What the?

On June 29, 2014 · 7 Comments

It couldn’t possibly be true, a place named for Dwayne Johnson a.k.a "The Rock", the professional wrestler and actor?


The ROCK

This guy had more than 7 million Twitter followers and he followed only one person, Muhammad Ali. That would indicate someone of immense popularity, and yet, could that be enough to get an entire town named for him?



The Rock, Georgia, USA

No, of course not. The Rock in Georgia was not named for Dwayne Johnson and I never figured that was a realistic possibility. I was simply amused by the weird juxtaposition of a professional wrestler and a populated place with the same name. Johnson didn’t have any association with the state or for the town as far as I could determine. Nonetheless I never considered that The Rock — the town — had anything to do with the Chick-fil-A fast food restaurant chain either. However it did, as improbable as that sounded.

The Rock in Georgia was named for The Rock Ranch, and:

The Rock Ranch is a beautiful 1,500 acre cattle ranch located about an hour south of Atlanta in Upson County. It’s a place where families, school groups and even businesses can come to enjoy what we call "agritourism." The Rock Ranch is owned by Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy and dedicated to "Growing Healthy Families"!

S. Truett Cathy and kin are no strangers to controversy. There’s no doubt that The Rock Ranch would have a strong opinion on those Healthy Families that it was dedicated to Growing, regardless of where one’s own personal feelings fell on that spectrum.


The Others


Bequia
Bequia by Globalgrasshopr, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

My tangential thought process led me to consider other placenames beginning with the definite article. It had to be unusual, I considered, and then I realized it may not have been all that rare even if it wasn’t the norm. A simple visit to the US Department of State’s A-Z List of Country and Other Areas demonstrated that quickly at a national level.

  • THE Bahamas
  • THE Congo (Republic of, and Democratic Republic of)
  • THE Gambia
  • Saint Vincent and THE Grenadines

The rule of thumb seemed to center upon entities named for something like a river or a group of islands. Those increased the likelihood of having the definite article tacked onto them. The Grenadines portion of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines fascinated me, I guess because Saint Vincent and the Grenadines included only a portion of the Grenadines. The largest island of the Grenadines, Carriacou, was actually a dependency of Grenada. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines had to settle for the second largest island, Bequia. Perhaps the name should be changed to Saint Vincent and Some of the Grenadines? It seemed like false advertising.

While not explicitly stated in the US Department of State list in this form, one often encounters THE Netherlands and THE Philippines too. I suppose while I’m at it I could add THE United States and THE United Kingdom. There used to be THE Ukraine although that began to shift to Ukraine by iteself after becoming an independent state in 1991.

Nonetheless I think the only two nations where the definite article would always be capitalized would be The Bahamas and The Gambia (vs. the United States and the United Kingdom, where lowercase would be acceptable in many circumstances). It all gets so confusing.


In the United Kingdom



I looked for instances of THE attached to placenames in many areas and found no nation with a greater prevalence than the United Kingdom. There must be hundreds of them. Some where quite remarkable such as The Burf, The Folly, The Glack, The Mumbles, and The Shoe. The best of course were the several places named The Butts because 12MC couldn’t resist another opportunity for lowbrow humor. This would be an appropriate time to turn on the video of Da Butt for some inspiration.

Many British placenames that sounded odd to the rest of us were rooted in things that made complete sense in their original context. English Heritage provided a logical explanation for The Butts:

An archery butts is an area of land given over to archery practise in which one or more artificially constructed mounds of earth and stone were used as a target area. The name originally applied to the dead marks or targets themselves but the earthen platforms on which the targets were placed also became known as butts… Archery butts can be recognised as field monuments through their earthwork mounds but documentary sources allow the best identification of archery butts, usually through place-names eg. Butt Hills… Archery butts are associated with the use and practise of the longbow which was in part responsible for England’s military power throughout the medieval period.

Thus, many of The Butts derived from archery fields although some did not: "The Middle English word ‘butt’ referred to an abutting strip of land, and is often associated with medieval field systems." In Britain, The Butts could have been associated with archery or with an odd leftover land remnant.

The Gazetteer of British Place listed two specific location of The Butts, one in Glamorgan, South Wales (map) and the other in Hampshire, England (map), although other sources listed more.

I noticed something interesting next to The Butts in Hampshire, Jane Austen’s House Museum. Jane Austen (1775–1817) resided here during the latter part of her life, where she wrote the novels Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion. She may have also revised drafts of Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey here as well. Thus it could be said that the famous author gazed upon The Butts regularly.

On June 29, 2014 · 7 Comments

7 Responses to “What the?”

  1. Jasper says:

    The Netherlands are missing.
    ‘The’ is only part of the name in foreign languages.
    The Netherlands. Les Pays Bas. Los Países Bajos. Die Niederlande.
    In Dutch, it’s just Nederland.
    I guess the difference is that the Dutch is singular, while the translations are plural.

  2. Calgully says:

    Seems there more than one Rock. (Who knew?)
    https://www.google.com.au/maps/@-35.2685038,147.110316,14z

    In Southern New South Wales, about midway between Australia’s two largest cities is the village of The Rock.

    So named for …. the rock https://www.google.com.au/maps/@-35.275523,147.102254,3a,75y,90t/data=!3m5!1e2!3m3!1s24750859!2e1!3e10

    I guess there’s not much else of note in the area.

  3. TB says:

    Funny how some place like The Dalles, Ore., always sticks out to me, but El Paso or El Segundo seem perfectly natural.

  4. Peter says:

    As I understand it, The Gambia uses the definite article to avoid being confused with Zambia.

  5. Bryan Armstrong says:

    There’s a few cities that always begin with “The”:

    - The Pas, Manitoba, Canada
    - The Woodlands, Texas, USA
    - The Hague, Netherlands

    • Jasper says:

      The Hague is English. In Dutch it’s Den Haag (The Hague) or ‘s Gravenhage (The count’s Hague).
      There’s a similar thing with the capital of the provence of Brabant: ‘s Hertogenbosch (The Duke’s forest), or Den Bosch. They prefer the long name though. The Hague does not care.

  6. Drake says:

    The Ukraine was called that because it means something like frontier or border in Russian. When it was firmly controlled by Moscow the name was heavily used, but fell out of favor as Ukraine began to assert itself and its independence lately. The Crimea is another one that isn’t used anymore, but was basically a shortening of the Crimean Peninsula, to just the Crimea.

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