The Naming of Places – Alma Boykin

                       The Naming of Places -Alma Boykin

(With profound apologies to T. S. Elliott)

The Naming of places is a difficult matter

It isn’t just one of your holiday games.

And you may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter

When I tell you a place may have three different names (or four, or five, or six, or eight).


We humans often mark our turf with names. Descriptive, possessive, mysterious, religious, rude, or yes (Killpecker Creek in Wyoming), place names and the stories that associate with them often show traces of the people who lived there before, either in the etymology or the language, and of the intentions of the people who renamed them. Central Europe provides interesting examples of the problem of place names, especially for the span of 1850-2000. Names changed, rechanged, reverted, were left, and vanished off the map with nary a trace. This greatly oversimplified little list barely scratches the surface of a touchy and tricky subject, one I suspect politicians, nationalists, and others will be fighting over until [deity] or [legendary king] comes/returns or the sun burns out.

Take Galicia, for example. The region arced along the northeastern rim of the Carpathian Mountains and, among other things, held most of the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s oil in the 1800s-1918. The largest city, Lemburg (Lviv or Lvov), had a thriving Jewish community, while Polish nobles held most of the rural areas on estates inhabited by Ruthenian peasants. Today it is part of Poland and Ukraine, and Galicia (and Ruthenia, and Lemberg) are artifacts of a past some wish others would forget.

Karlstejn, (Karlstein) in the Czech Republic, remains Karlstejn even though the name is quite obviously not Slavic in origin. Tucked into the forest about eighteen miles from Prague, the castle came into being as a “small” hunting retreat for Emperor Charles IV (of the House of Luxemburg) between 1348 and 1357. Charles’s reign is recalled fondly by Czechs as part of Bohemia’s golden era, when the region’s mineral wealth and culture, and the power of the Holy Roman Emperor, gave it great international respect and prestige. The castle, perched on a cliff above a steep, tree-covered ravine, includes the Chapel of the Holy Cross where the crown and regalia of Bohemia were kept, and still forms one of the spiritual hearts of Bohemia today (Rip Hill is the other.) Although Hussites renamed the small town nearby, the fortress retained its original German-based name to this day, in part because of the positive “national memories” associated with it. Every five years, during the national elections, the crown makes a pilgrimage from Prague to the castle and back. An interesting ritual for a democratic nation, yes?

Karlsbad, however, became Karlovy Vary after WWI. The names have the same meaning, Charles’s springs, and derive from the thermal springs that occur there. Karlsbad was one of the places to go to take the waters for medical (or social) reasons in the 18th and 19th century. After the creation of Czechoslovakia, and even more after the promulgation of the Potsdam Accords and the erasure of the Suddetenland, the Czechs wanted to sever the region’s linguistic connection to German. During the Communist era Karlovy Vary remained a place to go soak off your ills, although as a member of a trades union and not of the gentry.

Pannonhalma is another location that gained a new, more national name, this time in the Nineteenth Century. The Benedictine monastery, founded by Prince Geza of Hungary in 996, perches on a prominent hill above the floodplains of a branch of the Danube and its tributary, the Rab. You can see the creamy yellow mass of the monastery for several kilometers around, including from the edge of the regional center of Györ (German Raab, Slovak Ráb, Celtic Arrabona), one of the hotspots in the Turkish wars. The monastery itself suffered attacks from the Mongols in the 1220s and later the Turks, as well as burning down by accident in between, but was rebuilt each time, returned to life in 1802 as a center for teaching after Joseph II’s dissolution of the monasteries in the 1700s, and endured the Communist era. However, its name changed. Originally it was the Benedictine Abby of the Hill of St. Martin. As part of the Magyarization and language reforms that went along with the growing Hungarian nationalism in the late 1800s, the area was rechristened Pannonhalma, from the Roman name Pannonia. Pannonia referred to the area west of the Danube limes and in turn derived from an earlier tribal name based on Indo-European roots meaning “swampy area.” The town at the foot of the abbey’s hill changed to Pannonhalma as well in 1965, although the 252 meter tall hill remains St. Martin’s Hill. The new name was thought to be more patriotic and Magyar.

Other name changes came from the desire to erase the past entirely, leaving no trace of unwanted history. When the first member of the Eszterházy family attained fame, fortune, and good position in the court of the Habsburg emperors in the 1700s, he promptly went out and began building an estate. He renamed the village and lands around it Eszterháza. After the revolution in 1948, the Communists erased the name and the village became Fertöd, after small lake. Why leave any trace of the feudal parasites that had gained wealth by exploiting the peasants and supporting foreign overlords (and paying for some of the greatest classical music written [if you like Hayden])? The glorious workers’ future demands the removal of the dead past. After the next revolution, the residents later voted to keep Fertöd for the town but the estate is once more Eszterháza.

Now, Central Europe does not hold a monopoly on renaming. Istanbul is no longer “Constantine’s city,” London has long ago lost the name the Bronze Age residents gave to the area, and Leningrad is St. Petersburg once more. North America has dozens of formerly Spanish or Indian locations, and New Amsterdam long ago vanished under the streets of New York City.

Interestingly, I have yet to read many science fiction or many fantasy stories that use this idea. Lost civilizations, yes, conquests, but not names and renaming. I’ve considered it for the Colplatschki stories, because the Turkowi renamed places as the captured and resettled them, but on the other hand, my characters look on the Turkowi conquests as temporary disasters to be undone as soon as possible, and refuse to acknowledge the changes. Fantasy in particular might be a place to use the ideas of names and their power: if a location’s name provides access to magic, and the newcomers shun such things, then what does it mean if someone insists on recording the old, abandoned toponym? Or if rebels against an evil king suddenly adopt the place names from the long-vanished earlier kingdom?


200 thoughts on “The Naming of Places – Alma Boykin

  1. My maiden name is Galica, and my dad’s family is from Poland. I almost feel like a celebrity today.
    I also spend a lot of time fiddling with words and root words to come up with significant names, especially for characters but occasionally for places.
    Thanks for this post.

