I joked as I wrote More Presidential County Sorting that no county will likely ever be named for disgraced former U.S. President Richard Milhous Nixon who resigned in 1974 in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal. That led me to wonder, well, had anything ever been named for him? Maybe I was being overly harsh? Actually I learned that if someone would like to undertake one of the loneliest search engine queries in history, try variations on "named for [after, in honor of] Richard [M] Nixon." There were precious few results.
Nixon and Elvis via Wikimedia Commons in the public domain
The pickings were so slim that I had a difficult time finding photos to illustrate the article so I decided to use this iconic image of Richard Nixon meeting Elvis Presley in 1970. Enjoy that for a little while as I attempt to unspool the very small set of actual confirmed places named for Tricky Dick.
Yorba Linda, California
I began with the obvious.
Yes, naturally there was a Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum that was named for Richard Nixon (map). Obviously that was true by definition so I’m not even sure it should count. It was established in Yorba Linda, California, the town where Hannah Milhous Nixon gave birth to a son in 1913.
Looking northwest along garden at museum – Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum by Tim Evanson, on Flickr (cc)
Nixon established his presidential library on land adjacent to his childhood home, a prominent feature of the museum complex. There used to be a Richard Nixon elementary school nearby although it closed in 1988 due to declining enrollment. Nixon had the distinction of being the president who died farthest from his birthplace (as proven by 12MC — a great circle distance of 2,436 miles / 3,920 kilometers). He made up for that by being buried on the grounds of his library within feet of his birthplace.
In addition, a stretch of Imperial Highway through Yorba Linda was renamed The Richard M. Nixon Parkway.
Twelve Mile Circle wasn’t overly surprised to see a few Nixon tributes scattered about his home town. What about other places though?
Elsewhere In the United States
Nixon Elementary School & Park, Hiawatha, Iowa
Loyal 12MC reader Calgully noted that in Australia they don’t name things for living people just in case they become embarrassments later. Those were wise words indeed, a fact that others should have considered before referencing Nixon.
There were plenty of features named Nixon although usually for different Nixons. It wasn’t an entirely uncommon surname. Most of them made it clear that they were NOT named for Richard Nixon. However I found two elementary schools definitely named for Richard Nixon, both bestowed before he became a national disgrace. The school district in Hiawatha, Iowa opened Richard M. Nixon Elementary School in 1970. The adjacent park had the same name. Another Nixon Elementary School was built in Roxbury Township in Landing, New Jersey (map). Nowhere on its website did it mention that it was named for that Nixon although clearly it was. I’d try to ignore or deny it too.
Other than that I saw a reference to a "President Richard Nixon’s Iowa Ancestor Historical Marker" listed in the Geographic Names Information System. It was located in the Independent Order of Odd Fellows Cemetery, Indianola, Iowa (map). I also found a few minor streets. That was it.
International tributes were even more scarce. I found a mention of Richard M. Nixon High School, in Monrovia, Liberia in the Autobiography of John Wulu, Sr.
I wrote him a letter. In my letter I stated, "Mr. President, to you defeat means success. You were defeated two times for the office of the President, you did not allow that to deter or discourage you… My entire family and I have strong admiration for you… I decided to rename my school in your honor and call it Richard M. Nixon Institute. The school is located in Monrovia, the capital city of Liberia, West Africa." President Nixon replied to my letter through the American Embassy in Monrovia, Liberia, and said it was okay for me to name my school in his honor.
The school still existed as recently as February 2015. It was mentioned in a BBC article, "Ebola outbreak: Liberia schools reopen after six months."
There also used to be a Nixon Library in Hong Kong according to the U.S. National Archives. Nixon visited Hong Kong while he was Vice Presidential in 1953.
The First Nixon Library — Except for its name, there was little remarkable about the modest library that stood in the neighborhood of Yuen Long on the outskirts of Hong Kong from 1954 until 1977. It held only a few thousand books and employed just one librarian, and its patrons were mostly schoolchildren, farmers, and shopkeepers. Nevertheless, the humble building was a monument to Richard Nixon.
Nixon passed through Hong Kong several times after his initial visit, and even toured the library in person in 1966. He may not have been there to see the library though. There were rumors that he was having an affair.
In Popular Culture
The Simpsons Springfield expansion phase 2 at Universal Orlando by Ricky Brigante, on Flickr (cc)
I discovered an entire list of pop culture references to Nixon. My favorite one by far drew inspiration from his middle name, Milhous. The writers of The Simpsons added an "e" to his name to create the character Milhouse (full name Milhouse Mussolini Van Houten).
