American place names....
This is probably my 8th visit to this vast country…but what always strikes my notice is this business of names of towns and cities. We have visited Naples,Poland, London, Moscow, Manchester…without leaving American soil. I get the feeling that Americans are not comfortable making up names; as soon as the question arose, “What shall we call this town?” someone came running along, with an Atlas tucked under his arm. “Ah!” cried everyone, let’s see what page we turn to today.” “Paris!” yells the Atlas guy. “Great!” says the crowd. So Paris it is. The more exotic it is…Salem or Lebanon or Geneva or Madras…there it goes, down on the record.
Sometimes, for a change, they don’t want all those foreign names. What to do? Someone has an inspiration. Turn to the US pages! she shouts. “Ah….” goes the crowd. “Springfield!” “There are Springfields in practically every State.” “Well,why shouldn’t WE have one then?” So another Springfield is added to the list.(There are now 86 Springfields in the U.S.) There are two Portlands at opposite ends of the country…I don’t know how many more I haven’t seen yet.
Very early on, though, the new settlers were not so resourceful. They only knew English names and tacked on “New” to them much the same way as our little restaurants in Tamil Nadu tack them on(“ New Sri Baby Mess”, “Neo Shanta Bhavan”, and so on.) New York, New Hampshire, New England, New Jersey..the country may be more than 200 years old but these places continue to be new. I am waiting for the English to start calling their places Old York, Old Hampshire, and so on….
But then, this time, I have found what I think is the best yet…I read that Mark Twain lived in a town called Florida, Missouri. Now this could be great. I am now going to check if there is a Missouri, Florida. Just imagine the possiblities this would have thrown up. There are now fifty states… gadzillion combinations possible! How tame to have finally come up with New York, New York!
And I could give the Americans some extra suggestions. They need not name their roads “Olive” or “Locust” or “Holly” or other stuff like that. We can show them the “foot” way to name streets. In Bangalore,particularly, one needs to go out with a measuring tape to know where one is. Am I on the 80 foot Road or the 100 foot Road? They could be more honest than us and call a road “Hundred-feet-to-start-out-with-but-we-have-dug-up-all-the-sides-so-it-is-only-seventy-six-feet-with-a-road-divider-and-cows-taking-up-another-four-feet” Road. But of course in Bangalore we would immediately initialize that to HFTSOWBWHDUATSSIIOSSFWARDACTUAFF Road, or HFTS Road for short. Do you know of anyone who would recognize Mahatma Gandhi Road or Jaya Prakash Nagar or Rabindranath Tagore Nagar? Are you crazy? How would I know where Bytarayanapura-Tavarekere-Madivala Layout is? I am just about OK with B G Road being Bannerghatta Road!