    1. You’re welcome. 🙂 “Missing” places have become a bit of a thing for me recently, because of writing about Central and Eastern Europe from prior to WWI to WWII.

  2. I’ve always felt that one of Tolkien’s great strength’s as an author was he was very good with names. His different peoples call the same place different names (e.g. Caradhras = Redhorn = Barazinbar). It imparts a subtle sense of history. Things have been around long enough to acquire a shadow.

    1. Yes: and Khazad-dûm the Dwarrowdelf was Hadhodrond to the Elves, before it became Moria the Black Pit (for which no Dwarvish equivalent exists, for the Dwarves had been slain or driven out). From there it is a short hop to Lothlórien the Dreamflower, which used to be Laurelindorenan the Land of the Valley of Singing Gold, as an alternative to the old name of Lorinand; but the Men of the Riddermark, which is called Rohan in Gondor ever since it stopped being Calenardhon the Green Region, know Lothlórien–Laurelindorenan–Lorinand only as Dwimordene the Vale of Phantoms.

      It is really rather surprising how little of this stuff there is in most modern fantasy, considering that one of the foundational texts of the field was absolutely chockablock with it.

      1. I’ve been attempting to go with places that are known differently across the races of the world I’m writing in/ building… but first, I need a name for the world.

        Been chewing on it for a while, but I don’t think the world’s name will come up anytime soon. At the moment, and of more immediate nature, is the problem of place names. And possibly maps.

          1. ‘Bob’ is a perfectly good name.

            In 1999, Canada divided its Northwest Territories in two. One half, consisting mostly of the Arctic islands and populated largely by Inuit, was called Nunavut, an Inuit name. The plan was to call the other half Denendeh, after the Dene people; but the Dene are a minority in that region, and the name did not sit well with the non-Dene majority. So a variety of grassroots campaigns sprang up, urging the federal government to reconsider the name change.

            One campaign caught the popular imagination in a way that you can hardly understand until you have been desperate for something silly to divert you and save you from cabin fever in a long Arctic winter. Some brilliant but twisted fellow came up with the idea of calling the western part of the Territories ‘Bob’. The idea found support in the rest of Canada as well, partly because Canadians love a good joke (just look at our politicians), partly because the alternative, ‘Denendeh’, was such a very bad joke.

            Alas, the grey-faced bureaucrats in Ottawa who make these decisions have no sense of humour. None whatever. (They are required by law to take our politicians seriously. Nobody with a sense of humour could do that.) So they ignored the popular groundswell, and instead listened to a petition by the business owners of Yellowknife, the territorial capital. The businesses wanted to keep the name ‘Northwest Territories’, because it would save them the expense of buying new stationery.

            You couldn’t make any of this up.

            1. The businesses wanted to keep the name ‘Northwest Territories’, because it would save them the expense of buying new stationery.

              Well, I’d like the Department of Defense to be renamed back to the Department of War, but I suspect the above would be a main reason for shutting down that idea.

              1. The reason that name changed was they wanted to put Navy and Army under the same Department, but Navy wasn’t going to stand for the Department of War taking over the Department of Navy.

            2. I recall that campaign, especially the reassurances that there need be no fear of government Big Brother because “Bob’s your uncle.”

        1. You could always use a random generator to put together letters and symbols, look at the results, and see if anything jumps out at you 🙂
          If you want any more impractical advice, be sure to let me know.

          1. If you want any more impractical advice, be sure to let me know.

            Ooo! Team effort! 😀

        2. On naming the world, IMO unless your “world” is a colony world of Earth’s, then a variation of “Earth” works. I’d point out that the name “Middle Earth” was taken from Norse myth and just meant the world humans lived in.

  3. Fascinating idea. Shall we look forward to your place name magic Fantasy?

    My area gets the name changes on a smaller scale. We’re growing fast, and as empty spots get developed roads meet, and suddenly Mortin Road is just another few blocks of West Belfort, and Mason Road has conquered and renamed two roads that I know of.

    1. Columbus Georgia had at least one road that changed names as you drove along it (and still be in Columbus). I suspect that as Columbus grew it incorporated smaller towns that called the road different names and nobody changed the names. [Grin]

      1. I hate those roads, what is the main street in Lewiston changes from 21st to Thain and then back to 21st, all while going in a straight line. Oh and that is 21st St., there is also a 21st Ave. and a 21st Ct. Apparently the founders had a low sense of imagination when naming the roads, so they went with numbers, always starting at 1st. Streets run north-south, Avenues run east-west, and extra dead end streets are called Courts and numbered in the order that they were built, with no regard to where in town they were; or which direction they ran.

        Those are almost as bad as the streets that are plotted but not built in the middle, so you are driving west on 3rd St. and it ends three blocks before you get to the address you are trying to get to.

        1. Try Atlanta. When I moved here there were 22 different ‘Peachtree’ streets, roads, and avenues. I don’t even want to think of the number now.

          (Wiki says there’s 71 Peachtree Variants. Sigh…)

          1. I thought it was bad enough where one set of my Grandparents lived. They had an Old Mill Rd which intersected another Old Mill Rd. Of course, considering the area, I thought that it all came down to: if you don’t know where you are going you don’t belong here. Then my other Grandmother, the one who grew up in Georgia, told me about Atlanta and Peachtree…

          2. It can get worse. For a while my Lady and I lived in Columbia MD. . Columbia is famous “planned community”, right down to the village and street names. And this can get VERY disconcerting. For instance, each village has a literary theme based in the works of a different author. Sounds cute, right. But the Villagr of Hobbit’s Glen has a street named Barrow Downs.

            Now, who in hell, who ever read Tolkien, wants to live on the Barrow Downs?

            Then there’s Time Slip Lane. I forget what village it’s in, but it exists. I’d be afraid of coming home to a Tyranosaur.

            1. Think about the possibilities of Tardis Estates.

              You could nip on down to the pub at Dalek Lane and Cyberman Blvd, or let the kids romp in the park at Ood Circle and Weeping Angel Court.

