Head of the Class

On June 7, 2015 · 7 Comments

I thought back to my school days when a teacher would call roll alphabetically. Naturally people with surnames like Anderson would be called upon first. Mine fell somewhere in the middle so I had to pay attention for a little while and then I could daydream for the rest of the drill. I always felt sorry for people named Zimmerman or such who had to remain on their toes the entire time. Those lucky Andersons, though. They could kick-back and relax, their jobs completed immediately thanks to a simple quirk of alphabetical order. The same thing could probably be said of countries. Imagine Afghanistan at the opening ceremony of the Olympics, first in line and grabbing a big dose of attention. Compare that to Zimbabwe. Most viewers are probably tuned out mentally by the time Zimbabwe strolls along.

That got me wondering about which city, town, or village might grab the very first spot in an alphabetical line. Sure, it would vary based upon the language used to sort through the list although I didn’t let that spoil my fun. Research appeared to be amazingly deficient though. I figured I’d find a ready list somewhere on the Intertubes and it would be easy. Perhaps that existed somewhere even though I checked — which meant I searched for a maximum of about 30 seconds — and I couldn’t find one. I did uncover the next best thing, Wikipedia’s List of towns and cities with 100,000 or more inhabitants.

A Coruña, Spain

A Coruña - Palacio Municipal
A Coruña – Palacio Municipal by Pepe Martin (Mário José Martins), on Flickr (cc)

A Coruña in Spain rose to the very top of that list (map). That was its officially-recognized name in the Galician language, prevalent in the northwestern corner of Spain that was once part of the Kingdom of Galicia. In Spanish it was La Coruña and in English sometimes Corunna. According to the rules of alphabetization, nothing came before something so the single letter A followed by a space came before A followed by additional letters. A Coruña was the only city with a single letter A so Wikipedia placed it first.

I had a bit of a quibble with A Coruña. The letter A was used as a definite article. There was a school of thought that the definite article should be disregarded in an alphabetical list. Certainly that was common with geographic place names, e.g., The Bahamas was generally listed as Bahamas, The and The Gambia transformed into Gambia, The. I’m sure there were plenty of learned people who could debate those finer points back-and-forth indefinitely although I didn’t want to get involved. Nonetheless, for me, placing A Coruña at the head of the line felt like cheating.

Aachen, Germany

Aachen Skyline
Aachen Skyline by Stephen Downes, on Flickr (cc)

Aachen seemed to align more properly with the spirit of the contest, beginning with a double-A followed immediately by another letter near the start of the alphabet in the third position. AAC would be a hard combination to beat. People have lived in the Aachen area (map) since neolithic times, drawn there by its warm spring-fed waters. It became a spa town during Roman times and then a favored place of kings such as Charlemagne. Modern aficionados of geo-oddities also appreciated Aachen for its placement on the German side of the Belgium – Netherlands – Germany (BEDENL) tripoint, and prior to that as part of the quadripoint with the bizarre Neutral Moresnet "no man’s land" condominium.

Aaron, USA

Aaron, Indiana, USA

That still left a lot of white space between cities of a hundred thousand residents or more and the untold multitude of places with smaller populations. I continued to be hampered by a lack of prior research so I turned to the US Geological Survey’s Geographic Names Information System. It included a bunch of AAA stuff, primarily several small reservoirs called tanks in New Mexico, which I discounted. It also included an Aaberg School in South Dakota and the Aaberlite Mines in Colorado. Still, I couldn’t find a populated place that would come before Aachen in an alphabetical list.

I didn’t feel like running a bunch of separate queries because GNIS required a minimum of three letters when using a wildcard (e.g., I would have to search aaa*, aab*, aac* and so on if I wanted to check every combination starting with double-a). I took the easy route and figured there must be some place called Aaron. Sure enough, Aaron existed in four states, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky and Missouri. None of them was larger than a flyspeck. Only Aaron, Indiana had a Wikipedia entry and even that was limited to two simple sentences ("Aaron is an unincorporated community in Switzerland County, Indiana, in the United States. A post office was established at Aaron in 1871, and remained in operation until it was discontinued in 1907").

That was a long way of saying I was too lazy to figure out a location that would appear first on a list of populated places in the United States. I’ll throw Aaron out there as my guess and let someone else challenge it if so inclined.

