How Ernst Wanke Road got its name (and how to pronounce it)

If you’ve had Ernst Wanke Road catch your eye when you were looking at Berwick in the map, and wondered “what the?”, then wonder no longer.

The Wanke Family: Settlers From the German States

Ernst Gottlieb Wanke was a Doctor of Dentistry and was born in around 1821 in Prussia. The Wanke family arrived in Victoria in 1849 on the ‘Dockenuden’ and settled in Harkaway in the 1850s. Ernst died in 1897 and is buried in Harkaway Cemetery.

The Wanke family have an important connection with Harkaway and Narre Warren North. Ernst Wanke Drive is named in their honour and they are remembered as a hardworking migrant family who were successful farmers.

Ernst became well-known in the district as a sort of doctor, even though he was a Doctor of Dentistry! It goes to show that any medical knowledge was welcomed at a time when the nearest doctor was hours away.

Casey-Cardinia library

And if you’re wondering how to pronounce it, this recent kerfuffle over a local councillor who claimed it was “von-ka” revealed the truth:

Having lived in Berwick for over 70 years and personally knowing three generations of the Wanke family, they have all pronounced it ‘wan-kee’ and they are not impressed by Ben Clissold’s remarks.

Berwick Star

So there you go.

It’s a big wide world, with lots of different languages, and sometimes you’ll get names like this which raise a sly smile.

But the bottom line is Ernst Wanke sounds like he was a valued member of his community, and a citizen worthy of having a road named after him.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

13 replies on “How Ernst Wanke Road got its name (and how to pronounce it)”

Maybe you can explain next where Indented Head (near Geelong) got its name? (It’s my favourite Australian place name, better even than Innaloo in Perth!)

Hmmm, it would be unusual for a German name to pronounce the “W” as “W” and not as “V”.

As a German speaker, I would pronounce it like “Vun-ke” (where the “ke” is short like the word “keg” without the “g”).

yeah, my wife laughed when she saw a sign for the road near the SE freeway. “How do you pronouce that?” she asked. Well, now we know!

The issue seemed to get a lot more traction after the opening of the Hallam bypass and the associated exit mentioned on traffic reports. Originally the location where the Latrobe Valley … err … Princes … umm … now Monash Freeway crosses it was actually the end Tinks Road:

I guess it would have saved the extra ‘R’ that I’ve seen added to the end of the sign on the underpass!!

Seen that road a couple of times. It reminded me of the prime minister of New Zealand from 1984 to 1988, David Lange.

His was a German name and in Germany is pronounced “Lung-ah” but his family anglicised it to pronounce as “Long-ee.”

Incidentally, the German word for what Dr Wanke’s name looks like to English speakers is “wichser.”

Wanke is the German for “stagger.”

And this is no urban myth — “pajero” (as in the Mitsuibish 4WD) really is colloquial Spanish for “wanker.” It means Pajeros are known as Monteros in Spanish speaking countries. I call Pajero drivers “wankers” when they act like one, and the drivers of other 4WDs “pajeros” similarly. The word is pronounced “pa-hair-oh” in Espanol.

My daughter is spending this year as an exchange student in the tiny German village of Kröffelbach and I am enjoying how she is picking up colloquial German.

This Mitsubishi model is called a Montero in the US too. Pajero is also the Spanish word for “bird”. J is pronounced as an H in Spanish.

Mike wrote:
“Hmmm, it would be unusual for a German name to pronounce the “W” as “W” and not as “V”.”

True, and old Ernst no doubt did pronounce it with a “v”, but the pronunciation among his descendants may have changed remarkably quickly. This is especially so if they wanted to downplay their German origins around the time of WW1. I’m not at all surprised to hear that the Wanke family been pronouncing it with a “w” rather than a “v” for as long as anyone can remember.

I’m a direct descendant of a German family named Wendel that settled in Colbinabbin, near Heathcote, in the late 1850s. Great-great-grandfather Georg would have pronounced his name “Gay-org Ven-del”, but my late grandmother was adamant that Georg’s children always pronounced it “Jorj Wen-del”. That means the pronunciation changed within a single generation.

The change was so rapid, in fact, that knowledge of the German origin of that side of my family was almost entirely lost. When I started researching my family history, using names my grandmother had given me, I at first thought I was looking for a British immigrant called George Wendell, and was startled to discover that he was in fact German.

There is a Wanke Crescent near my church St Gerard’s here in Dandenong North- Ernst’s endeavours must have spanned out this way too!

I met a woman in the United States called Wanker but she denied any relationship to Peggy Bundy.

It’s a German surname, therefore it should always be pronounced “Van-ke”, regardless of how Ernie’s assimilated descendants say it.


Conrad, I’m normally fairly pedantic about correct pronunciation, and I do speak some German, so if in doubt I would pronounce it the German way.

But if I were to meet one of Ernst’s Australian descendants, and they introduced themselves to me with the “w” pronunciation, it would be very rude of me to tell them they’re wrong and continue addressing them with the German pronunciation.

It’s their name, after all. They’re entitled to pronounce it any way they want.

I used to drive from Clarinda to Cooma, NSW every fortnight for an year and a half and wondered about the pronounciation each time I passed through Berwick.

By the way, I remember hearing a story when I lived in London in the 1970’s, that the British distributers of Wang Computers refused to use Wang USA’s slogan “Wang Cares”. I guess the word does not have the same connotation in the US.

I owned a property on Ernst Wanke drive until recently, and always pronounced the first word as Earnest :-)

In Heidelberg West, there is a Malacca Street – the Greek word for what is implied by Ernst’s name.

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