                1. The Spouse and I have long wanted such, our proclivity of collecting books near demands it. Even better if one can mask it and move it with accuracy. Just take the form of, say, a panel van. Then you can situate wherever there is a legitimate parking spot, and people probably won’t give it a second thought when people climb in and out. Then you can travel to visit family or attend conventions with all the comforts of home … really.

                  1. If my house could turn into a panel van, I’m sure it would wind up rusty, with “Free Candy” painted on the side, so that I would wind up getting hassled everywhere I went.

                    You know, like how the chameleon circuit on the Tardis is broken, just more annoyingly.

                2. Personally I want a pocket dimension. There’s a central castle, where I live, peopled by brownies who take deep offense at the very idea of my doing any of their work, a nice garden — mines, fields, and sea for food and trade goods.

                  1. With, of course, dwarves and mermaids and what not who people all those fields and mines and sea to keep ’em going. I’ve very reasonable about the taxes. 0:)

                    1. Now I’m imagining people-shaped brownies. Like Gingerbread men, except made of brownie mix.

                    2. Don’t forget Sarah that the Fair Folk called Brownies may be small in size but can be dangerous in large numbers especially if somebody tries to eat them. [Very Polite Dragon Grin]

        2. Most of the places I have seen it it was the result of town growth, as when, say, Germantown became absorbed into Philadelphia, the streets that ran into each other still kept their original names.

        3. Oh and that is 21st St., there is also a 21st Ave. and a 21st Ct.

          Do they do the compass point modifiers?
          (We live on a South. My sister’s talking map took them to our address with a North, which is… due east.)

          1. Not that I recall, but they do have a few streets with an Alphabet modifier. I have a friend who lives on 5th St. B; which does run north-south, but is a short (two or three blocks long) street that splits a block; basically a glorified alley. But rather than being between 5th and 6th Streets, like one would expect, it lands between, I think (you turn right before the Conoco, I don’t look at the street signs), 10th and 11th, or possibly 9th and 10th. Anyways I have NO idea why they came up with it being the B version of 5th St.

        4. Dayton Ohio: Turner, Shoop-Mill, Harshman, Needmore, and Woodman are all the same bloody road. Starts at route 49 going east, wraps around the north and east side of Dayton then south towards Rt 35 before it finally ends at Wilmington Drive.

          1. Shoup Mill, you mean. Because Mr. Shoup had a mill. Also some parts of Woodman, Needmore, etc. have those special commemorative names that nobody actually uses, with the commemorative name bolted up above the real street name so you get two street names per side of a street sign.

            Boy, Google Maps is really useless these days, since they changed the interface.

            1. But unlike MapQuest, it still will give me driving directions without requiring me to sign up for anything.

            2. I changed it back to the old interface, but I forget where the option was.

              Maybe if enough people do that, they will keep it…. *slightly hopeless*

            3. -laugh- Yeah. Been a few years since I was in that neck of the woods, forgot how it was spelled. I just remember that silly road had at least 5 names.

          2. In suburban Detritus Detroit, Michigan, 16-Mile Road is also known as Metropolitan Parkway or Metro Parkway, which

            is a major thoroughfare in Metro Detroit that stretches west from Metro Beach Metropark. After intersecting several streets, it goes under the names Big Beaver Road (through Troy, MI), Quarton Road (through Bloomfield Township, MI, and the border between Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills), Walnut Lake Road (through West Bloomfield Township, MI), and Buno Road (through Milford Township, MI). The Metro Parkway name stretches westerly through Macomb County to Dequindre Road, where it crosses into Oakland County and its name changes to Big Beaver Road. Although not technically called such, Metropolitan Parkway corresponds to “16 Mile Road” in Metropolitan Detroit’s mile road system and is sometimes referred to that way by area residents, depending on the portion of the road being referred to.

            As you might suppose, adolescent males of all ages find great humour in the name of 16-Mile as it passes through Troy and Oakland County. I am not at liberty to report the views of adolescent females on that name, although I am under the impression that a local ordinance mandates extreme rolling of eyes whenever the road’s name is cited by a member of the aforementioned class of male.

        5. After 64 years in California, where I got used to (misspelled, or not) spanish/english/german/japanese/… place/street names, along with mostly consistent numeric street/highway naming, we moved to central Minnesota.

          The nearest town, for example, has N/S 4th street, as well as NE/SW 4th, neither of which are parallel or cross each other. The same goes for 2nd, 3rd, 5th, … On the other hand, these duplicationish (a real word, yes) roads tend to be collected on one side or the other of the Mississippi river, which runs down the middle of town.

          Trying to find the local DMV office caused both available GPS devices in my truck to throw up their little hands in despair, followed by extended sulking.

          1. Say what you want about the Mormons, but everyplace they settled and mapped out the town has a Baseline Road and an understandable grid layout.

            Well, except the parts of LA they set up – too many years of development since their survey crews did their work, I guess.

            1. Look at center city Philadelphia, the original city built to William Penn’s plans. Set up on a grid between two rivers, the Delaware and Schuylkill. The streets running true North/South, most given numbers, and those East/West, most named after trees. (Alley’s were kind of stuck in.) It is easy to learn to navigate that original part.

    2. Shhhh, Pam, don’t let the idea hear you! I’ve got too many of the notions that appeared while I was overseas stalking me as it is!

    3. There’s a sequence like that embedded in two street names out here – on either side paralleling an interstate freeway that runs through San Jose proper (as in within the bounds of the city back in the 1800s – everyplace here is urban/suburban nowadays) there are two roads. As I heard the story from back when the freeway was built in the 1960s, the Interstate right of way sort-of crossed two somewhat meandering roads named Moor and Park, and in laying everything out they ended up with two new roads that basically inherited addresses from both the old roads.

      In a Solomonic decision, the freeway planners named the new roadway south of the freeway Moorpark, and the one to the north side Parkmoor.

