Heterogram Place Names

On March 29, 2012 · 7 Comments

It’s not only geography that makes a place unique. It can also be an unusual array of letters forming its name, for example like I featured awhile ago on Place Name Palindromes.

I traveled down a several-hours tangent recently in search of heterogram place names, where each letter of the alphabet is used only a single time. "Utah" would demonstrate that principle. U, T, A and H are all used a single time without any repetition. It’s a particularly lame occurrence — just four letters — used simply for illustrative purposes. Go ahead and start thinking of longer ones while I set the stage.



Utah — a four letter heterogram

Let’s begin with some definitions.

A pangram is a sentence or phrase that uses every letter of the alphabet. Repeats are allowable but fewer repetitions are more impressive. "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog" is a pangram many of us learned when we first began to type. A perfect pangram uses all 26 letters only once. Perfect pangrams in English don’t even look like English. "Cwm fjord veg balks nth pyx quiz" is an example. There may be pangram place names if one considers ridiculous layers of government: Francis Quarles Story Neighborhood Historic District, City of Phoenix, Maricopa County, Arizona, United States of America picks up some of the more difficult letters but even that one doesn’t get all 26.

An isogram doesn’t have to use every letter, but the letters it does use have to occur the same number of times. The word "noon" is a very simple example where N and O are each used twice. Some would call that a second-order isogram. A heterogram is a first-order isogram. Each letter is used only once. If a single word with twenty-six different letters existed in some alternate universe, it would be the longest possible heterogram and first-order isogram. It would also be a perfect pangram. Got all that?



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I went in search of heterogram place names. The best I could do on my own was Spaulding, a town of about six-hundred people outside of Springfield, Illinois. It features nine different letters with no repetitions.

Then I proved to myself once again that I have no original ideas. I turned to the search engines and learned that others have already mined this concept with considerably better results. I discovered "Colloquy" from the May 1, 2003 edition of Word Ways. I’ll steal examples from that definitive source from here-on-out. One should refer to the article to see citations for people who should get all of the credit for finding particular instances.

Word Way gave greater credence to place names that were included within the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s GEOnet Names Server (GNS) database. That seemed reasonable. I tried to check on some of the others and I’m not convinced they would qualify as meaningful places.

Malitzschkendorf (sixteen letters) in Germany may be the longest heterogram place name. It’s listed in the GNS database but even this one barely appears on any online map. Bing Maps was the only major site that labeled its location explicitly. There’s also a minor controversy. Malitzschkendorf with a Z is a variant spelling. The more accepted spelling is Malitschkendorf, reducing it to fifteen letters. That’s still quite remarkable.



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Apparently only one other place name heterogram with fifteen letters exists in the GNS database: Gumpoldskirchen, a town in Austria. This one at least appears in Google Maps. It has 3,500 residents and is noted for its vineyards.



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The longest English-language heterogram place name is believed to be Bricklehampton, a village in Worcestershire, England. It contains fourteen different letters. The Guardian featured Bricklehampton in a 2007 article, What’s so special about Bricklehampton?:

The interesting question is: which is the longest isogrammatic place-name in English? Eventually, I found it – a small village in Worcestershire called Bricklehampton. Its 14 letters make it the longest such name in the language. Maybe there’s a place in the middle of Canada or Australia that beats Brickle-hampton, but I haven’t yet found it.

I’d be interested to see any original pangrams, isograms or heterograms not already listed on the Intertubes. Can the 12MC audience rise to the challenge? Can anyone find that elusive place in the middle of Canada or Australia (or elsewhere)?

On March 29, 2012 · 7 Comments

7 Responses to “Heterogram Place Names”

  1. Snabelabe says:

    The longest heterogram place name in Belgium is Wadelincourt with 12 different letters, second comes Zwijndrecht with 11 letters. Third place is for Kampenhout with 10 different letters.

  2. Greg says:

    Fort Wayne?

  3. Pete says:

    I quickly thought of Australia for stuff like this. There are a lot of near-isograms there (second-order), it seems, like Boggabilla, Cunnamulla, Kapooka, Tumbarumba, Wallaroo, and Yagoonya. I managed to find one actual isogram, Woy Woy, but it’s not as impressive as others.

  4. Doug R. says:

    There seems to be a very nice phone booth in Bricklehampton, just about 90 degrees to the left in your street view image. It seems a little out of place — maybe Danger Mouse moved there in his retirement years.

  5. January First-of-May says:

    Switzerland is probably the best among countries – 11 different letters.
    Tommot, in Yakutia (Russia), is a second-order isogram. Shortish, I know. Also a palindromic placename (somehow missing from the Wikipedia article).
    The town of Big Flats, New York, is likely to be the longest heterogram place name in the USA if the state is included, at 15 letters; I haven’t quite had the time to check all 900-something towns in New York, but it’s fairly likely that the record is there (I did check the Florida and Wyoming lists, and Texas is unlikely).

  6. Mike says:

    Speaking of pangrams, it seem that one evening Ceaser and his legion were camped next to a Norwegian waterway. All of a sudden 15 nubile mermaids appeared and asked the soldiers to dance on the water with them. The New York Times Roman correspondent, who was embedded in the legion, cabled 26 different letters back to his editor – “XV quick nymphs beg fjord waltz”.

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