what’s in a place name?

From wikipedia:

The history of the name of Maine began with James Sullivan’s 1795 “History of the District of Maine”. He made the unsubstantiated allegation that the Province of Maine was a compliment to the queen of Charles I, Henrietta Maria, who once “owned” the Province of Maine in France. 

There have been claims of equal weight given for a source of Maine’s name being its coast as distinguished from islands in the Gulf of Maine, or the coastal rise made in redounding from glacial wasting above the fishing grounds.  In other words, the Maineland.

maine place names sunjournal


Are place names in New England, or in Maine, some sort of fan fiction? I’ve got no 17th, 18th, 19th century settlers to ask, and am thinking there may often be no explicit record of motive. In each episode of naming there may have been a unique reason for the choice. Paris, Calais (pronounced calus), Norway, Rome, Egypt, Oxford, Bangor, Mexico (Mexico Maine??), Berlin New Hampshire (pronounced BURlun). There may have been a record of motive behind each choice, or a record lost. I’ve read, for instance, an historical account of one place name chosen in honor of someone’s hometown in another state. And another chosen for someone’s ancestral home in the Old World. I’ve read, also, of outrage, during The Great War—and the desire back in that day to change the place name of Berlin, New Hampshire. Records, historical documents, are evidence of this.  I’ve read one local history in which documents show that the name Gilead, Maine, was chosen for the fledgling town’s thanksgiving.

I like this place name for its original in Wales, and because it was frequently mentioned in the exquisite soap opera Dark Shadows.  Image by Billy Hathorn, wikipedia. Pointed out this week in the SunJournal, the New York Times has a 1988 article speculating that residents of certain towns wanted to support political movements in other countries in place-naming.

Many of the Maine towns were named in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s when people in foreign lands were struggling for independence, a cause the fiercely independent Maine Yankees admired, said Mr. Conant. Mexico and Peru were named for that reason, he said. Moscow, Me., took its name in 1812. The townspeople were impressed when the Russians turned away Napoleon.


I like the fan fiction angle.  Creative writers have a  lot of fun thinking up names on the basis of actual places.  And it’s refreshing.  Consider giving that a try in your fiction.

Mooreeffoc.  There’s a place name for you.


Postcard image above at

http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WM52P3   .

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