      1. Lived near that part of San Jose for about 30 years, driving on Moorpark now and again, and never knew that.

        On the other hand, I attended high school during the late 60’s in Newbury Park, about 20 minutes from the city of Moorpark in Ventura county in southern California, and just assumed the street in San Jose was named after the same guy they named the city for.

        Now I’m wondering if there was ever a Mr. Moorpark.

      2. One often ignored factor in such matters is the cost to businesses (as well as to private residences) of changing their letterhead and all affiliated address information simply because somebody wanted to rename a road.

        1. The county changed my address last year. I have lived on X Lane (which according to the deeds, the county highway district, and the county surveyors old notes in the basement of the courthouse was a county road, maintained by the county, but according to the not-so-nice lady behind the desk at the courthouse was not a county road and we should consider ourselves lucky that the county road department was maintaining it) with address of Y Rd. Last year the not-so-nice lady behind the desk at the courthouse discovered that we actually lived on X Lane, not Y Rd. (I had had this discussion several times with her and she seemed incapable of grasping that fact, but somehow she discovered it several years after these conversations had taken place) so in her infinite wisdom she decided our address had to change. Luckily our* mail lady has some common sense, because while the courthouse sent us notices that our address had changed and our old address was no longer valid, and we had to go through the headache of changing our address, the county never registered X Lane as a valid address. So whenever I order something off the internet, most websites will not accept my new address as a valid address, so I have to enter my old address (which incidentally FedEx can’t find, because it isn’t on Y Rd.) the mail lady luckily knows this and delivers all mail and packages to the places they are intended for, rather than returning them.

          *We in this case consisting of all three, houses on X Lane.

        2. Sometimes I think that whoever is in charge of Star Wars/SDIO/BMDO/MDA etc. has a nephew in the letterhead printing business because it and all their components constituents and programs get renamed so often.

  4. Oooh, place names!

    How I hate them!

    It’s so much easier just to steal your character names. For place names, you have to worry so much more about baggage.

  5. Oh my, yes.

    I suspect that the reason few writers use multiple names for a place is to avoid confusion.

    But, as you discuss, it would provide verisimilitude in certain kinds of stories. A place without name change conveys stability and/or isolation. Or it could be use to signal that an aspect of the place is so great its name, in whatever language, will reflect that. Name changes could be used to imply a varied past, giving a sense of the place being a cross roads of happenings. On the other hand the different names it is given reflect the beliefs or experience of conquering groups. Or it could be that different classes have different names for a place at the same time. And yes, in a story set in a tradition where names carry power knowing the true name of a place might prove very important.

    So much could be told by the choices and the reasons of the names.

    And … and … and … Oh! happy me. So much to think about! Thank you!

  6. I remember Niven/Pournelle having some fun with place names. In The Mote in God’s Eye, there is the planet of New Chicago, which has a moon named Evanston. “The significance of that name is obscure” comments the narrator, drily.
    A number of authors have used familiar names — just as America has lots of Old World names brought across — but modified or mangled. Like Brooklyn (formerly Breukelen — a small Dutch town).

    1. I named a planet “Hobson’s” The original name was ‘Hobson’s Choice’. Cause the settlers had no idea what they’d come to next and pretty much got stuck with a … well you know. I wonder how many got it, how many had to look it up, and how many didn’t care at all.

    2. Dean Ing, in his stories about the bounty hunter Harve Rackham (whose best friend was his cheetah) place the stories in the SF Bay area. South of San Jose, IIRC, he noted a town named Gilman. In our world, Gilroy and Morgan HillI are in the area.

      1. …and the town of Morgan Hill is itself an example of this: It’s not named after a hill that was named after Morgan – instead it was named after the stage coach stop for the Morgan Ranch on one side of the valley, and the Hill Ranch on the other.

  7. Guy Gavriel Kay had a novel (forget the title) where the son of a powerful Wizard-Emperor died in battle while invading a small kingdom.

    After the Wizard-Emperor conquered the small kingdom, he had an “interesting” revenge.

    Not only did he change the name of the kingdom, only those born in that kingdom before the conquest could remember the old name.

    A person remembering the old name could say the name but nobody else would remember what he said. [Evil Grin]

      1. I think the Emperor’s curse is causing the publisher to ask too much for the ebook. [Frown]

  8. I devolved Highlanders to hilanders, and Mulanders to mulander. I was afraid to do more than that as I figured the readers wouldn’t get it. But I play with place names all the time. Character names, not so much, as that’s a lot of work sometimes.

      1. which is one of the reasons for so many different spellings of some things
        Oops. No, no, we meant to spell it Springfeld. “just to be different” . It had nothing to do with forgetting the “i” or whether it goes before or after the e

          1. Tamina, Texas is supposedly named after Tammany Hall and someone responsible for the form really couldn’t spell.

        1. Supposedly the town of Milan, TN is not named for Milan Italy. The locals pronounce it “my lan” and insist that the origin is when the railroad surveyors asked an annoyed local farmer what the area was called where they were and he informed them that it was “my land”.

          1. Um. Yes. And then there is the unincorporated community of Whynot, (formally Why Not) in Randolph county North Carolina.

  9. Another interesting thing that can be done with names that don’t change is contrast how they were named with whatever the ‘modern’ world for the story. Novgorod has pretty much always been Novgorod, which means ‘new city’. It was founded in 800.

    1. “Hauppl explained back in 2005: “We had a vote last year on whether to rename the town, but decided to keep it as it is. After all, Fucking has existed for 800 years,”

      Only 800? How did we get babies before that?

        1. Climax, NC

          Beloved Spouse & I looked at a property there quite some years back. Had we bought we would have named the “estate” Storisende.

        2. Ah, yes. And the local joke that the road from Virginville to Paradise runs through Intercourse (it does, too).

    2. There used to be a route 666 running about parallel to the western border of New Mexico north of Gallup but the state changed the designation because it was getting too expensive to replace the road signs.

      1. US Route 666 ran north from US 66 in NM through southwest CO and eastern UT. The road sign theft wasn’t the only reason for the renaming, IIRC – the route number associated it with a “parent” route of 66, which didn’t exist any longer. It became US 491 instead.

