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Place Names Reveal Albion Etymology



            One of my internet friends commented on what interesting place names we have in Indiana. Most people around here probably don’t think much about that, beyond cursing whoever thought it was a good idea to make thousands of future school kids have to spell Kosciusko County.

            I mean, who needs to spell “county”, anyway?   

    Kosciusko was, of course, a Revolutionary War hero. You knew that, didn’t you? Sure you did. In fact, he’s considered a national hero of Poland, Lithuania (where lithium batteries are made), and Belarus, as well as the United States. The guy got around; just ask the people of Kosciusko Island, Alaska.

            There’s also a county in this area named after Revolutionary War hero Casimir Pulaski (the father of American cavalry). He worked with a General of local fame by the name of “Mad” Anthony Wayne, who was apparently angry a lot.

            We also have a county named after Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, and aren’t you people to the northeast glad they used only his last name? He became famous for teaching discipline to the American soldiers at Valley Forge; Steuben accomplished this by forcing anyone who didn’t obey to write his full name out a thousand times.

            There’s also a Steuben County, New York, which as far as I know is unrelated to Albion, New York.

            But I digress, which I believe is also a community in Alaska. After talking to my friend, I realized some of the names of our communities had an interesting entomology (that’s a town just outside of Fairbanks).

            Wait, entomology is the study of bugs. Etymology is the study of the history of words. Words such as “bugs”.

            Man, I love this language.

            Let’s take a look at the three communities that are closest to my writer’s heart, in that newspapers featuring my column are located there. (Okay, maybe “featuring” is a strong word, but my column can usually be found somewhere between editorial and sports, except during playoff season.)

            Albion is the oldest known name for an island that we today call Great Britain. Apparently it’s derived from the white cliffs of Dover (the name, not the island), which are white, and cliffs, and honestly I’m not sure how they got Albion out of that. From there the word forms the basis of the Gaelic name for Scotland, Alba, from which a family came that eventually produced an actress named Jessica Alba. So we have them to either thank or curse.

            Jessica Alba could not be reached for comment, but several Scottish gentlemen mentioned that they’d be happy to speak with her about it, possibly over a scotch.

            The Canadian Confederation period happened once a month during 1867, and was accompanied by bloating and grouchy polar bears. During that reorganization, suggested names for the new country included New Albion and Albionoria, which means “Albion of the North”, and aren’t you Canadians glad you don’t have to sing “Oh Albionoria”?

            So, the name Albion comes from the Old Country, just like potatoes and smallpox. That means we got the name of Albion, Indiana, from England, yes?

            Well, no.

            There are at least 22 communities in America named Albion, if you include the fact that it was an early name for a little town that later changed it’s moniker to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Our town was originally named Center, because early settlers voted for the town to be the seat of Noble County due to it being in the – wait for it – center of the county.

            There was no town there at the time.

            Eventually, so the story goes, one of the people charged with naming the new town remembered a community he used to live in, called Albion, New York. Everyone else apparently gave some variation of “why not?” while the representative of Kendallville said “Hey – even though we’re in the corner of the county we should be the county seat!” He was ignored, because at the time the city of Kendallville was called “Corner”.

            If they’d just changed their name sooner, they’d have the cool courthouse.

            Meanwhile I’ve discovered there are supposedly three Albion’s in New York, so which one did the guy come from? And did he later move on to Albion, the little crossroads in southern Indiana?

            Didn’t know there was a second Albion in Indiana, did you? I’ve never been there, but I hear they have two stop signs and a barn. No word on what the barn is named.

            I see I’ve run out of space, which is the name of a town in Florida, so I’ll divide this into two columns and pretend I didn’t do it in order to fill space in winter, that time of year when I’ve been known to throw snow shovels at people who say, “Isn’t the cooler weather nice?”

            (Yes, I’m well aware you’re reading this in April. I wrote this column ahead of time and used it now because of a big writing thing that I haven’t announced yet, and aren’t you intrigued? I left the mention of weather in because it reminds me of how wonderful spring is.)

            Next week, if I haven’t set out walking south (hee!), we’ll talk about Churubusco and the best named community in Indiana: Huntertown.



( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 7th, 2011 10:20 pm (UTC)
"Alba", as I assume you know, really, means "white", as in "albumen". The "alb" worn by priests is the white cape-thing they have.

It's Latin originally. (It so often is.) It's closely related to dawn, as in "aubade", and in Spanish and Italian that's what "alba" means. Thus your town is indirectly named after a glowy green ball of magic power. Ahem.

White cliffs means white land to unimaginative Romans; after the Saxons and their pals invaded the southern bit was renamed "England", so the term "Alba" relocated northwards. "Albion" is still sometimes used as a highly poetic name for Britain; Blake wrote a very long poem with that title. ("Albion" to him was the name of a son of Poseidon who founded Britain. Blake was odd unusual.)

So your town is a poetic place, a son of Poseidon (sea-god) and "some corner of a foreign field that is forever England"...

More than you wanted to know, right? *g*
Apr. 8th, 2011 07:41 am (UTC)
I did know most of it(except for the son of Poseidon part -- how did I miss that?). And there's the deep, dark secret of my humor column success: playing dumb. ;-)
Apr. 7th, 2011 10:40 pm (UTC)
There's an Albion, Michigan, somewhere around Marshall, I believe. (There's also a Hell, Michigan and a Lake Orion, which isn't pronounced how you'd think. It's not pronounced like the constellation, but with the accent on the first syllable.)