Aasiwaskwasich, Québec, Canada


Natural Resources Canada actually provided an alphabetic list of place names, bless their hearts. I supposed that was feasible because there were fewer places named in Canada due to large swaths of lightly-populated territory. Canada included a former First Nation Village named Aa-at-sow-is in British Columbia, and that would have been a top contender, however I wanted to find an inhabited place, not something abandoned. The best I could find was Aasiwaskwasich, completely in the middle of nowhere near the eastern side of Hudson Bay.

But wait, the next entry was amusing even if it wasn’t a populated locality: Aass Indian Reserve 3 (map) in the Nootka Land District, Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Interestingly, there were no signs of Aass Indian Reserves 1 or 2. Nor did there appear to be a tribe of Aass Indians. Don’t check a search engine for Aass Indians, though. I did that and let’s just say one cannot unsee things once they’ve been revealed.

Completely Unrelated

Twelve Mile Circle received its first visit ever from Wallis and Futuna yesterday! I thought it would be nearly impossible and was genuinely surprised when it appeared. It’s a French collectivity in the South Pacific with only about 15,000 residents and most of them speak Polynesian languages or French. I’m not sure why they wanted to know more about Smokey and the Bandit’s Route although I will note that this page seems to attract a fairly steady stream of visitors for some unknown reason.

On June 7, 2015 · 7 Comments

7 Responses to “Head of the Class”

  1. The various towns named Å make for a interesting debate here. In their native Norwegian and Swedish, they come at of near the end of the alphabet, but in English, they’re right at the top of the list.

  2. Chris Black says:

    What about Aabenraa Denmark.?

    Would also be very close to the top of the list in a reverse dictionary!

  3. Kieren Valenti says:

    I was wondering where A dos Cunhados e Maceira (formerly just A dos Cunhados) in Portugal would feature. It struck me as funny that, with portuguese and galician being so similar, Brazil and Portugal aren’t full of places beginnining with the def. fem. article A. Or are they? I’m still searching..

  4. Rhodent says:

    I believe the hands-down winner would be a village in Estonia called Aa: https://www.google.com/maps/place/Aa,+43311+Ida-Viru+County,+Estonia/@59.424181,27.1473283,15z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m2!3m1!1s0x4694777b686b305d:0xa00b36f6fe4b1a0

    There is apparently a place in Japan called “A”, but of course Japanese uses a different writing system. Estonia uses the Latin alphabet, so it should be a valid answer.

    Aa is also the name of two rivers, one in the Netherlands and one in France.

  5. Calgully says:

    The place right at the start of the alphabetic list in Australia is A1 Settlement, sometimes known as A1 Mine and sometimes just as A1. Located in the Australian Alps east of Melbourne, depending how numerals are treated in the collating sequence this might be the very first in alphabetical sequence anywhere.

    See the town nameboard here https://www.google.com.au/maps/@-37.49626,146.199769,3a,53.6y,156.39h,85.24t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sLCPYTqgsbNt8lrMHqtX7Xw!2e0!6m1!1e1

    Then there’s the town in Queensland known as Seventeen-Seventy, which is often written as 1770 (all numerals). https://www.google.com.au/maps/@-24.167901,151.8837063,349m/data=!3m1!1e3

  6. January First-of-May says:

    Perhaps for transliteration reasons, Lebanon seems to have an awful lot of places starting with Aa, from Aarida to Aaitaroun (no alphabetic meaning intended in the choice, they just happened to be on roughly the opposite sides of the country).
    The first in alphabetical order seems to be Aaba – hard to top that this side of Aa; the next few are Aabadiye, Aabais, and Aabba (not to be confused with Aaba, apparently, though the Arabic versions appear to be identical).
    Either way, a list of Lebanese Aa… places, from Aaba to Aazziye, would be very long indeed (I won’t be surprised if there are more towns and villages starting with Aa in Lebanon than everywhere else in the world combined, though considering how relatively tiny Lebanon is there probably aren’t).

    The top place name with a Wikipedia article – counting only those that come after Aa – is Aaartali, supposedly in extreme southwestern Bangladesh (less than two miles from the border with Burma, um, Myanmar). Wikipedia refers to a geographic database in the entry, and the only Google hits I could find are essentially also database references, which makes me somewhat uncertain whether the place even actually exists (or, for that matter, whether it’s actually spelled that way).

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