        1. In the late 90s, when I was in NM, I drove part of Route 666. By that time Route 66 had been officially decommissioned (June 1985).

    3. Yeah, talk to Weed, CA.

      (Actually, better yet ask them if they’ll start selling signs to help rebuild, the place got burnt down. Terrible, my dad went to college there.)

      1. One of the other grad students had a tee shirt proclaiming “I got high in Weed.” Apparently they were/are best sellers.

  10. Place names. In the North East US every road intersection has a name. In Iowa, some small towns have disappeared but the name (and the sign) remain.

    Near where I grew up is a named place that has made it into the Urban Dictionary, and you would probably recognize it. It consists of a feed mill, a tavern, and a motel. (not going to speculate), and a couple of residences. A variance of the name appears in detective stories as the epitome of tiny village.

    and in Texas, never ask a rural farmer for directions. He knows how to get there, but the two tracks don’t have sign posts. There is a place like that in Northern Michigan near a sensitive military installation. It’s on GPS maps, but you’ll end up lost in the woods without GPS.

    And in Northern Arizona, if you stop and ask which two track takes you up the mountain to the communications relay stations, the local residents generally point toward the mountain you are trying to reach.

    1. Don’t ask Idahoans how to get someplace unless you’ve got a local interpreter. “Turn right where the theater burned (thirty years ago), turn left where the bike shop burned (twenty years ago), go straight until you get to the old chicken farm (now a rural housing development) and hang a right where the wildfire started (two years ago).

      We have street signs, but no one knows what they say as far as I can tell. I imagine that a post-apocalyptic tale could make good use of this–locations like Chikfa Ustabe, etc.

      1. Street signs are just there to make convenient targets. 😉

        Oh and you forgot, “go past McGregors old place, (their son died in WWII and they have been gone since the late fifties) and a couple miles further, hang a right where the wildfire started.”

        1. Or, the old Johnson place: where the Swensons currently live, and the Nordstroms before that, and the Olsons before that, and the Kilroys (odd folk, they were) before that, and the……

          1. Yeah, we live in one of those. The original builder was a colorful character, too, enough so that the house is her place, though her husband died in it. Go figure. Never have found out if he had any input on the design.
            I’m an Idahoan so I can and do give directions like that. And it’s especially fun to do it to someone who refused them at first because “I’ve got GPS”. GPS doesn’t work down here in the canyon. So you’d better know where the chicken farm used to be because I can’t give you any closer landmarks! (Unless, of course, you know one of my neighbors.)

            1. Heck, GPS doesn’t work in about 25% of the places I take a serious hike (and cell phones work even less). Steep-sided canyons, even fairly shallow ones, can be quite effective at blocking signals. I’ve lost GPS at Ricketts Glen in PA and Red River Gorge in KY, for instance.

      2. 😉 We’re just sharing a bit of local flavor and history.

        I normally give good directions.
        In my area, roads outside of towns are laid out on the Township/Range grid. The roads (outside of canyons and public lands) are exactly a mile apart, and run due East-West or due North-South.
        But when someone has problems with “Turn right, travel West for two miles, then turn Left and go South for about half a mile”, they’re going to get lost regardless, and I might as well have a bit of fun at their expense.

      3. Directions for getting to a private airport from my undergrad college: ” . . . and after you get to [town] turn at the second real light, not the second light. Go down the county road a ways and over the new bridge [built in 1948] until you reach the little church with the big cemetery. If you hit the big church with the little cemetery you’ve gone too far. Turn there, and go past the old Crawford place, you can’t miss it. They sell pumpkins [in fall. It is currently January], then two more farms. The last one had the house burn down a few years back so you can’t see it, but turn there, go a half mile. If you see airplanes, double back and take the first second turn. That’s us.” And yet I managed to find it on the first try!

        1. When I went to school in eastern Tennessee one of the local landmarks often given for navigation was the location of the old barn that burned down the year I was born. (I often thought that this was another of those tactics that was meant to discourage the outsiders.)

      4. I can go one better 😀 How about a legal deed to a piece of property that describes one corner of the plot as 1) “Old oak tree” (crossed out) 2) “Dead oak tree” (crossed out) 3) “Old stump”. And another corner was “white boulder on beach”. The beach had *several* white boulders. But as long as everyone remembered where the old (decayed, long gone) oak tree was and which boulder, you were fine …

        And you have to know “The old Coffin place” (name of a family, honest to God) even though they haven’t lived there for 50 years because only then can you understand the elliptical comments about a cousin of the Coffins (with a different last name) not getting along with the descendents of the neighbor on one side of the property on account of a dispute about a goat. The map sure as hell ain’t the territory in those parts.

        1. I’ve surveyed places with such deeds; this can get interesting… in the Chinese sense of the word.

      5. It has been decades since my parents built an addition to the house. The lower floor now consists of the living room, kitchen, dining room, a bedroom — and the new room. Many people know it without ever having seen the earlier house.

    2. is that the ELFs array they built telling us all about it then denied what the thing was after it was completed … then doubled down once some folks complained about the noise from it?

    3. Upstate New York was very much the same when I lived there. “Turn left at the corner where Moore’s Tavern used to be…” Right.

      1. Navigating by pubs was a standard part of travel in the UK until they built motorways and bypasses that kept the traffic out of the villages. It still works for local directions though.

        “Turn left at the Black Boy, the right at the Rose & Crown, then just past the Ship…”

        1. Yep. Turn at Murphy’s Corner (20 years ago, you could still see the burnt out shell of the tavern that used to be there. Now – mini mall on the edge of a growing development.)

    4. I have a friend from St. Louis, spent 20+ years in the service, moved back. People know he’s from there, giving directions based on businesses that weren’t there when he left. He’s been back long enough to learn the new ones.

    5. One reason for name changes is the increased speed of travel by road. Now that we can cover more than 20 – 30 miles in a day there is less need to identify crossroads where one can stop.

