On May 4, 2017 · 1 Comments

Calling someone a moron would be offensive, maybe even fighting words. It derived from Greek for stupid or foolish, and later came down through Latin with a similar meaning, then finally passed along to modern languages. I knew it retained that meaning when it came to English, certainly more widely recognized than the colloquial use of something like Nimrod. However, it couldn’t mean the same thing universally across other languages. Still, it surprised me to see a Moron in Haiti. They wouldn’t name a town Moron unless it meant something other than moron would they?

Moron, Grand’Anse, Haiti

Moron, Haiti after Hurricane Matthew
Moron, Haiti after Hurricane Matthew. Photo by CDC Global on Flickr (cc)

I spotted Moron (map) as I researched the ladylike place of Dame Marie, both of them found in Haiti’s Grand’Anse department. Very little information existed about either location. I did learn that people from Moron call themselves Moronais. Unfortunately Haitians had more to be concerned about than posting information about obscure settlements on the Intertubes. Hurricane Matthew devastated the entire Southern Peninsula. At least 85 people died in Moron in a situation described as apocalyptic. Only 25,000 people lived in Moron so the deaths represented a horrific toll.

I imagined Moron must have meant something different in French or Creole although I couldn’t figure it out.

Morón de la Frontera, Spain

Moron de la Frontera
Moron de la Frontera. Photo by G B on Flickr (cc)

A Spanish translation offered better possibilities. Morón de la Frontera in Seville seemed to be the most noteworthy example out of several in the Spanish speaking world (map). Morón meant Hummock, as in a little knoll or mound. Alternately, people of Moorish ancestry dominated the area around Morón de la Frontera from the 8th through 13th Centuries. That possibly influenced the name as well. The Frontera portion of its name referred to its placement on the border with Grenada. Morón sat on a frontier during this period.

Morón, Argentina

Argentina contained a substantial Morón within the larger Buenos Aires metropolitan area. Nobody really knew how this one got its name either. It could have come from the name of an early landowner; it could have come from Morón de la Frontera, or possibly from some other source. The town became very prosperous over time and later became the site of the Universidad de Morón. Moron University would seem to be an oxymoron in English, although I assumed it was a solid institution without any stigma in its native Spanish.

Lac de Moron, France/Switzerland

Lac de Moron
Lac de Moron. Photo by Denis De Mesmaeker on Flickr (cc)

Back in Europe, along the border between France and Switzerland, stood Lac de Moron (map). The Doubs River began in the Jura Mountains, a portion of the Western Alps. From there it flowed into the Saône River, then onward into the Rhône. A portion of the Doubs flowed through a steep valley and it seemed to be a great place to build a dam for a reservoir. The Châtelot Dam was built in 1953, creating Lac de Moron, shared between the Doubs department of France and the Swiss canton of Neuchâtel. It generated electricity for both nations.

Mörön, Mongolia

Moron 2008 on Wikimedia Commons (cc)

Not all moron locations got their names from European words or place names. I found a rather substantive Mörön in Mongolia (map). It actually meant "river" and locals pronounced it something like mu-roon, not moron. Nonetheless, I didn’t have a lot of Mongolian sites on my Complete Index Page so I kept it on the list. This one didn’t exist until the early Nineteenth Century. Here, along the Delgermörön river, rose the Möröngiin Khuree monastery. A settlement later grew around it as the years passed. Eventually Mörön became the capital of the Khövsgöl province, with more than thirty thousand residents. Surprisingly, I noticed it even had Street View coverage.

It made me wonder about places in the English-speaking world that sounded rude or insulting in foreign languages. Does anyone know of any?

Even More Ladylike Places

On April 16, 2017 · 3 Comments

Most readers probably anticipated that after slogging through Manly Places, Even More Manly Places, and Ladylike Places, that the next in this series would be Even More Ladylike Places. That seemed absolutely necessary in my mind so I could create symmetry and closure. However I’d written a variation on this theme already with the recently-published Ladysmith. I tried to keep things on the more obscure side this time around, sidestepping better known ladies by design.

