Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Stehp* (for Steph*)

Stephentown, New York, in nearby Rensselaer County, was once called "Jericho Hallow" (back when it was part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony); however, it was renamed in 1788 for New York's Lieutenant Governor Stephen Van Rensselaer. Wikipedia describes him as a "statesman, soldier, and land-owner, heir to one of the largest estates in the region ... which made him the tenth richest American of all time, based on the ratio of his fortune to contemporary GDP." The man might have been unusual with regard to his personal wealth and influence, but as Stephens go, he was not unique. Unlike, that is, the town that currently bears his name—along with a road sign proclaiming it "the only Stephentown on Earth." Which brings up an intriguing question for a cataloger: Just how many geographic names are there that only occur a single time? Albany, New York, may be the oldest incorporated city in the country, but there are over a dozen similarly named entities to be found worldwide. Most famous places are flattered (or perhaps not) by imitators: Paris, Texas; London, Ontario; Madrid, Nebraska; Naples, Florida. New York State has a ton of these toponymical also-rans as well: Alexandria, Amsterdam, Athens; Babylon, Belfast, Bethlehem; Cairo, Canton, Copenhagen; and on through the alphabet to Rome, Syracuse, and Troy. By the way, for a wonderfully enlightening and entertaining look at how various place names (among other words) came to be in the United States, check out Bill Bryson's 2001 book Made in America. Stehp* up and go to town on today's typo, which occurred five times in OhioLINK, and 283 times in WorldCat.

(Entering Stephentown, New York, 20 October 2009, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

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