    6. New England has a commonly seen behavior. If you’re in one town (say Andover) and on the road most commonly used to get to another town (say Lawrence) that road is likely called Lawrence Street (or road). Drive into Lawrence and it becomes usually will be named Andover St. This is NOT an absolute.
      For example, there is a Lowell Street in Peabody Ma. Lowell is 30 plus miles distant from Peabody and in no way borders on Peabody. I think if you follow Lowell street You will get to Lowell after 1/2 dozen other towns and street names.

      The other naming oddity you’ll see is towns with a church named Second Congregational church of . But no First Congregational church of . Likely one of two thing happened.
      1) Somewhere in the 1800’s (usually 1835-1860 or so) First congregational either changed to unitarian, or as part of the unitarian split ceased to be.
      2) More commonly the town split. The piece that held the 2nd Congregational church stayed with the old town name, The First congregational church renamed itself and so First Congregational Church of disappears off the map and no one is the wiser but the local historians.

  11. I’ve an unfinished project whose details probably are not appropriate for here. The central location has three different names. One meaning ‘dangerous- stay away’ by the people who settled in the far more obviously inhospitable location nearby. Another meaning ‘safe and peaceful’ by the fools who came later and settled. Lastly, another group who was also ignorant of the ancient hazards came in, and conquered the second group. As part of occupying the place, they renamed it to something signifying ‘this is ours’.

    These conflicts, and some others, are part of what is ongoing at the time of the story.

    1. Probably stinks less than the city of Manhattan did before, and less than New Amsterdam before it. There’s so much less manure, as politicians and the finance sector still produce less than tens or hundreds of thousands of horses.

      1. The stink you’re used to is always better than the stink you aren’t.

        Dry cleaning solvents, Car and truck exhaust, outgassing from plastics, these smells are all around us so our brain filters them out of our consciousness, much like Manure would have for those in the 1800s.

        1. Except in the summer, when everyone who could afford to left NYC for places in the countryside.

          1. Hence the immense popularity of summer camps in the Adirondacks, the homes on Long Island, etc.

  12. One of those things H. P. Lovecraft was good at. Arkham. Dunwich. Miskatonic University. Innsmouth.

  13. Didn’t London’s name just soften as it moved from language to language? Lugdenensis -> Londinium -> London?

    Here in Ohio, Circleville was once, literally, a circle. It was built in and around a prehistoric earthwork. In the late 1800s, though, the town decided they wanted a new-fangled grid layout. They destroyed the earthwork, straightened their streets — but kept the name.

    The town of Felicity, OH, was founded by the Fee family, founders of many other towns. Supposedly there was already Feeville, Feesburg, Feetown, and who knows what else. They asked one of their daughters to name the new town — and it became Feelicity (spelling corrected).

    Nearby Felicity is a road named “Neville – Penn Schoolhouse”. Neville is another town nearby. I recently found that Penn was a schoolteacher who settled in the area in the mid 1800s; presumably the road ran between his school house and the town of Neville.

    I don’t recall how Knockemstiff, OH, came by its name, but I have seen the sign for the town — now just a cluster of houses.

    And don’t forget that just about every US state has a town named “Normal”, taken from the founding of “normal schools”.

    1. In this part of central NC, many roads take their names from the churches that once anchored them.

      1. … or the mill.

        Not uncommon in many parts of the rural east to name the roads for the town they connect to or schools, churches and mills. Where there are bodies of water add docks, landings, crossings and bridges.

      2. This comment reminded me of something recently read- Scottish place names. Falkirk, Dunkirk, and other kirks. Kirk means church. And all these villages and towns and cities were named after the local church.

  14. A Canticle for Leibowitz touches this topic in passing, as the story jumps forward across the centuries and the names for change over time. I don’t have it in front of me, but I can remember as an example the town of Sanly Bowetts springing up around the once-isolated Abby of St. Leibowitz after his canonization, and that the once-united states are divided into several sovereign countries that have developed their own languages over the centuries, requiring interpreters if anyone travels across the new frontiers.

    Also, mildly shocked that nobody posted this…

  15. Tolkien has a fair number of linguist jokes here and there, like Bree Hill and Chetwood. Basically it’s the same principle as Torpenhowe Hill in real life. Of course, I’m the kind of person who is not particularly original with names, so I have no intrinsic problem with hills named Hill Hill or Hillhillhill Hill.

        1. Surprisingly there is a Buena Vista in Virginia. It is on Route 60 west of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

          1. Buena Vista TX is in mid far West Texas in a semi-desert surounded by the oil patch and hard scrabble ranches.

            Not a very good view IMHO…..

            1. Buna Vista (note the spelling) near Borger TX was the company housing for a plant that made rubber using the buna-N process. It does have an OK view of the river valley, though.

    1. Toponymy can be used to track populations. The Torpenhowe phenomenon is not uncommon and is a rather useful tool as to who lived where.

  16. I grew up over the (and through the woods) from the town of Dryad (population, unknown, but could probably be counted without removing your shoes). There was a road out of Dryad that some friends of ours lived on, called Lutinghaus Road. There wasn’t a road sign on that road until about the time I graduated high school, and I was shocked by the spelling, because of the way it was pronounced I always assumed it was spelled Lootinghouse Road. I was reminded of this just yesterday when some friends mentioned that they were putting down some straight-grained old-growth red fir flooring in their new house, that had been salvaged out of an old house nearby; and on the backside of the flooring was stamped Lutinghaus Lumber Company, Dryad WA. Eight hours and a state away, and that Lumber Company was simply an old mill site when my mom was a kid; sometimes you are reminded it is a small world.

  17. Carlsbad Caverns was named after the nearby town of Carlsbad, NM. Originally it was named Eddy after Charles B. Eddy, co-owner of the Eddy-Bissell Livestock Company. When the local mineral springs became important commercially the town voted to change its name to Carlsbad after Karlsbad.

