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What's In A Name?
My Dear Readers:
What is in a name? Shakespeare told us a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but would it sound as pretty if it were called a grakering? Perhaps, once we got used to it.
Names of towns such as Zephyr, Ontario, and streets such as Timberdoodle Lane and topographical features such as Bugaboo Mountain have always interested and entertained me. I love the sound of some as they roll off my tongue and the humour in others.
Charles Kuralt tells the story of the police officer who, finding a dead mule on Tchoupitoulas Street in New Orleans, dragged the animal to Camp Street before writing his report. But Kuralt was delighted by the fact that streets in the Garden District of The Big Easy were named for the Greek muses: Polymnia, Euterpe and Terpsichore and not numbered as First, Third or Fifth Street. Ah, yes, such melody in a name.
In the town where I grew up, Palatine, Illinois, there was a street corner which brought together Easy Street and Comfort Lane. Sounded like a great place to live. This was not some developer's idea of pure cleverness, for Comfort Lane was named after a prominent citizen of the town. The Comforts owned an early lumber and feed yard. Today, however, we have subdivisions laid out with cleverly linked names. There is one such in Elgin, Illinois named after members of the 1970s Chicago Cubs roster. To bad it wasn t a much earlier roster of the team. I would have loved to give people directions such as: "You take Tinker to Evers to Chance."
I prefer to go back to the times before we had national or regional geographical naming committees whose purpose was to put political correctness onto the maps or marketing artists who seek names for subdivisions and their street that just want to make you move there, i.e., Vista View Lane in Sleepy Hollow Estates. None of these cutsy names for me. Give me Ecum Secum, Nova Scotia; Meddybemps, Missouri; Gnaw Bone, Indiana; Idiotville, Oregon; Truth or Consequences, New Mexico; and What Cheer, Iowa.
Gnaw Bone supposedly came from a mishearing of the original French name of Narbonne. Similar mishearings have left Americans with Low Freight (L'Eau Froid), Lemon Fair (Les Monts Verts) and Bob Ruly (Bois Brulé). Native American names were more often than not mangled into forms more easy on the European tongue: Oxopaugsguaug became Oxyboxy; Moskitu-auke to Mosquito Hawk;and Waakaack to Waycake Creek. Only the Lord knows from what or where Ticklenaked, Pohamoonshine and Zilly Boy originated.
We know that it was the gold seekers of 1849 that left California landmarks colourful names such as Chucklehead Diggings, You Bet, Git-Up-and-Go, Dinkey Creek, and Poker Flat. Similar names can be found throughout the North American West: Whiskey Gap, British Columbia; Dead Bastard Peak, Wyoming; Eek, Alaska; Bugtussle and Cut and Shoot, Texas; Picture Butte, Alberta; Wynot, Nebraska; Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan; Bar Nunn, Wyoming; Riddle, Idaho; Snowflake, Manitoba; and Humptulips, Washington.
Not that the West is the sole province of picturesque nomenclature. In the East we have Teatickle, Massachusetts; East Due West, South Carolina; Cheesequake, New Jersey; Punky Doodle Corners, Ontario; Stiffleknee Knob, North Carolina; Bald Friar, Maryland; King of Prussia, Pennsylvania; Calabogie, Ontario; and Embarrass, Wisconsin.
You could make a meal at Goodfood, Mississippi of Two Eggs, Florida; Rabbit Hash, Kentucky and top it off with Chocolate Bayou, Texas; Pie Town, New Mexico and Hot Coffee, Mississippi, or just Lickskillet, Ohio. You might expect to find more than human inhabitants in Turkey Scratch, Arkansas; Bear s Rump Island, Ontario; Bug, Kentucky; Porcupine Plain, Saskatchewan; and Rabbit Shuffle, North Carolina or wonder about the residents of Peculiar, Missouri; Brainy Boro, New Jersey; Superior Bottom, West Virginia; Recluse, Wyoming; Chunky, Misissippi; Boring, Maryland; Vulcan, Alberta; Sleepy Eye, Minnesota; or Bowlegs, Oklahoma.
Did you know that Scranton, Pennsylvania was once Skunk's Misery? Or that Brilliant, New Mexico was originally Swastika or Chevrolet, Kansas formerly Bee Pee? Los Angeles was first named El Puebla de Nuestra Señora la Reuba de los Angeles del Río Porciúncula by the Spanish friars.
Do they "see you later" in Alligator, Mississippi? Is there a market for the products of Moose Factory, Ontario? Is life hard in Cement, Oklahoma or Concrete, Washington? Do joggers struggle in Difficult Run, Virginia or need more water in Dry Run, Pennsylvania? What do they prefer to read in Magazine, Arkansas? Do the Barometer Mountains of Alaska rise and fall with changes in the weather? Is the best life to be found in Cornucopia, Wisconsin, Joy, Illinois, Pleasureville, Kentucky, Delight, Arkansas, or Sublimity, Oregon?
Nunathloogagamiutbingoi Dunes in Alaska is the longest name officially recognized on the American landscape, but there once was a lake near Webster, Massachusetts called Chargoggagogg- manchauggauggagagoggchaubunagunggamaugg which was said to be Nipmuck for "You fish on that side, I'll fish on this side and no one will fish in the middle. Who'd A Thought It. Which, by the way, is in Alabama.
Your humble servant,
p. Keith, PbH
Poor Keith's Almanac: What's In A Name? by Keith C. Heidorn, PhD . ©1997, All Rights Reserved.
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