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City Life

It's all in a name

Where would suburbs be without delightfully cute names and addresses like 22 Tiffany Trail (where my much loved high school English Teacher used to live) or Pinecrest Estates (a great lump of bush I learned to mountain bike in which was clearcut of pines to build a gated retirement community).

Normandy, France

Normandy, France

Town’s like Brampton, Ontario, with the navigationally impossible neighbourhoods of all B or C, depending on where you live. Directions can include things like, Turn left on Balmoral, then right on Beverly, then left onto Brownstone and a final right onto Brooklyn make finding a friend’s house almost impossible. It leads to the question, what will we name streets in the future?

The Koreans have tried to simplify things, the vast majorty of towns ending in either -ju (state) -san (mountain) or -po (port). All this makes is for maps littered with towns like Jinju, Jeonju, Chungju, Cheju, Gwangju, Gongju, Gyeongju, Yeongju, Sangju, Wonju, or Busan, Ulsan, Masan, Yangsan, Gunsan, Ilsan, Iksan, Yongsan, or Mokpo, Yupo, Chilpo, Mipo, Chelumpo, Guyongpo adum-infinitum.

In a similar vein comes the towns of Ireland. Ireland’s greatness is not in it’s charm, but in the repeated localities. Passage East and Passage West, hundreds of kilometers apart. A random look at Ireland on Google Earth will find you such great places as Tomcool and Tomcool Little, Camros and Camaross right next to each other. Other names are simply too Irish to believe; Lambstown Great and Mountainmuck and The Leap. If there was anywhere worth exploring simply for town names, it’s Ireland.

Would Hong Kong be as famous if it was called by the name of one of it’s parts, Happy Valley? Or would generations of expats grumble about the worst ski destination in history?

Would Ottawa have been selected capital if it were still Bytown?

Or the Capital of Korea be as memorable if it were still named Wiryeseong, or Hanseong, or Hanyang, or Namgyeong, or Gyeongseong, or Keijo? (in that order). No, Seoul is a much better name.

My Canadian hometown carries the rather heavy monograph of Gravenhurst, which is probably better than the original Sawdust Town, but still brings images of death to mind.

Other towns are named after heros, and then renamed when that hero passes from fancy. Think of all those poor people growing up in Stalingrad, or Karl Marxstadt. Kitchener, Ontario was renamed from Berlin after those nasty Germans invaded the French in 1914 (this being the Lord Kitchener, who during the Boer war oversaw the construction and filling of the first Concentration Camps which had a death rate of 34% which surpassed both Stalin’s Gulags at approximately 10% ). Yet Paris, Ontario wasn’t renamed after the devastatingly embarrassing invasion of Germany in 1870. And to my knowledge, nobody has ever thought of renaming Mongolia, Ontario, even though the Khans weren’t exactly friendly to their neighbours.

Should a town name be simple? Tokyo simply means ‘East Capital’.

Should it be something historic like St. Petersburg (rather than Petrograd which sounded too German, or Leningrad, which now sounds a little too Communist).

Should it be pronounceable like Toronto?

Or fresh like New York?

With a name comes an image, as do both the Austrian towns of Vienna and Fucking. So pick carefully when you are chosing your next city name!

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