Many longtime Twelve Mile Circle readers probably already guessed that this article that would come next. Immediately after a story about the beginning of the alphabet, naturally one would expect to find one about the end. It became an equally difficult task too, except for the most notable location.
Take a moment to ponder this insect.
Zyzzyx chilensis by Pato Novoa, on Flickr (cc)
Zyzzyx chilensis, a type of sand wasp native to Argentina, Chile, and Peru, gained its name in the 1930’s. Flies would view this creature as particularly nasty and formidable. This wasp had a peculiar habit of laying its eggs on flies, which then hatched and consumed its host parasitically as larvae grew. I thought it sounded pretty gruesome.
Don’t worry, I haven’t gone completely off the deep end just yet. What may seem completely irrelevant actually helps establish context. Every site I examined included Zzyzx (spelled slightly differently than the name of the wasp) as the final entry on any alphabetical list of place names. Actually, it was the only entry. Like Zyzzyx chilensis, it preyed upon the weak and helpless in a parasitic manner as readers will soon see.
Zzyzx, California, USA
Zzyzx by Leif Harboe, on Flickr (cc)
I couldn’t find a definite connection between Zyzzyx chilensis and the settlement of Zzyzx (map) although the timing seemed oddly coincidental. The former Soda Springs became Zzyzx in the 1940’s, during the same basic time period. However I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about it for a couple of reasons. First, every oddball website mentioned Zzyzx so I didn’t have anything new to add. Second, it was a contrived name designed specifically to place it at the end of any alphabetical list. Zzyzx cheated.
A self-proclaimed minister-slash-doctor named Curtis Springer created Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Resort on the western edge of the Mohave desert between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. He promised all sorts of miracle cures and made piles of money. It was a complete fraud including the alleged "hot springs" he heated with a boiler. Springer didn’t even own the land. The government removed him from his desert domain in the 1970’s. After that Zzyzx became the Desert Studies Center for California State University, Fullerton so at least some good came from it. Roadside America had a particularly nice summary.
Everything about Zzyzx was fake including its name. Nonetheless, I couldn’t find any other place that began with a Double-Z, and it will likely remain alone until someone decides to honor ZZ Top.
Beginning with ZY
Żywiec polish beer in Warsaw (Warszawa) by Ulf Liljankoski, on Flickr (cc)
I jumped farther down the alphabet for places beginning with ZY. There were several waiting to be found. Żywiec, Poland seemed to be the most significant. It had a population of a little more than thirty thousand and its own brand of beer. The Żywiec Brewery had a nice range of beverages although I couldn’t figure out much because the website was entirely in Polish — not that I’m complaining since it should be in Polish — just that my navigation was less than elegant as I guessed randomly and hoped for cognates.
Zyryanka (map) in the Sakha Republic of Russia also deserved a mention primarily because the 12MC Complete Index Map lacked decent coverage of Russia. I didn’t even know if the Russian name (Зырянка) would be remarkable in its native language or not. Anyway, the settlement apparently dated back to the 1930’s to serve local coal mines, and other than that was probably more notable for its remoteness and frigid temperatures.
Beginning with ZW
Beautiful view of Zwolle at night by Ley, on Flickr (cc)
I didn’t find any ZX places although there were plenty of ZW’s as I worked my way back down the alphabet. There were too many to discuss although here’s a small sampling:
- Zwönitz, Germany (map): a smallish town in Saxony founding nearly a thousand years ago.
- Zwolle, Netherlands (map): the Province of Overijssel’s capital city, perhaps the most predominant ZW location with more than 125 thousand residents.
- Zwicky, Canada (map): an unincorporated area (railway point) in Kootenay Land District, British Columbia
Feel free to nominate your favorites.
I noted the inherent redundancy of places named River Ouse in England. The literal translation worked out to something like Water River or even River River. Similar repetitions occurred likewise wherever one language overlapped another as new settlers migrated into territory occupied and named previously by earlier cultures. I found a discussion of the Ouse situation specifically on the Stack Exchange English Language & Usage website, including one particularly fascinating comment that illustrated a similar point using a different English location:
Steam Under Pendle Hill by Andrew, on Flickr (cc)
There are other similar anomalies in place names in the British Isles. One of my favourites is Pendle Hill. The word ‘pen’ means hill. Later, the next incomers changed the hill’s name to ‘Pendle’, meaning ‘hill hill’. And then the next incomers, not knowing the etymology (and sadly lacking an internet) called it Pendle Hill or ‘hill hill hill’, so Pendle Hill really, really, really is a hill, because anything said three times is the truth.
