Names and their Places
Roaring over a dam and flashing white among ledges and rocks before winding beyond sight, the Farmington River twists among hills a block from home. Principal tributary of New England’s Connecticut River, the name “Farmington” suggests the pastoral aspirations of seventeenth century Europeans who settled downstream. Where I live, the Native American moniker “Wattunkshausepo”—fast flowing and winding river—seems more accurate and evocative. Unfortunately, the musical Indian name has long faded from memory. Nevertheless, knowing both names enlivens my understanding.
Whether adorning political entities or natural features, the names of places where we spend time become part of our identities. Synergies between life, etymology and topography form maps of meaning in our minds and culture. Doubt the power of names? The words “Vermont” and “New York” conjure very different images even though they are adjacent states sharing many natural, cultural and historical attributes. Perhaps Juliet’s Shakespearean rose “by any other name would smell as sweet,” but a name might bias our perception of the rose’s scent or whether we take a sniff at all.