Archive for February, 2014

On the Naming of Towns

Monday, February 17th, 2014

I live on Long Island, and I can’t imagine living any place else, especially not in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota or in Goodnight, Texas and certainly not in Ten Sleep, Wyoming.

Accident, Maryland? No thanks. Then there’s Boring, Oregon and Hell, Michigan and Intercourse, Pennsylvania.
Cool, California might be nice.

And then there’s Henpeck, Illinois. People in that town got tired of explaining that it was not named for a husband with a tyrannical wife, but after a prominent citizen named Henry Peck. Eventually, they renamed the town Oblong. Don’t ask. Illinois also has a town named Normal. Local humor is a frequent listing in the newspapers: “Normal Man Marries Oblong Woman.”

You had to be there.

Here on the Island of Long, some years ago, there was a controversy in the community of Shirley. It was scheduled to be renamed either Brookhampton or New Hampton. Two opposing groups formed, the Committee To Rename Shirley and the Committee To Keep Shirley Shirley. Folks in favor of a change suggested Floyd Harbor, ignoring possible confusion with the community of Lloyd Harbor. Dissenters who pointed out that Shirley has no harbors were reminded that some harbors are nearby. Anyway, they said, the William Floyd Parkway runs through Shirley.

William Floyd was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, but he lived in Mastic Beach, near Shirley. And, making things more complex, Shirley began in the 1930s as Mastic Acres because it was near Mastic Beach. But in 1952 Mastic Acres was changed to Shirley in honor of William T. Shirley, a developer. People liked him a lot because he bought the community a post office. Well, he didn’t actually buy one. You can’t just go to a shopping mall and buy a post office, and can’t even find one on the Internet. But he did buy a parcel of land and put up some money for a building to keep stamps out of the rain. By the way, stamps in 1952 cost three cents.

One day in 1967, some people in East Northport decided that their community ought to return to Larkfield, the original name it had until 1909. One reason for the change, they said, was that one of the main streets was called Larkfield Road. And anyway, East Northport isn’t really east of Northport, it’s to the south. Someone then said, change it to South Northport. Someone else said, change it to Southport. Another person said all those names would be confusing because the community is on the north shore. Peoria was also ruled out because some folks in Illinois were using that name, and still are today so it apparently caught on. Anyway, these days it’s still East Northport.

Imagine the dilemma facing folks who lived in the Massachusetts town of Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg.

It was an old Indian name that meant “You fish on your side of the river, I’ll fish on my side, and the tourists can have the middle.”

They changed the name to Webster.

Maybe I’ll just retire in Carefree, Arizona.