Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A Tale of Too Many Moscow’s

Moscow, Russia

 Yesterday’s post (A Tale Of Two Sydney’s), started me thinking about other potentially conflicting and confusing city names. To my surprise, there were a lot more than I thought there would be. For instance, the cities of Moscow, London, Melbourne, Athens, and Paris, to name just a handful, crop up multiple times across the world. 

To take the Russian capital, Moscow as an example—depending on which online source you consult—there may be twenty-three places called Moscow in the world, or they may be a lot more. Even trying to find the precise number of Moscow’s in the United States varies from eighteen to twenty-six, although again, there could be more (see below). You will find Moscow’s in the states of Idaho, North Dakota, Kansas, Texas, Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Maine. Some of these are big enough to be called cities, but most are generally not much bigger than small towns or hamlets.
      There are or have been at least 30 American towns named Moscow, according to American Demographics magazine. Ohio and Kansas had four each. These aren`t enclaves of pinkos, explains geographer Irina Vasiliev of the State University of New York at Buffalo, who studies the derivation of town names. Moscow, Vermont, is so called because townspeople there thought blades in the local sawmill sounded like cathedral bells of Moscow, Russia. Moscow, Maine, was named to commemorate Russia`s victory over Napoleon, and Moscow, Minnesota, came into being after a forest fire reminded residents of the scorched-earth policy Russian contemporaries adopted to foil the French dictator.
      Only two of America`s Moscow’s actually were named by Russian immigrants, according to Vasiliev. One is in Kansas, the other in Pennsylvania. Then there is the case of Moscow, Texas, which is named after Moscow, Tennessee. Most of America`s other Moscow’s were afterthoughts, named quickly, American Demographics says, “when settlers needed a label for their post office.”
      In most cases, Vasiliev says, the name Moscow was a way to get attention or improve a town`s image. Obviously, these ill-conceived public relations campaigns predated Lenin.[Source: Chicago Tribune…]
Looking south towards Moscow, Idaho
The town of Moscow, Idaho, is one of the biggest towns in America bearing that name. However, when the first US post office opened in 1872, the town was called ‘Paradise Valley,’ but the name was changed to Moscow in 1875. According to the Wikipedia entry for the town:
     The precise origin of the name Moscow has been disputed. There is no conclusive proof that it has any connection to the Russian city, though various accounts suggest it was purposely evocative of the Russian city or named by Russian immigrants. Another account claims that the name derives from a Native American tribe named "Masco”. It was reported by early settlers that five men in the area met to choose a proper name for the town, but could not come to agreement on a name. The postmaster Samuel Neff then completed the official papers for the town and selected the name Moscow. Interestingly, Neff was born in Moscow, Pennsylvania and later moved to Moscow, Iowa.
I am tempted to start a series of regular posts about place names and their origins, but at the moment I have more pressing matters to address. For now I will leave you with this fascinating 21:32-minute radio program from Public Radio International that looks at the prevalence of towns called Moscow in the United States.

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