What’s in a Name II

Driving to and from Columbus, Ohio, two weeks ago, I had opportunity as co-pilot to study the map of Pennsylvania and to ponder the names on the land.

In particular, there seem to be many communities in the state that prescind from the standard Connecticut practice of naming communities for English communities, Biblical communities, or mis-understood Native American names. Contemplate these names, for example:


These towns aren’t very near each other so I don’t know that you can construct a story line out of the names, but it did make me wonder what was in the minds of the citizens when name-day came around. Boot Jack, Drain Lick, Donation, and Gravity were among other names that jumped out at me. It reminded me of the poem American Names by Stephen Vincent Benet

I have fallen in love with American names,
The sharp names that never get fat,
The snakeskin-titles of mining-claims,
The plumed war-bonnet of Medicine Hat,
Tucson and Deadwood and Lost Mule Flat.

Wikipedia says it’s a “19th century poem” by Steven Vincent Benet and in another entry tells us that he was born in 1898. Precocious! As the poem goes on, Benet works in one of my upstate New York favorites, Painted Post, but not, unfortunately, Horseheads or Salt Rising, and he ends with the often quoted, “Bury my heart at Wounded Knee.”

Just some further meditations on the wonder and joy of words and names. Next time I’ll be more serious.

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