Columbus Name Symmetry, Part 1

On September 13, 2015 · 1 Comments

Quite some time ago, way back in April 2012, Twelve Mile Circle posted an article called First Name, Surname Symmetry. It involved places where different levels of government nestled to form the full names of important people. Examples included the city Hernando, in De Soto County, Mississippi; the town of George in the state of Washington; and the settlement of Thomas City in Jefferson County, Florida. They paid tribute to dignitaries on multiple levels. I’d pretty much forgot about that earlier article even though it generated a good amount of attention at the time. Then I stumbled upon an international example and it felt like the right time to tug the thread just a little bit more.

I turned my sights to Central America.

Cristóbal, Panamá

Cristóbal, Panama
Cristóbal, Panama by Fotorus on Flickr (cc)

Cristóbal, a town of fifty thousand residents on Panamá’s Atlantic Coast (map) wouldn’t seem to conform to the established pattern at first glance for an exclusively English-speaking person such as myself. Nonetheless somehow it clicked when I noticed Cristóbal’s placement within Colón Province. Some ancient piece of trivia lodged deep within the folds of my memory popped to the surface. The person known as Cristóbal Colón in Spanish was also known as Christopher Columbus in English. That created perfect first name, surname symmetry down in Panamá, albeit in a language I didn’t understand much about otherwise.


11 Panama Canal Zone 10 of 13
Panama Canal Zone by Richard on Flickr (cc)

The town figured prominently in early 20th century Panamanian history. It served as a staging point and an administrative headquarters for the Panama Canal Commission upon its establishment. It also fell within the Panama Canal Zone starting in 1903 when the U.S. government paid newly-independent Panamá $10 million for perpetual control of the zone. Thus, Cristóbal transferred to the territorial possession of the United States. The U.S. citizens who lived within Cristóbal and the remainder of the territory were known as Zonians.

The zone was an area of 533 square miles that ran the course of the canal and was controlled by the US. Families were given generous benefits, including subsidised housing, ample holiday time, well-stocked commissaries and attentive staff… Its residents enjoyed the beautiful weather and more relaxed lifestyle of Panama, while also living in comfortable American-style housing, experiencing a top-notch American education and enjoying all the perks of US citizenship.

Some fifty thousand U.S. citizens lived in the zone at any given time, swelling closer towards a hundred thousand residents during times of war, given the strategic importance of the canal. They created a little slice of home along with a festering pile of animosity with the local Panamanian populace who endured an entirely less privileged lifestyle. It was clear that the arrangement could not continue given increasing tensions between the two even if the agreement was supposed to last forever. The canal zone reverted back to Panamá in carefully controlled pieces between 1979 and 1999, after the two nations agreed to the Torrijos-Carter Treaties.

More Recently

Cristóbal hit on hard times after that — as did much of Panamá — and earned an unsavory reputation for criminal activity. The town began to gain its footing in recent years via the tourist trade because it offered great access to the Canal. Cruise ships often dock there now.

Colón, the province, also had a capital city named Colón. Over time the city of Colón grew and subsumed Cristóbal. While Cristóbal still existed as a place name it might more properly be described as a neighborhood of Colón as it stands currently. The first name, surname symmetry still existed although on a couple of distinct levels: Cristóbal as a part of the City of Colón, and Cristóbal a part of the province of Colón.

On September 13, 2015 · 1 Comments

One Response to “Columbus Name Symmetry, Part 1”

  1. Fritz Keppler says:

    And the town and province were once part of the nation of Colombia,also named after the navigator, before a coup created the nation of Panama in order that the canal be able to be constructed.

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