O-REE COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – It’s the name of the largest county in South Carolina, home to the Grand Strand, and towns like Conway, Aynor and Loris. But where did the name come from, and how exactly do you say it?
Oh-ree, Hor-ee, Or-ee – you’ve likely heard every variation. It’s a name that can be confusing to newcomers. We sent a team to the Myrtle Beach International Airport and spoke to some visitors fresh off the plane. Brandon and Bryan Wright from Illinois both pronounced it “Hor-ee.”
But according to Horry County Chairman Mark Lazarus: “This is Horry County. Please, all of you from Chicago, the ‘H’ is silent.”
So where did the name come from?
Brandon Wright’s theory? “As in Robert Horry, the clutch basketball player,” he said. “I think it might be named after that guy. I don’t know–that’d be a pretty big deal for him.”
Actually, it’s named after a Revolutionary War hero who never really lived in the county.
“So Peter Horry was a Georgetonian, he was a planter, just like Francis Marion was, went into the service, he became a leader,” explained Walter Hill, Director of the Horry County Museum. “So when these soldiers from Horry County, or what was then Georgetown District, enlisted to fight in the American Revolution, they served under Francis Marion and Peter Horry.”
The county’s namesake was a lieutenant colonel in the American Revolution, and later a brigadier general.
“Considering the landmass that is now Georgetown and Horry County was one county, which meant that the courthouse, where you went to vote, the jailhouse, where you went to bail out your buddies, was always located in downtown Georgetown,” Hill continued. “Now that’s a heck of a long trek from say a place like, say Longs, or Loris…so they petitioned to the state of South Carolina to divide the Georgetown District at Pee Dee River and create a second district and name it after their hero, Peter Horry.”
The difference in pronunciations may have something to do with the origin of the name. Peter Horry was from a family of French Huguenots who likely settled in South Carolina in the late 1600s.
“I think it would be pronounced ‘O-ree, O-RRREE,’” said Dr. Rimma Ableeva, Assistant Professor of French at Coastal Carolina University. “You know this little French ‘er, errrrr’…it is normal that there is an influence of English on this word, and I think it’s normal that people now say ‘Or-ee.’ And there is a stress—there is a stress shift here. Because in French, usually the last syllable is stressed, in French words, and in French they say ‘O-ree,’ but in English now, they say ‘Or-ee.’”
If your French is a little rusty, how you say it may have to do with where you’re from.
“So….there’s two pronunciations. OH’-ree and OR’-ee,” Hill explained. “Having grown up in Georgetown County, we always identified it as OR’-ee County, with a heavy O there. OH’-ree is what a lot of natives here call it. Obviously it’s never WHORE’-ee.>
We let Bryan Wright know what was right.
“So the H is silent then?” he asked.
Brandon caught on: “Like Kevin Orie, which is a past Cubs third-baseman!”
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