My latest column for the Visual Thesaurus is dated October 14 but in fact was published today, October 21. (Long story short: staffing issues.) It’s on a subject I’ve been researching for a while: the origins of place names. Full access to the column is restricted for three months to subscribers; here’s an excerpt:
The influence of commerce on place naming goes back at least to the 19th century. Company towns, where a single business is the main or sole employer, were often named for their benefactors: Fordlandia in Brazil, Grand-Hornu in Belgium, Manville in New Jersey. In 1845, the chief engineer of the Georgia Railroad, J. Edgar Thomson, took it upon himself to rename a tiny hamlet in northern Georgia that had been known first as simply Terminus and then as Marthasville, after the daughter of an ex-governor. “Certain ungallant railroad men,” wrote George R. Stewart in Names on the Land (1945), “looked upon Marthasville as a namby-pamby name for a place which was undoubtedly to become a great center.” Thomson had a better idea: “Atlanta, the terminus of the Western & Atlantic Railroad. Atlantic, masculine; Atlanta, feminine—a coined word—and if you think it will suit, adapt it.” They did.
Read the rest of the column, which includes the origin stories of Novi, Michigan; Truth or Consequences, New Mexico; and Selmer, Tennessee, among other colorful places.
And in case you missed it, here’s a story I wrote last month for Medium about the decision to change the name of the Squaw Valley Ski Resort—and other “squaw” names on the map.