Right Place – Wrong Side of the Atlantic

On January 16, 2011 · 10 Comments

I recently read the the Basement Geographer’s True Name Map of the West Kootenay/Boundary which in turn had been influenced by an earlier project from Kalimedia. I wondered how a detailed True Name map would look for my little corner of the world as I considered the project briefly. For now it remains on that large pile of unaccomplished things I hope to get to someday.

I did notice that a disproportionate number of place names in my area came across the Atlantic Ocean with the early European settlers, primarily the English. This makes sense as Virginia was a colony of England / Great Britain. A few names influenced by original Native American inhabitants remain — Potomac, from the Patowamek tribe, comes to mind — but most of those were brushed from the map along with the people.

Another thought crossed my mind as I gazed at the markers. Are there instances where place names moved in the opposite direction, from North America back into England? I suspected that it might be unusual, pushing hard against a tide of human migration, but I imagined it would be feasible. I started dropping random North American locations into the Gazetteer of British Place Names.

Anyone on the other end of that tool checking his website statistics would probably get a chuckle as he noticed my counter-intuitive queries such as Orlando, Las Vegas and Vancouver. I’ll bet he thought it was another woefully geo-ignorant American who couldn’t discern North America from the UK. Usually he’d be right, but not this time.

Then I started to receive a few unlikely hits.


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Philadelphia is a small village southwest of Sunderland in Tyne and Wear. I didn’t hold much hope that this Philadelphia might be named after the one in Pennsylvania. I thought it more likely that the naming came independently from the same Greek phrase for "brotherly love." I was wrong. The designation did cross the Atlantic in the opposite direction. I also learned a new word: colliery; which refers to a coal mine and it’s supporting buildings and equipment.

I’ll let The Northern Echo newspaper explain:

Philadelphia on Wearside derives from its larger namesake, The City of Brotherly Love, in Pennsylvania… a local mine owner gave the name to his colliery to commemorate a British victory in the American War of Independence… When names such as Philadelphia occur in England, they usually derive from an old name for a field. A field that is situated furthest from a farmhouse is often given a name such as Nova Scotia, Philadelphia or California to emphasise its distance. In most parts of the country, such field names go unnoticed, but in our region colliery towns and villages often sprang up in the neighbourhood and took the name of the field. Colliery owners also sometimes chose exotic names for their collieries, and this is why we find places in the North-East called Toronto, Quebec and New York.

That’s similar to terms used generically on the American side of the Atlantic to reference distant places such as "the back 40," Siberia or “East Bum–" (well, you get the idea). The article also explained that the local cricket field is called "Bunker Hill" to commemorate another British victory (sort-of) during the same war. I noticed they didn’t have anything commemorating the Battle of Yorktown, however.


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There are a few minor places in England named California. They fall primarily into the explanation provided above from what I can determine. One California location north of Great Yarmouth in Norfolk has a more precise lineage.

According to a local tavern named after the village, "Around 1840 a group of beachmen from Winterton moved south and established the California settlement which was so named because of Gold coins being found in the cliffs at the time of the California Gold Rush." Another source says even more precisely, "On May 11th, 1848 a quantity of sixteenth century gold coins was found at the foot of the cliffs near Scratby by local beachmen. At the same time the California gold rush in America was much in the news. The beachmen decided that their new village needed a name – and California, Norfolk came into being."

Truth or legend? Who knows. It’s the Intertubes after all.


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I thought variations on America might be more popular but I found only a single refrence in the Gazetteer, for America Moor outside of Leeds in Yorkshire. I couldn’t find America Moor as a distinct place on a map. Be careful if you search for this on your own because Google confuses it with cinematic content that’s inappropriate for this website. The only remnant appears to be an obscure street called America Moor Lane.

I couldn’t trace a history. It could be named directly for Amerigo Vespucci for all I know.

Not an example, but amusing nonetheless

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New York and Boston are towns in Lincolnshire. This New York was named after the York in England, and this Boston gave its name to the one in Massachusetts so they don’t fit the backwards naming convention. However this may be the only time one can drive from New York to Boston in only twenty minutes — and heading south!

Totally Unrelated: an interesting article in the Washington Post today, "D.C. area and Dixie drifting farther and farther apart." It discusses both the use of Dixie as a business names and the Sweet Tea Line. I’ve mentioned sweet tea before. I personally seem to provide anecdotal evidence to support the premise. I was born south of the Sweet Tea Line and today I live north of the line. I am a sweet tea drinker in a foreign land where it’s practically unavailable. The straight-line distance from birthplace to my current residence is less than four miles.

On January 16, 2011 · 10 Comments

10 Responses to “Right Place – Wrong Side of the Atlantic”

  1. Peter says:

    Another source says even more precisely, “On May 11th, 1848 a quantity of sixteenth century gold coins was found at the foot of the cliffs near Scratby by local beachmen. At the same time the California gold rush in America was much in the news. The beachmen decided that their new village needed a name – and California, Norfolk came into being.”

    Doubtful, I’d have to say. That would have been less than four months after the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill. In those day before modern transportation and communications it’s difficult to imagine how the news could have traveled several thousand miles so quickly.

    • I thought of that possibility but then considered that they may have named the village a year or two after the coins were found, when both the coins and the Gold Rush were still fresh in their minds. Or the date is wrong. Or the story is total bull. Any of those is possible, I suppose.

  2. wangi says:

    Okay; not England and not North America… But how about Scotland and Central America – Portobello vs Porto Belo (there are a few more such occurrences in former colonies; a result of places being named after the 1739 naval battle).

    It’s splitting hairs to state that I live in Portobello or the adjacent Joppa – but that’s another transported name. Thus time from Jaffa (Joppa) in Israel.

    An oasis of imported names surrounded by traditional ones!

  3. James D says:

    On the not-an-example level, it always makes me smile entering Birmingham from the south to go past Hollywood. Of course, this seems actually to be a descriptive name that predates the American film industry by some centuries, but it is still fun.

  4. Robin says:

    There are two villages in Germany called Amerika (the German spelling for America) and a town called Kalifornien (German for California). According to Wikipedia the Amerikas were both named in the 19th century for being difficult to reach like the real America and Kalifornien was named for a ship called California that wrecked off the coast there.

  5. Matt says:

    There’s also a Pennsylvania, England; an Amerika in the Czech Republic; and an area called “Czech Canada” (Ceska Kanada).

  6. Tom Robinson says:

    What might feel more uncomfortable about Dixie and the Sweet Tea Line moving south, is what it really implies is that The South itself is getting smaller. As a hopeless Yankee, I am delighted to learn this.

  7. Ian says:

    There is a small village in County Wicklow in Ireland called Hollywood. The Gaelic version of the name is completely different so I think they must have copied the name from it’s namesake in L.A. Funnily enough for a while they had the Hollywood letters painted up on the hillside above the village albeit far smaller than the real Hollywood sign.

  8. Ian Dunbar says:

    On the road along the coast south of Rome, towards Anzio, there are towns (optimistically) named Nuova Florida and Nuova California. As someone originally from New Zealand, I was delighted to see this ‘reverse colonisation’.

  9. I visited New York once, on a rainy Sunday evening. It was closed.

    Pimlico has been said to be the first place-name transferred from the New World to the Old, or at least to England.

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