans from Gonzaga fans and confusion for March Madness devotees.

"I think fans tend to get irritated by it at times, but we're completely understanding of that," Tormey said.

"The parents are visiting. My mom learned of Gonzaga today. Has pronounced it as “Gonzanga” a solid 9 times since," one person tweeted.

"First time in tourney history the announcers consistently pronounce Gonzaga correctly," another person tweeted. "My condolences to all the Zag fans playing the annual “ITS PRONOUNCED GONZAGA!” drinking game. #ZagUp #GoZags"

"You would think by now sports announcers (particularly basketball) would figure out how to pronounce Gonzaga. But NOPE!" another fan tweeted.

The name of the university, which opened in 1887, comes from St. Aloysius Gonzaga, an Italian Jesuit saint of the 16th Century. He died of the plague at 23 in 1591 in Rome, not living long enough to hear his last name routinely mispronounced.

The Zags, meanwhile, who play second round game against Memphis on Saturday, are trying to capture their inaugural NCAA title. They lost in the championship game last year to Baylor.

It's likely the Zag faithful are hoping St. Aloysius is smiling down on the team this year — with one small catch.

"As I understand it, in Italy, Gonzaga would be pronounced 'Gon-zogga,'" Tormey said with a laugh.

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