8 U.S. City Names That Might Have Been

It’s well known that New York was originally a Dutch colony named New Amsterdam. Less well known is the fact that, at the height of the Third Anglo-Dutch War, a fleet of two dozen Dutch ships sailed into the harbor and briefly retook control of the city from the British—so that for a short time starting in 1673, it was officially named New Orange.

But New York isn’t alone in changing its name (or rather, having its name forcibly changed), as these stories from all across the country prove. While some of these monikers were actually in use for a short time, none—fortunately—became permanent.

1. LAST CHANCE, MONTANA

In 1864, a group of prospectors known as the “Four Georgians” discovered gold in a remote gulch in Montana Territory. The discovery led to the establishment of a small mining camp in the area, which became informally known as "Last Chance." Within a year, the camp had become home to several hundred people, a handful of representatives of whom met in September 1864 to formalize the town’s name and administration. Given that the meeting took place in the fall, one of the names under consideration was “Squashtown”—but luckily for the citizens of what is now Helena, the state capital of Montana, a name honoring Helena in Arkansas (or Helena in Minnesota, depending on whose side of the story you’re on) was chosen instead.

2. PIG’S EYE, MINNESOTA

A defensive fort named Fort Saint Anthony, and later Fort Snelling, was established at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers in 1819. Attracted by the safety and protection that the fort provided, an impromptu village soon emerged around it—including a local tavern run by and named after a retired fur-trader named Pierre “Pig’s-Eye” Parrant. The settlement itself soon took on the Pig’s-Eye nickname too, but luckily that name wasn’t to last. In 1841, a French Catholic minister named Father Lucien Galtier established a chapel dedicated to Paul the Apostle on the banks of the Mississippi nearby, and by the time the capital of Minnesota Territory was appointed in 1849, the town too had been given the name of St. Paul.

3. SWILLING’S MILL, ARIZONA

In 1867, a man named Jack Swilling noticed the potential for farming a vast dry plain at the foot of the White Tank Mountains in central Arizona. Having founded his own irrigation company, Swilling returned to the area some months later to begin digging a canal to divert water from the Salt River into the White Tank valley; the following year, the handful of farms and homesteads that had emerged in the informal town of “Swilling’s Mill” successfully produced their first few meager crops. As the town continued to grow, one of its settlers, Darrell Duppa, suggested naming it after the legendary phoenix bird, representing a settlement springing from the ruins of a former civilization—and Phoenix, Arizona, was born.

4. CLEAVELAND, OHIO

Andy B via Wikimedia // CC BY 2.0

Cleveland, Ohio, was named after Connecticut-born lawyer and surveyor Moses Cleaveland, who founded the city while surveying the great Connecticut Western Reserve in 1796. According to local legend, the a was dropped from “Cleaveland” in the early 1800s so that the name of the town could fit on the front page of the local newspaper.

5. ALLIGATOR, FLORIDA

Lake City, Florida, was originally a Seminole settlement named Alpata Telophka, or “Alligator Village,” and that name remained in place after the area was colonized by European-American settlers in the early 1800s. The town name was changed in 1859—reportedly when the wife of a local politician, James McNair Baker, refused to hang her lace curtains unless the town changed its name to anything but Alligator.

6. WATERLOO, TEXAS

In the 1830s, a village was established at the confluence of the Colorado River and Shoal Creek in what is now Texas, and was—for reasons unknown—given the name Waterloo. In 1839, after Texas had gained its independence from Mexico, President of the Republic of Texas Mirabeau B. Lamar decreed that the capital should be relocated to Waterloo because of its visually pleasing location and abundant natural resources. The land was purchased by the state and the capital was officially relocated—and in the process Waterloo was renamed in honor of the “Founder of Texas,” Stephen F. Austin.

7. ALBURQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO

Wikimedia // Public Domain

New Mexico’s most populous city was named after Francisco Fernandez de la Cueva, the 8th Duke of Alburquerque, a town in Spain on the Portuguese border. Quite where the name’s first letter r disappeared to is a mystery—although local legend would have you believe it all began when the name was misspelled on a local railway sign in 1880.

8. CROSS KEYS, PENNSYLVANIA

The town of Cross Keys was founded in 1754 and reportedly took its name from that of a local tavern. In 1814, the village—which stands in the heart of Amish territory in southern Pennsylvania—was perhaps looking to distance itself from its association with liquor when it chose a much less controversial name: Intercourse. Quite why the town chose this new name is unclear, with different explanations pointing to everything from the nearby entrance to a local race course to the former use of the word intercourse to mean “community” or “togetherness.” Either way, the name helped to make the town sign one of America’s most frequently stolen.

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Interactive Map Shows Where Your House Would Have Been 750 Million Years Ago
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Your neighborhood traveled a long way over several hundred million years to reach the spot it occupies today. To trace that journey over the ages, check out Ancient Earth, an interactive digital map spotted by Co.Design.

Ancient Earth, a collaboration between engineer and Google alum Ian Webster and Paleomap Project creator C.R. Scotese, contains geographical information for the past 750 million years. Start at the beginning and you'll see unrecognizable blobs of land. As you progress through the ages, the land mass Pangaea gradually breaks apart to form the world map we're all familiar with.

To make the transition even more personal, you can enter your street address to see where it would have been located in each period. Five hundred million years ago, for example, New York City was a small island in the southern hemisphere isolated from any major land mass. Around the same time, London was still a part of Pangaea, and it was practically on top of the South Pole. You can use the arrows on your keyboard to flip through the eras or jump from event to event, like the first appearance of multicellular life or the dinosaur extinction.

As you can see from the visualization, Pangaea didn't break into the seven continents seamlessly. Many of the long-gone continents that formed in the process even have names.

[h/t Co.Design]

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Why Macedonia Is Getting a New Name
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For the first time since becoming an independent nation in 1991, the Republic of Macedonia is rebranding itself. As CNN reports, the Balkan nation will soon be called the Republic of Northern Macedonia, a name change that will hopefully help to heal the country's tense relationship with Greece.

Macedonia adopted its former title after gaining independence from Yugoslavia 27 years ago, and the name immediately caused conflict. Its neighbor to the south, Greece has a region of its own called Macedonia. Greece claimed that Macedonia's name suggested a sense of entitlement to territory that belonged to them and took it as an insult.

Even decades later, the bad blood stirred by the decision remained. Greece's issue with the name has even prevented Macedonia from joining the European Union and NATO. The new title, which was agreed upon by Macedonian prime minister Zoran Zaev and Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras on June 11, is meant to be a step towards better relations between the two countries.

"Our bid in the compromise is a defined and precise name, the name that is honorable and geographically precise—Republic of Northern Macedonia," Prime Minister Zaev said at a press conference, as reported by Reuters. Macedonia will hold a popular vote to officially change the name in a referendum later this year.

A country changing its name isn't uncommon, but reasons for the revision vary. In April 2018, the country formerly known Swaziland announced it would be called eSwatini, the name it went by prior to British colonization.

[h/t CNN]

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