  18. It’s certainly been happening out here.
    At Clinton’ executive order, swathes of the West were renamed to be less offensive to Indian activists. Future generations will be spared the ignominy of wondering why a creek was important to Jackson’s squaw.
    Just a bad are the bureaucrats that like to drive square pegs into round holes. Helen-and-Dee Summit is now just H&D Summit and the story behind the original name is all but forgotten. (General rule: if your boomtown is trying to turn respectable, make sure you know exactly who bought up all the municipal bonds before you try to drive out the whorehouse and saloon.)

    1. Squaw is a perfectly respectable word for “woman,” and rootword for “woman,” in a fair number of Native American languages. The thing about it being a derogatory word is either made up, or only exists in 0.1% of Native American languages which use it. (Probably as a derogatory name in languages of another language family.)

      For example, here’s the rootword in Maliseet-Passamaquoddy:

      young woman: nakskw
      girl: pilskwesis
      young girl: skwasis
      old woman: kwuskwesos

      Basically, the Algonquian speakers are always getting treated nastily or like they’re not real by the Lakota language family activists. (Who usually don’t speak their own tribal languages, but are perfectly willing to insult other people’s tribal languages.) They make up weird urban legends out of their weird nasty little heads.

      1. Basically, the Algonquian speakers are always getting treated nastily or like they’re not real by the Lakota language family activists.

        So — Sioux them.

        Given that the only way the White Man “conquered” the Amerindian tribes was by playing their ancient tribal enmities off of one and another, it stands to reason that there is no position which can be taken on the subject of their treatment which is not guaranteed to offend somebody. The Amerindians certainly were happy enough in their attempt to use Whites to settle old scores that they should have no legitimate complaint*.

        *Management hereby recognizes that the concept of “legitimate” is null and void when applied to complaints, especially in regards to Whites, Men and White Men collectively.

  19. Then there’s Cartagena, Colombia named after Cartagena Spain which was once called Qart Hadasht which was named after the city of the same name in N Africa (aka Carthage). And it turns out that the Qart part of that just means new in Phoenician who originated in the city of Tyre (Lebanon) which they called Hadasht – and which means IIRC port (or is it city?).

    So we have a city in S America named after a city in Lebanon whose name basically translates to “Newport” only in a language last spoken about 2000 years ago

    1. As I understand it, Roman traders called it “Cartago Nova” because it’s harbor reminded them of Carthage. That it was built by Hasdrubal Barca as a base to move against Rome from the west had nothing to do with that naming, of course.

  20. According to what I’ve been told, Bad Axe, Michigan was named so because some guy who had scouted the area had left his axe stuck in the trunk of a tree, and when they settled the town, the handle had rotted off and there was just a rusty axe head sticking out of the tree.

    I’m not from there, so I don’t know.

    As for changing names, the town I am currently a resident of is named Warsaw (KY), but a sign on the way into town says it was originally named Fredricksburg. No idea why the name was changed, though.

    1. I’d guess WWI is the cause of the name change. A number of places with German names changed them for patriotic (and survival) reasons. Comfort, TX had been Gemutlichkeit, for example.

  21. In addition to “Torpenhowe”s, in England there are a number of places with multilingual names such as, say, Thorpe le Soken.
    Thorpe – viking for village
    Le – french for the
    Soken – Anglo Saxon for “local independent court”

  22. Now, also in Northern Kentucky, I know that Big Bone Lick was named for a salt lick where a fairly large concentrations of megafauna bones were found back in the 1800s.

    1. I think they should add an artificial geyser at Big Bone Lick. It is already like an el cheapo version of Yellowstone (bison, sulfur-rich springs, bones, hills, lake, etc.). Add the geyser with a good timer to it and call it New Faithful and they’re good to go. OK, so they don’t have real mountains or a massive caldera lake, the bison are fenced in, and there aren’t any grizzly bears, but still.

  23. I used to explain to folks that there are 5 (contiguous) Kansas Cities. Kansas City, KS (separated by a river and a state line from), Kansas City North, North Kansas City (honest!), Kansas City, MO, and that portion of KCMO which slopped across the state line into Kansas (which wasn’t KCKS, cuz that was a good distance away and a whole ‘nother thing).

    Good thing the place was about 50 miles across (2nd largest area city in the US, when I grew up there).

    1. Kansas City, North, is the part of KCMO that’s north of the river. Sometime before we moved here (in 1988), KCMO went through and gobbled up all the unincorporated land in the area. We’re mostly the unmentioned cousins, though.

    2. And then there are East Chicago and West New York, in Indiana and New Jersey, respectively.

  24. All the streets named after families in the town I now live in still have someone with that name living on them. After 16 years living here, my house is still the old T….. place. Church Street has a church on it. Railroad Ave runs next to the railroad. Seems every town in this and all surrounding towns has a Quarry Road, Some with active quarries. And lots of Whiskey Hill Roads and Hogback Roads. Every road in town except “39 Road” has an easily discernible reason for the name. I’ve asked a few oldtimers, and gotten several different thoughts, but no one actually knows. Not a lot of imagination went into road naming here.

    1. Imaginative names aren’t terribly useful when you’re actually trying to navigate to locations.

      Modern street naming trends tend to be… aspirational… more than anything else. Like putting the low income housing in a valley and naming it “Independence Hill”. Or calling your subdivision “Oakview” when the only trees for miles are pines.

      1. Modern street naming trends tend to be… aspirational… more than anything else. Like putting the low income housing in a valley and naming it “Independence Hill”. Or calling your subdivision “Oakview” when the only trees for miles are pines.

        Although people who moved in to the new “Water Meadow Estates” of some town in England might have taken a hint that the place could possibly be prone to flooding.

      2. And over in Lynnfield, Ma a road with a bunch of McMansions on it. It’s Name you ask? Wirthmore St.!! Really?? How did that get past the planning board?

  25. There’s a subdivision in Kansas City. Each street in sequence was named for something Indian (e.g., Cherokee, Pocahontas, Apache, etc.). The very last street in the subdivision was named Custer. 🙂

    1. In a subdivision near me you can live at the corner of Elrond and Rivendell. Other streets included Gimli, Dale, and Moria. Oddly, Gimli and Moria do not cross…

        1. And all the does Moria (rd, st?) have a bridge with solid double yellow lines?
          Because of course, you shall not pass…

  26. Hehe, love this kind of stuff– I live in one place, which has a different name for the Post Office, and I call it by a third so people who don’t actually live here have a clue! (Seattle Blob.)

