Friday, May 13, 2011

What's in a Name?

When I moved into my Lincoln Park condo in the beginning of the summer of 1997, I was a little puzzled buy the name of the development: "Society Hill II". This puzzlement stemmed from the lack of any sign of a “Society Hill I”.  Besides, I often joked (I thought), once I show up and start juggling axes, they'll be sure to change the "hoity toity" name to something with a little more pizzazz. Well, be careful what you wish for, folks.  A letter came with a quarterly maintenance bill a couple of years later asking for suggestions for a new name, as “Society Hill I” next door had been changed to “Deer Run” a while ago. ("Aha!" I said. (Not out loud though, I only talk to myself in writing, in case it comes up later in court.))  Finally feeling some control over my own domicile’s destiny I quickly whipped off a list of ten suggestions, filled with powerful names from Norse mythology, the tales of Conan, and Arthurian legend.  I was convinced that I now had a chance to live somewhere whose name would boldly leap off the map, declaring a true sense of power and history.

In the immortal words of Sir Winston Churchill..."no."

The list of sixty suggested names that came in a later mailing displayed a pronounced lack of Bilskirnir's, Aquilonia's, Lyoness's, or any of my suggestions for that matter.  Instead they were a group of labels that sounded like they were invented by the "Yuppie Society for Political Correctness to Insure a Boring Future for our Children".  This, of course, spells YSFPCTIBFFOC, which is a far better name than most of the list.  To start with the obvious:  Green Acres... 
Someone I had to park near actually thought nearly three hundred units of supposedly sane human beings living there would enjoy telling everyone we know that we live in a development named after a long dead TV show, which starred Colonel Thompson from The Longest Day, “The Nice Gabor Sister," and a pig who shares his name with both an Austrian Bodybuilder/Movie Star/Eventual Governor, and the restaurant in Happy Days.  If I had to live in a shoebox on the docking bay for the Staten Island Ferry, I vowed to move out the day that place was named Green Freakin' Acres. (Actually that would be OK, but just Green Acres, and I'd have been gone.)

A very popular trend in the masterpieces of nomenclature were attempts to picturesquely describe the geography, combining local names like Lincoln, or Morris with a descriptive term, trying to demonstrate the beauty of the region. (Pardon me while I pause to vomit profusely.)  There is a real problem with this.  As anyone who has seen Lincoln Park after a rainstorm knows it is deserving of its nickname, Lincoln Puddle.  It is NOT a valley, meadow, forest, lane, wood, ridge, green, or trace. (Whatever the heck that is.)  It's a swamp, pure and simple.  Lincoln Swamp would have been a swell name, or Swamp Heights, or even Swampy Landings Estates‑ where humidity is our number one export.  All the others were just pipe dreams. Call it any flowery name you want, you still ain't gonna be able to see it through the fog come sunrise.

People said it was daft to build a condo in a swamp...but we built it just the same!
Another popular namesake was animals, but no manly, impressive, tear the throat out of its defenseless prey types were in evidence.  No, we wanted to name our home after that king of beasts, the chipmunk or perhaps the mighty fox, or, of course, the lord of the jungle, the fawn.  At least those animals lived around there. (So does one good one, forcing me to be nice for a sentence and give a thumbs up to Hawk's View, even though what the hawk was viewing escapes me, maybe it was the chipmunks.)  Another suggestion was "Egret Village", now although technically related, I'm pretty sure the big bird that hung out in the drainage ditch (which many optimistic name creators dubbed a "pond") in the center of the complex was a Blue Heron.  Also Egret Village sounds less like a development, and more like a snack stand at the zoo.  But my favorite animal name had to be "Pigeon Hollow".  I had lived in Morris County for nearly a quarter of a century at the time, and had never once seen a pigeon in the more wooded areas, outside of towns and cities,  Maybe they meant the area was Hollow of Pigeons?  I don't really know what a hollow is, but it was more familiar sounding than a trace.

Many of the names would have been just dandy for other things, but not where we made our homes.  I'd be thrilled to sponsor a catered affair in Society Manor, or Green Mountain Estates.  I'd spend a romantic weekend in Heartbeat Hollow, or the mystical Wind Song. (Actually the wind doesn't quite sing there, but I don't suppose my neighbors wouldn’t have gone for Whipping Wind Howl (lost Chief of the Cherokee (or something.)))  Bring me my morning milk from Spring Hill Farms, and let me go adventuring in Hollow Woods.  Even bury my remains in the cemetery at Green Meadows, Forest View, or Tranquility Hills, but don't suck my life away by giving those names to my home.   

I would love to have something clever to say about the candidates Shelborne, and Sutton Place, but after exhaustive searches through books, the web, and my rather bizarre memory, I never discovered a clue as to what they referenced, where they came from, what they meant, or what pharmacological substances inspired their creation.  Perhaps they were submitted by Mr. Sutton Shelborne…the world will never know.

Now, to be fair, there were three mythologically inspired names, four if you count Park Place. (That might have been good, buy four condominiums and you’d get a hotel.)  One, which wasn't too bad, was Sherwood: if you overlook the fact that the only wooded areas that weren't part of "Everglades North" had been removed to make golf courses.  Ah, can't you hear the bold heroes of yesteryear, "What ho Little John, fetcheth me my nine iron so that I mayest eagle this hole to tear asunder Will Scarlet's bogie, and defeateth the vile sheriff and Prince John as we engage in battle hereth on the back nine".  Just makes your heart well with emotion doesn't it? (Or perhaps it's just gas.)  Another suggested name is Arcadia, which is the Greek Goddess Artemis's hunting ground. Yes, it was mythological, but a tad obscure. Before looking it up, in what can only be described as a far larger than humanly necessary personal library of useless information, I was originally convinced that there would be video games involved.  Finally, we come to Elysium Fields.  In Greek mythology after a person died (which occurred constantly, those wacky Greeks), their spirit crossed the river Styx, and the evil souls got punished in Tartarus. The rest of the souls basically just hung around contented on the Elysium Fields.  Now I will admit I suggested the name Valhalla, which is where slain warriors go in Norse mythology.  But Valhalla consists of mighty battles all day, and then the dead rise and everyone feasts and drinks all night.  Those Vikings knew how to party, even after being mortally wounded.  Therefore that name would have lent much more character to the complex than the name of the land of the satisfied, Greek, boring and dead. 

Contented wandering, or all night mead soaked victory parties?  I know my choice!
Perhaps I spoke a little bit hastily condemning the Society Hill II moniker...Green freakin' Acres, indeed.

Tune in to a future post for the follow up, where the name is revealed…and one of my rants comes back to haunt me in a highly unpleasant fashion.

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