It struck me that Cheyenne (the capital city of the U.S. state of Wyoming) and Cayenne (the capital city of the French overseas department of Guyane française) sounded remarkably similar in name. Yet, as locations go they couldn’t have been much more dissimilar even though they were separated by only a couple of letters and a slight voice inflection.
The Old West came to mind when I thought of Cheyenne.
Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo 2014-8 by enjoiskate8, on Flickr (cc)
Cheyenne’s name derived from Native Americans of Algonquian origin that migrated across the Great Plains in the 19th Century. Today they are located in Montana (Northern Cheyenne Nation) and Oklahoma (Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes). The etymology wasn’t entirely clear. Many believed that the name came from a Dakota Sioux phrase for the Cheyenne that was adopted by incoming settlers of European descent. It also seemed like a fine name for a town when those same settlers began rolling into Wyoming in force and platted a village in 1867.
The city of Cheyenne grew and prospered enough to become the capital of Wyoming in 1890 at statehood. Nonetheless, Wyoming remained largely rural, with open countryside dotted by cattle ranches, cowboys and romantic notions along those lines.
Cayenne, on the other hand, settled as it was on coastal South America, absorbed a decidedly equatorial flavor like the fiery red hot pepper named for it.
Cayenne, Carnival 2013 (1) by Andrea Privitera, on Flickr (cc)
Etymologically, Cayenne derived from Guyana, a name for the larger geographic region on the northeastern edge of the continent. In turn, Guyana likely came from an indigenous term for "land of many waters." Interestingly both Cheyenne and Cayenne had their basis in indigenous New World languages although their similarity would have to be coincidental since their language families were completely different.
I turned it into a little game. I began a brief quest to see if I could discover any other geographic designations substantially similar in pattern or pronunciation while remarkably distinct in just about every other respect. I found another good one. How about Dallas, Texas and Đà Lạt, Vietnam? Those two places would seem to exhibit tremendous differences.
Pioneer Park Cattle Drive by Mike Desisto, on Flickr (cc)
I returned to the cattle and cowboy theme for Dallas. Then maybe added a few oil wells, made the cattle a longhorn, threw in a dash of J.R. Ewing, and maybe some barbeque sauce along with a few more selected cultural stereotypes. Compare that with…
Linh Son Pagoda by Samson_Cheong_Kok_Chun, on Flickr (cc)
… Asian culture, Buddhist temples and rice paddies. Thus, Đà Lạt was about as far away from Dallas in every manner imaginable except alphabetically so that should be a pretty high score. If I was keeping score.
That’s how the game was played.
Some Other Examples
I spent more time than I’d care to admit trying to come up with other meaningful pairs. Some were vaguely clever and some were completely absurd.
- Giza vs. Pisa: Considerably different although they both featured iconic structures; pyramids in the first instance and a leaning tower in the latter.
- New York vs. Newark: Residents of those respective locales would likely argue that they shouldn’t be confused, however their differences didn’t approach anything like North America vs. Asia.
- Santiago vs. San Diego: Here my creativity began to wane. The two didn’t sound all that much alike.
- Paris vs. Ferris: Well, that was definitely a stretch. Ferris was a town in Texas with 2,500 residents. I hardly considered that a household name so this one began to look like desperation on my part. It got worse.
- Manila vs. Vanilla. Now I’m joking of course although there actually was a Vanilla in Pennsylvania according to GNIS (at 39.7781488°, -77.8505523°). I included this one only because I thought Manila folders were called Vanilla folders when I was a kid. In my defense those folders did seem to have the correct approximate color, kind of a milky tan/yellow like the ice cream. It took me years to figure out that I was butchering the name.
That was fun although I ran out of ideas. This is where the Twelve Mile Circle audience can get involved. Please feel free to be creative and suggest better alternatives. I wonder if there are any triple examples?