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SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

            Last week we discussed the entomology of ants, or possibly the antymology of  location names, or the etymology of naming ants. It turns out that many of the names of our familiar towns, counties, and other places have interesting origins, although I’m not sure South Bend or Fort Wayne are anything more than obvious.      

  (As an aside, I always got a kick out of the moment in the movie Planet of the Apes, when an ape refuses to believe that the crash landed astronaut could have grown up in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Who, he inquired, would name a town after a fort?)

            We get the obvious with Indiana – which today would have been named NativeAmericanAna – and the more obvious with its capitol, Indianapolis, which is Greek for “Who designed this crazy highway system?”

            Around here we also go from the not so obvious (Ligonier? Apparently named after a Fort in Pennsylvania that drove off, ironically, Indians) to the pretty obvious (Think there were wolves around a body of water near Wolf Lake?)  A lot of our place names, as might be imagined, come from Native American words.

            However, sometimes we didn’t get those right: The Ojibwa tribe named a nearby large body of water Michigama, which means – yep – large water. But noooooo – that spelling wasn’t good enough for us European folk. We had to go with Michigan.

            The state of Michigan, by the way, is divided by a body of water called the Straits of Mackinac, and as everyone knows Mackinac is a word meaning “Why didn’t you just turn it into two separate states?”

            Now we move to Churubusco, possibly the second coolest name for a town ever, and named after a famous battle of the Mexican-American war called the battle of … wait for it … figured it out on your own, didn’t you?

            Actually, Churubusco was a village near Mexico City, and probably didn’t appreciate the attention. Here’s a neat little connection for you: after the battle a brigade of volunteer US soldiers were billeted in the convent of Churubusco. Those soldiers were from Albion, New York.

            No, just kidding – they were from New York, though. Would have been cool.

            True to form, that wasn’t its original name. The place was a native American temple named Huitzilopochco, but while trying to pronounce the word the Spanish conquistadors kept getting attacked, so they just jotted down the first thing that came anywhere near close to it. Actually, even that doesn’t make sense: They probably just made up an entirely different name to spite the original occupants.

            Originally Churubusco, Indiana was two towns divided by a railroad track: Franklin and Union. Combining into Franklunion just seemed a bit silly, and as it happened a lady who lived there had a relative who had just fought in a battle – at Churubusco, Mexico.

            The Miami Indians had inhabited the area before that, but they all retired and moved to Florida.

            These days Churubusco is known for the “Beast of Busco”, a giant turtle who comes out on Christmas night and eats little children who don’t go to sleep before Santa gets there. It’s possible I’m mixing the story up a little bit, but the germ of it is that a giant turtle was spotted in a nearby pond, possibly wearing the remains of a Santa Claus outfit.

            The story became so famous that I actually mention it in my novel Storm Chaser, but only in passing – literally. You’ll have to buy the book to see what that means. *evil laugh*

            Now we move on to my favorite name: Huntertown.

            I used to mess with my kids by telling them that Huntertown was named after our family. My mother’s side, of course, the Welch’s.

            But no, Huntertown was settled in around 1832, while my Hunters didn’t arrive in Indiana for more than a hundred years later. I’d always assumed that Huntertown was named by some hunters, maybe somebody trying to cut down on the deer population because they’d heard automobiles would someday be coming, and they wanted to prevent the coming carnage.

            Much to my surprise, it turns out Huntertown was founded by William T. Hunter – love that name – along a plank road connecting Fort Wayne to a place called Lima, which is now called Howe. Why? I don’t know.

            In true Albion fashion (Albion was originally called “Center”), Huntertown was originally no more than a forest clearing, and was called “The Opening”. That didn’t seem like a good name for any town that wasn’t featured in a Stephen King novel, so William took advantage and did something we could only dream of these days – he named a town after himself.

            Don’t think I haven’t tried that.

            Huntertown, at least before the recession, was one of the fastest growing areas in northeast Indiana, and I’d like to think that wonderful name is at least partially responsible for the growth. By the way, the newspaper there, Northwest News, is housed in a former bank building that was robbed in the 1930’s by the John Dillinger gang.

            So you see, history is interesting. It all depends on how you word it.

 

Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
mardeen
Apr. 14th, 2011 11:28 pm (UTC)
Very Keillor-esque. Which is interesting because Lake Wobegon was near a town called New Albion. Or was formerly New Albion. Or something Albion-esque.

I used to write for a magazine that covered the area of the country that was northeastern Indiana/southwestern Michigan. I was told by some Yankees that the area is known as Michiana. But then I'm just a dumb Southerner and they probably had a good laugh after telling me that. The mag was named City Contour. Small world. In my mind anyway. Small mind.
cbtreks
Apr. 14th, 2011 11:39 pm (UTC)
It is indeed Michiana!
ozma914
Apr. 15th, 2011 06:37 pm (UTC)
Sometimes we Midwesterners go with the simple. "What do we name that area along the Michigan/Indiana line?" "Oh, I don't know ... Michiana?"
ozma914
Apr. 15th, 2011 06:35 pm (UTC)
Wobegon was in Minnesota, wasn't it? Minneapolis was originally named Albion, so I could see Keillor taking the name from there.

In any case, I found a LinkedIn site for City Contour, and it's introduction leads with "Hello, Michiana!" So there you go.

http://www.linkedin.com/company/city-contour-magazine-llc
mardeen
Apr. 15th, 2011 06:57 pm (UTC)
Erm...I actually ghost wrote that City Contour introduction. *weak smile*

And, my remarks about Michiana were a less-than-stellar attempt at humor/sarcasm. A swing and a miss.
ozma914
Apr. 15th, 2011 07:07 pm (UTC)
Ah -- sarcasm is SO hard to pull off on the internet! I've been burned that way before, myself. In fact, I've struck out in humor writing more often than I used to on teenage dates.

Is City Contour still in production? The website link seems to go nowhere.
cbtreks
Apr. 14th, 2011 11:38 pm (UTC)
I've enjoyed both your place names columns - I hope you do more. The parts about Churubusco and Howe (formerly Lima) are interesting. I've been wondering why there are so many Latin American place names here. Off-hand, I can think of La Paz, Valparaiso, Peru, and Mexico, and you've added Churubusco and Lima. Maybe when the semester's over, I'll try to find out.

Fort Wayne and Wayne State University are named after the same mad general. He'd make an interesting research topic for someone taking U.S. history. Which I'm not!
ozma914
Apr. 15th, 2011 06:40 pm (UTC)
Right, I remember an intersection along the highway to Indiana Beach where signs point two ways: One says Peru, and the other Mexico. The only thing I can think of is that maybe a lot of veterans of the Mexican-American ware settled up here at the time those towns were being founded.

I'll do more columns like this from time to time; they're great filler, for times when I get busy with another job or those occasions when I just can't dig up enough funny.

Meanwhile, I'll happily research Wayne more one of these days!
zewufare
Apr. 15th, 2011 08:25 pm (UTC)
I don’t bookmark sites but i will bookmark this! LOL!

ozma914
Apr. 15th, 2011 09:06 pm (UTC)
You made my day! And it's been a rough day -- I've been trying to spell stuff for hours.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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