In Pendle Hill’s case (map), it came from the Cumbric pen in its earliest form, then combined with Old English hyll to form Pendle, then later appended with the modern English hill. Pen, Hyll and Hill all meant the same thing essentially. There was another place in England, Torpenhow Hill, that was alleged to translate to Hill, Hill, Hill, Hill, however its etymology was debunked. What a pity.
Wikipedia contained a long list of similar tautological place names; "A place name is tautological if two differently sounding parts of it are synonymous. This often occurs when a name from one language is imported into another and a standard descriptor is added on from the second language." Dictionaries described tautology as a logical or rhetorical redundancy that applied broadly; much more widely than just geography.
The frequency of tautological place names surprised me. They included familiar names like Mississippi River (Mississippi being Algonquian for Big River, making it Big River River) and Lake Michigan (Michigan coming from Ojibwa via French mispronunciation as Large Lake, making it Lake Large Lake).
I stole a handful of examples from the very expansive list and ruminated upon them further.
Chora, Astypalaia by Henrik Berger Jørgensen, on Flickr (cc)
The Dodecanese Islands (map) in the Aegean Sea formed Greece’s southeastern extreme. The largest and most well know was probably Rhodes, famed since ancient times for the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the original Seven Wonders of the World. The island of Kos also had a lengthy pedigree and was even mentioned by name in Homer’s Iliad. Still another, Patmos, was where the apostle John wrote the biblical Book of Revelation
s. Clearly there were renowned places amongst the Dodecanese Islands. The major islands within the group numbered twelve in total plus numerous smaller island.
Dodecanese was Greek (Δωδεκάνησα) for Twelve Islands, so the commonly Anglicized place name was equivalent to Twelve Islands Islands.
Lake Hayq by Manogamos, Algunas veces Mujeres Violentas, on Flickr (cc)
I selected the next example in Ethiopia because, frankly, I wanted to put a push-pin on Ethiopia on my Complete Index map. Africa had been sadly underrepresented on 12MC. I need to add more. Lake Hayq (map) offered an excellent opportunity. Plus it gave me an excuse to write Hayq in that funky Ge’ez script used by Ethiopians: ሐይቅ
Hayq had an interesting creation myth:
According to a local legend, the lake was created to avenge a pregnant woman who was wronged by a princess. God was greatly angered by this injustice, and in his wrath turned all of the land surrounding the woman (except the ground she was sitting on) into water forming a lake, destroying the princess along with her friends and family in the process. Where the pregnant woman was sitting became an island (now a peninsula) where Istifanos Monastery, founded in the middle of the 13th century by Iyasus Mo’a, is located.
Hayq was Amharic for lake, so calling it Lake Hayq was equivalent to calling it Lake Lake.
La Brea Tar Pits
La Brea Tar Pits – Los Angeles, California by ashabot, on Flickr (cc)
I visited La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, California a number of years ago (map). It made the list for that simple reason. I found it oddly wonderful that I was able to visit an important paleontological site in such a completely urban environment. Natural deposits of tar oozed up to the surface over thousands of years. Sometimes leaves or dust would blow across the surface making it appear solid and indistinguishable from surrounding terrain. Along would wander some Ice Age critter stumbling into the tar, unable to extricate itself, and die. Repeat that innumerable times and scientists are still removing their bones for study today.
The Rancho La Brea biota is one of the world’s richest and most diverse late Pleistocene terrestrial assemblages. At the last census, in 1992, the collection exceeded 3.5 million specimens. The diversity of species (~ 600), the quality of preservation, and the large numbers of specimens makes this collection invaluable for the study and understanding of the end of the last Ice Age in North America. Rancho La Brea is perhaps best known for its extensive holdings of carnivorans, of which dire wolves (Canis dirus), saber-toothed cats (Smilodon fatalis), and coyotes (Canis latrans) predominate among the 60 plus species of mammals.
La Brea was Spanish for The Tar, so La Brea Tar Pits meant The Tar Tar Pits. Oftentimes, compounding this, sources referred to the site as The La Brea Tar Pits (even the museum located on the site called itself "Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits." on one of its pages). That would make it The The Tar Tar Pits.