Ladies of the Reef

lady elliot island viewed from the west
lady elliot island viewed from the west. Photo by wo de shijie on Flickr (cc)

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef offered a case in point. I noticed a couple of different islands that fit this topic. Lady Musgrave Island (map) took its name from the wife of a colonial administrator, Sir Anthony Musgrave. He served as governor of South Australia 1873–1877 and then of Queensland 1883–1888. From those dates, Lady Musgrave must have been his second wife, Jeanie Lucinda Field. I don’t know how she ended-up in Australia. She was born in New York City.

Another spot along the reef became Lady Elliot Island (map). This one featured a roundabout derivation. Lady Elliot definitely existed although I don’t think she ever set foot in Australia. She married Sir Hugh Elliot, governor of Madras, 1814–1820, then a crown colony on the Indian subcontinent. I’m going to go out on a limb and say she was probably Margaret Jones, his second wife, because his first marriage ended in divorce long before his diplomatic career took off.

However, the name of Lady Elliot Island didn’t come from Lady Elliot directly. It came from the name of a ship. Captain Thomas Stuart, commanding a ship registered in India and named for the lady in question, first spotted the island in 1816. Later, on the return voyage, the ship struck a reef farther up the coast. It sank and everyone died. That dangerous feature also got its name at that time, Lady Elliot Reef (map).

The White Lady of Brandberg

Namibia 2016 (228 of 486)
Namibia 2016. Photo by Joanne Goldby on Flickr (cc)

Namibia’s highest point of elevation occurred at the Königstein (King’s Stone) on Brandberg Mountain. The mountain hid a secret, the renowned White Lady. Indigenous people, probably bushmen and probably living two or more thousand years ago, drew representations of their world in thousands of images. Much of their artwork survived in remote, dry, desolate corners of the Namib Desert (map).

One image in particular caught the imagination of archaeologists and then tourists after its rediscovery in 1918. It showed what appeared to be a shaman in white, in an energetic ritual dance. Researchers noticed its similarity to depictions that came from Egypt and the Mediterranean during a similar time period, although that proved to be coincidental. Nonetheless the White Lady continued to captivate many who gazed upon it. Ironically, later interpretations seemed to demonstrate pretty conclusively that the lady was actually a man.

Lady’s Island Lake

Our Lady's Island
Our Lady's Island. Photo by Emmet & Kathy on Flickr (cc)

A little village in Ireland’s County Wexford got its name, Our Lady’s Island, hundreds of years ago in reverence to the Virgin Mary. As the village explained,

Tradition has always existed that Our Lady’s Island was founded by St Abban, nephew of St Ibar, in the sixth century and its reputation as a place of pilgrimage and of devotion to Our Lady was established by or before the year 600 A.D.

However, I decided to focus on the lake (map) where the little village — now connected to the mainland — grew and prospered. Perhaps not too creatively, it came to be known as Lady’s Island Lake. The lake more properly qualified as a "back-barrier seepage lagoon." Various sources on the Intertubes claimed only one other lake in Ireland fit that same definition. I couldn’t prove it so I’ll just leave it at that.

The lake doesn’t have a natural outlet although water seeps into it from the ocean, creating brackish conditions. It offered a great environment for birds such as Sandwich Terns and Roseate Terns. Occasionally the barrier between sea and lake must be breached.

Breaching of the barrier, which has been carried out since at least the 17th century, is needed to relieve flooding of farmland and also the pilgrimage route around Lady’s Island. The cut is made in Spring when water levels are highest and the water level then falls until the lake becomes tidal for variable lengths of time. The practice has become contentious, however, because water levels sometimes fall too low, allowing predators to cross over the exposed bed of the lake to the important tern nesting sites.

I’m surprised they hadn’t figured out a way to accommodate both the birds and the pilgrims.


I could look for ladies in other languages, too! Dames seemed reasonable. I probably could have written an entire article on the hundreds of places and features named Notre Dame ("Our Lady," for the Virgin Mary). It might have featured the university in Indiana, the cathedral in Paris or the island in Montréal.

Instead I focused on Dame Marie (map) in Haiti. Twelve Mile Circle included very little Haitian coverage so this offered a rare opportunity for me to add a pushpin to my Complete Index Map. Otherwise I found very little information about Dame Marie. It fell pretty much at the end of the road, about as far west on Haiti as one could travel. Unfortunately Hurricane Matthew damaged it rather extensively in October 2016. Hopefully Dame Marie will recover.

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An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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