Friday, August 1, 2008

アメリカの地名  American place names

Today, I would like to talk about American place names. There are several main sources for the names of American towns and cities. They are, English, French, Spanish, and Indian.


On the Eastern coast, Great Britain eventually prevailed over Holland and Sweden and formed the original 13 colonies. So most of the town names in this area have an English flavor. Boston is named for a town in Lincolnshire England. In the state of Virginia, we have Richmond and Norfolk; also both names come from towns in England. The city of New York was named for the English Duke of York.


Now let us cross the Appalachian mountain range. Here we can find many towns with French names. The French Empire at one time ran all the way from Quebec in Canada to New Orleans at the mouth of the Mississippi river.


Detroit, Saint Louis, and New Orleans are all cities founded by the French. I grew up in the state of Wisconsin, and today there are many small towns such as Prairie du Chien, and Trois Rivieres, places originally named by the French.


Now when we come to the American southwest, we find many Spanish names. The Spanish established many churches along lines of communication, where travelers could find shelter during their journey. They were named for Saints, so we have San Francisco and San Diego. Of course Los Angeles is also of Spanish origin.

America, for the Europeans who settled there, was a new land, sometimes the founders of towns borrowed names from ancient European civilizations. So we have Palmyra Wisconsin, (from an ancient Syrian city) a Cairo Illinois, and Memphis Tennessee. (From the Egyptian cities)


Today Palmyra Wisconsin has a population of less than two thousand; it never fulfilled the hopes of its founders. Cairo Illinois used to be an important town in the steamboat era, as it lies where the Ohio and Mississippi rivers join. It was also a very important base for the northern army in the American Civil war. Since that time it has declined to a few thousand people.


But I am sure many music lovers know Memphis Tennessee as the home of Elvis Presley, and a center of jazz.


Of course, not all city names come from white Europeans settlers. Many come from the Indians who lived there before the white people came. This has given us places like Chicago, named after a foul smelling plant, Milwaukee, or beautiful place in the local Indian language, and Seattle, named after a local Indian chief.


Just as America is a land of many peoples, we can see this effect in the names of American towns and cities. It is truly a mishmash of cultures.


Mishmash 混ぜ物。

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