    1. Back in the mists of time I wrote software that handled lots of mailing addresses, and learned of something called a “prestigious post office” in which the “city” part of the address is something other than what it logically should be, because the natives like the other name better.

      I wish my post office would change name, as some online retailers think I live in Cincinnati (I’m actually in a different county) and so won’t sell me pistol magazines banned by the city.

      1. Is that pistol magazine as in “periodical regarding pistols,” or as in “thing that holds bullets”?

    1. It’s hard to mock when students at universities in CA almost need signed, hard-copy consent forms to make absolutely certain that “yes” does indeed mean “yes.” Forms that are kept on file for X amount of time, just in case.

      1. Perhaps if the participants (participantsless?) were simply to sign (and date) the guest book on each participant’s inner thigh? Using indelible ink, of course.

        It might be like those old-fashioned library systems where each book had its specific card and you could scan over it, seeing who in town had read the book before you.

        1. For boy-girl consent documentation, that wouldn’t help, absent a notarized breathalyzer test and independently archived blood test sample proving she was not under the influence of anything. No may always mean No, but Yes can only mean Yes under very limited circumstances, don’cha’know.

          Note no test results are needed to prove the male’s competent consent, since that is never at question under any circumstances.

          Man, am I glad I’m not 20 again these days…

            1. I gather there is an adage popular amongst some men to the effect that crazy women have the wildest sex. I admit the logic of this is not clear to me, both in the correlation asserted and in the idea that this might be a desirable thing.

              It is somewhat amusing to contemplate these regulations and recall which political party is always accused of being puritanical and of wanting the government in people’s bedrooms.

        1. This does suggest a way for enterprising students to finance college education.

          Step 1: Get your Notary status
          Step 2: Print up standard consent* forms
          Step 3: Host weekend keg parties
          Step 4: Notarize forms documenting consent at reasonable rates

          *Be sure to stock a variety of consent forms authorizing wide range of interactions

  27. I’ve been playing with names of lunar and Martian settlements and of spacecraft as alternate-historical in-cluing. Astronauts who are relatively obscure in this timelines have major settlements named for them in that one, etc.

    We’ll see how it works when I get a couple of the major novels finished.

  28. Warning, found out about noon that the kids and I are going to be taking an trip to visit my folks. (They’re excited. Both readings of that.) Probably fairly normal tomorrow, but travel on Friday and who knows what after that.

  29. One of the best fantasy descriptions I ever read of this process came from Steven Brust’s The Phoenix Guards:

    What followed was ten years of almost constant war between the Dragonlords of the Empire and the Easterners, during which the Easterners occupied the area and fought from the surrounding mountains. The Serioli, who departed the area to avoid any of the unfortunate incidents that war can produce, left only their name for the place, which was “Ben,” meaning “ford” in their language. The Easterners called the place “Ben Ford,” or, in the Eastern tongue, “Ben gazlo.”

    After ten years of fierce battle, the Imperial Army won a great victory on the spot, driving the Easterners well back into the mountains. The Dragonlords who had found the place, then, began calling it “Bengazlo Ford.” The Dragons, wishing to waste as little time on speech as possible, shortened this to Benglo Ford, or in the tongue of the Dragon, which was still in use at the time, “Benglo ara.” Eventually, over the course of the millenia, the tongue of the Dragon fell out of use, and the Northwestern language gained preeminence, which rendered the location Bengloara Ford, which was eventually shortened to Bengloarafurd. The river crossing became the Bengloarafurd Ford, which name it held until after the Interregnum when the river was dredged and the Bengloarafurd Bridge was built. Should anyone be interested in finding this delightful city, it still stands, but the city was renamed Troe after the engineer who built the bridge, either because the citizens were proud of their new landmark, or because the engineer’s name was short.

  30. Is there any truth to the story that Greenland was so named to encourage settlement, and Iceland was similarly named because I was surprisingly habitable for its latitude but the Vikings wanted to discourage anyone else from figuring that out.

    1. Greenland is true, at least last I read. It was settled initially during the Medieval Warm Period, and had a nicer climate than it later suffered from.

    2. Last I heard, both were folk tales based on folks looking at now and explaining the names.

      Greenland was green, Iceland was icy.

    3. Something better than my memory!

      Everything after this is a quote from the link, which has a ton of name-y goodness:

      Iceland got its modern name from another visitor, the Norwegian Viking Flóki Vilgerðarson. The Landnámabók makes it clear that Flóki chose the uninviting name ísland (“ice land”) for the view of a distant fjord full of sea-ice that he glimpsed from a tall mountain. No doubt his choice was influenced by the fact that he was not at first taken with the land, and he bad-mouthed the place after his return to Norway. But eventually he changed his mind about it and moved there himself. The Landnámabók account is at odds with the common notion that Iceland was named for its glaciers, some of which are bigger than any in Europe.
      After Thorvald died, Erik was involved in yet more killings, for which his punishment was three years’ vacation–er, I mean banishment from Iceland. (And you thought O. J. got off easy.)
      He used the time to explore the rumored lands to the west. When his term of banishment expired, he returned to Icleand to invite his neighbors and friends to settle the new country with him. He purposely chose the pleasant name Grænland (“green land”) to attract settlers, but the choice wasn’t exactly misleading. Some parts of Greenland, especially the parts the Norse settled, really are green, as these pictures from the tourist board attest (URL removed). He may have been a killer, but at least he wasn’t a real-estate scam-artist. He didn’t have that much to gain by lying anyway, since he didn’t charge anyone for the land. As in Iceland a century before, the land was free for the taking. Natives had lived in the area in the past, but at the time of Erik’s voyage, only the northern part of Greenland was occupied by the Inuit (Eskimos).

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