Sunday, January 2, 2011


“We're in Corinth,” Dad reported. They had been on the road for five days and they were almost to the Alabama border. “Great, see you after you hit the Huddle House for supper,” I replied and hung up.

Wait a minute! A quick google maps search showed Corinth to be near Knoxville – huh? Why were they 204 miles north and east of us? That was going to be over a three hour drive – too late to make it all the way. I quickly reached for the phone and explained that Corinth was way too far away to make it. “No, we're in Corinth, Mississippi,” Dad explained patiently. Oh. That made more sense. They were 134 miles to the west and that drive was manageable.

I have to say that the tendency Americans have to duplicate the names of their cities and towns confuses me. My friend lives in Corinth, Texas to further mess me up. Just to set the record straight, I live in Huntsville-the-Rocket-City, Alabama; not Huntsville-we-kill-criminals,Texas.

More google research and I discovered that in Canada the maximum number of times that a city name repeats is three. There are eight cities/towns in Canada that show up three times – Borden, Princeton, Beaumont, Richmond, Stratford and Windsor to name a few. (If you trust

Mostly, the triplicates do not appear in provinces that are side-by-side. Victoria is in British Columbia, Newfoundland and Ontario. Trout Lake is an exception though with locations in Alberta, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories. I guess having lots of Trout Lakes in one area makes sense – lots of lakes, lots of trout; ergo ...

But, as far as I can tell, Canada draws the line at triplicates. Eighty-seven places appear on the map twice. However, I would seriously consider reducing that number to eight-six since they include Lloydminster, Saskatchewan and Lloydminster, Alberta as two entries on their list.

When I began this venture, I assumed that the U.S. repeated place names much, much more than Canada. If you look at sheer numbers they most certainly do. Yahoo contributor Adele Koehnen on the website announces Clinton to be the American winner with 24 appearances! Next in line would be Springfield with 23.

However, I guess when you look at it per capita, both countries show similar tendencies toward unoriginality. Canada's 30 million people top out at three repeats while America's 308 million don't quite reach 30 times so, in this regard, they do not even re-name as often.

I still find it hard to understand. Do zip codes eliminate all confusion? Apparently not for me in my conversation with Dad since zip codes didn't enter into our conversation. How do people in Athens, Alabama differentiate themselves from those in Athens, Georgia only 267 miles apart?

I do have a theory about why the presence of 24 Clinton's doesn't wreak havoc across the country. The United States is just as its name suggests – a group of individual states that do not have strong ties across state lines. The federal level is of little importance or relevance for most people. Even more than that, each state is a group of individualized counties that do not rely upon neighboring counties in many ways. People within their counties are pretty much only concerned with their county as far as I can tell.

I've never met anyone yet that hasn't traveled outside their county, but I do get the impression that such a person may exist. I haven't figured out a way to research that matter without being condescending and insulting so that's just a hunch. I do believe the appearance of two Springfields in Pennsylvania and Virginia supports my theory. I once met a forty-year-old woman who grew up south of Huntsville who had never been to Atlanta until her thirties. (It's about a four hour drive).

Of course I'm making massive generalizations, but, from what I gather, there is little reason for residents of Clinton, Arkansas to trouble themselves with Clinton, Iowa and vice versa. I guess you in Alberta have no good reason to be focused on Edmunston, New Brunswick, either.

You'd think that extremely original place names would clear up any confusion, but I'm not sure that more city names along the lines of Wytopitlock (Maine) or St. Louis-du-Ha-Ha! (Quebec) would lessen my confusion in the least.


Maria said...

Oh, I do have to add to this most thoughtful discussion.

One of my cousins grew up in Lincoln, TN - which is about 13 miles south of Fayetteville,TN. Shortly after she married, she moved to Lincoln, AR - which about 18 miles west of Fayetteville, AR.

Then there is the close proximities of Athens/Decatur in Alabama and Athens/Decatur in Georgia.

And I do wish Huntsville, TX would changed their name.

Catherine said...

Love that Maria! It is a strange phenomenon indeed.