I want to know where "Ligonier" came from. I've always thought that was an odd name. (Says the person who lived in Mishawaka for much of her life. But I know where "Mishawaka" comes from.)
Apr. 8th, 2011 07:46 am (UTC)
I've been past Albion, Michigan, and my ex-father-in law actually went to college there. I've been in Hell -- but then, haven't we all? :-)

Ligonier was named after Ligonier, Pennsylvania, by a former resident named Cavin who now has a street named after him. But where "Ligonier" the word actually came fgrom, I don't know.
Apr. 7th, 2011 11:21 pm (UTC)
There's a very nice statue of Kosciusko - and one of Wayne - in Downtown Detroit.
Apr. 8th, 2011 07:47 am (UTC)
This I didn't know!
Apr. 8th, 2011 03:32 am (UTC)
Coming from the city of Albuquerqe, located in Bernilillo County...I do not expect simple spellings...so I go fishing on Lake Sakakawea.
No "j" in it anywhere, btw...
Apr. 8th, 2011 07:49 am (UTC)
I *hate* the name Albuquerqe! Only because I can never remember how to spell it ...

I read a book about Sakakawea earlier this year -- apparently there are at least half a dozen accepted spellings of her name, which makes it easy to claim you're always spelling it right.
Apr. 8th, 2011 12:26 pm (UTC)
I can spell, but not type--there is a "u" missing in Albuquerque, btw.


I figure that we might as well go with the "spelling" of Sakakawea used by her own people, but the schoolbooks refuse to use it.
Apr. 8th, 2011 04:30 pm (UTC)
Well, you can take the u out of Albuquerque, but you can't take Albuquerque out of the u.
Apr. 8th, 2011 04:57 pm (UTC)
True story!
I may have been transplanted now, but my roots there run deep.
Apr. 8th, 2011 05:03 pm (UTC)
I don't know much about the place except that it seems warmer than here -- and that's good enough for me!
Apr. 8th, 2011 05:28 pm (UTC)
Much warmer than here, and not so flat. Short on water, however...very short.
Apr. 9th, 2011 05:32 am (UTC)
So I've heard. I don't think I'd like that very much -- I tend to be the worrying sort when it comes to that kind of thing, and I'd be constantly concerned about not having enough water.
Apr. 8th, 2011 01:44 pm (UTC)
From DM
Any talk of language and I'm front row center. This is a great blog. I think all across the country there are strange city and county names. I'm intrigued by the 'big writing thing'. Can't wait to hear.
Apr. 8th, 2011 05:06 pm (UTC)
Re: From DM
Well, maybe it's not that big, but since you're the first to mention it I'll come right out and tell you: Whiskey Creek has officially accepted my short story anthology set in the "Storm Chaser" universe for release as an e-book. Which means I've now doubled my number of fiction sales! I also need to find time to post the final version of Storm Chaser cover art, and in addition to all that I finally got a copy of my TV interview, which I'll post on my website as soon as I figure out how. So, by my standards anyway, three big writing things!
Apr. 8th, 2011 03:52 pm (UTC)
We have touched this subject before, if I remember correctly...
No doubt it was a try to feel more at home by the immigrants from all over the world, when they came to America. But saying that... we have villages called Texas and California in Germany - in the former communist East Germany by the way. I could only guess why...
However, I was wondering if certain weaknesses in geography among american people can be explained by that. For example when your government said "We are sending troops to Baghdad.", some soldiers may have thought "Great, let´s go to Michigan then..." - and then wound up in a crappy place in the desert in the Middle East. :)
Apr. 8th, 2011 05:09 pm (UTC)
Yeah, all along it's pretty much been the immigrants who named the new towns, so it's not surprising that a lot came over from other countries. I should add, by the way, that some places in Iraq are probably better than some places in Michigan!

I'm really curious about why places in Germany ended up with American state names ... especially in the East, which didn't see a lot of American troop movement. Maybe, way back when, somebody moved from here to there.
Apr. 8th, 2011 09:21 pm (UTC)
Not a lot safer perhaps, but at least it´s green and not so hot in Michigan. ;)
I must correct myself: Texas and Kalifornien (the german way to write California) are in the old West-German part of nothern Germany. God bless Google... :) I´ve heard of them on TV some time ago and thought they are in the north-east.
As for why they named it like that - I have no idea. Perhaps someone wanted to immigrate to CA or TX and didn´t make it, so he built a house here. Both of them make Albion look like a capital city, btw. Just a few houses and barns along a road...
Apr. 9th, 2011 05:35 am (UTC)
Hm ... could have been changed to honor incoming Americans after the war, I suppose. But then, many Germans probably weren't all that thrilled about the whole losing the war thing. I think your explanation's more likely.
Mike Saxton
Apr. 9th, 2011 01:23 am (UTC)
A friend of mine grew up in Indiana. He said it's illegal NOT to carry a gun there.
Apr. 9th, 2011 05:41 am (UTC)
Re: Indiana
Heh, a lot of people on the coasts have that impression of all the Middle states, but if someone from here actually says it ...! I don't know what the percentage of people with carry permits is, but I certainly wouldn't want to take up the occupation of residential burglar here.
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )

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