Monday, June 23, 2008

Hanover--Just up the road from Transylvania

In my last post on my visit to Hanover College, SzélsőFa commented, "It never ceases to amaze me how the names of European cities appear and STAY on the map of the USA." Most of the European city names come from the hometowns of the first white settlers. Lots of Londons, Bristols, Hamburgs and Amsterdams. I think the many Milans (almost all of which are pronounced to rhyme with smilin') and Parises were named because those cities had class and sophistication which the founders hoped would rub off on their towns. Some of Parises and other French-named towns may have been named by the voyageurs who plied the rivers of North America in the years before the French and Indian (Seven Years') War. In what would become the Louisiana Purchase, the French had even more time to name towns. Warsaw, Indiana, county seat of Kosciusko County, was named not by Polish immigrants, but for the capital of Poland, the home country (though not at the time a nation-state) of Thaddeus Kosciusko, the Polish patriot who had fought in the American revolution. A lot of the Spanish names in the Midwest are named for battles in the Mexican-American War--Churubusco, La Paz, Buena Vista, Cerro Gordo, etc.

But I came across one European name that has nothing to do with the region in Europe. While at Hanover, Kathleen and I met some very nice people from Kentucky. We were talking about colleges at lunch, and the Kentuckians were talking about "Transy." I asked if this was Transylvania University, and whether there was any connection between that institution and the Carpathian mountains.

It turns out that Transylvania University was founded in 1780, in Danville, Virginia, and moved to Lexington (now Kentucky) in 1789. What would become Kentucky was known as the Transylvania Colony, from the Latin, "across the forest." So the name came independently of the European region, though from the same Latin root. (According to Wikipedia, the European Transylvania is a Latinization of the Hungarian Erdély, which is derived from Erdő-elve meaning "beyond the forest.")

Thanks to Bram Stoker, the name Transylvania conjures up images of dark castles and vampires, at least in the minds of Britons and Americans. But when Transylvania University was founded, the novel Dracula was more than a century in the future. For Virginians, it just meant the land to the west of the great forest.

18 comments:

Lisa said...

Since I was born and raised in Boston, every single town I ever saw for the first 19 years I was alive was named after someplace in England, for the most part. Consequently, I've always taken a special delight in American place-names that originated here. Pennsylvania has some pretty funny ones.

Charles Gramlich said...

there is a transylvania in Arkansas, a very small town. I always intended to stop and ask the source of the name. They have a bat on their watertower.

steve said...

Lisa--There's a song called "What's her name in Pennsylvania" which goes through a plethora of funny-sounding PA names such as Conshohocken and Aliquippa (sp?). I just heard it once. There are also naughty-sounding Amish country towns such as Intercourse and Blueballs, which did not have the sexual implications at the time the towns were named.

Charles--I suspect the town was named by somebody who had come from the Transylvania Colony. I don't think too many Hungarians or Romanians settled in Arkansas. Or it could be that the town was on the far side of the woods.

Emperor Ropi said...

Yeah it is indeed Erdély in Hungarian.

SzélsőFa said...

Thank you Steve for this post:)

As you probably know the Latin trans means 'beyond', and the name Transylvania does mean 'beyond', or 'over' the forest.
The name Transylvania however is based ont he viewpoint of those who live at the other side of the forest as Hungarians do.

Erdő-elve (which is a Hungarian compound word from erdő meaning forest and elve* meaning 'the front, the beginning of something') suggest that those who called Erdély as such were living at the other side of the forest, that is, on the lands that are now called Hungary.

So, Erdő-elve do not mean Transylvania, but the word refers to the same geographical location.
The viewpoint is switched, but the location is the same.

I hope my explanetion was not confusing...

*=in ancient Hungarian.

steve said...

Ropi--Thanks for confirming it.

Szelsofa--Thank you for your clarification. It's all a matter of perspective. Here in the States, we still call Japan and China the Far East, even though we would go west to get there.

I wondered whether "elve" was from an older form of Hungarian, just from the context of the Wikipedia article.

Riss said...

That's always amused me too. In fact, I always have to laugh everytime I encounter a city named for something random in Europe in a place where most people probably couldn't point to Europe on a map. (c:

Colorado means red (or something), actually, in some native american language. that's what I get for growing up there and going on one too many field trips.

Ok...lumbering off to Budapest, Idaho. Or my own blog. Whichever. (I really wish there was a Budapest Idaho.)

SzélsőFa said...

Riss, your comment is funny:) And I got the reference to Budapest, too :) I bet there is a Budapest somewhere in the USA.


Steve - elve
In fact no one uses this very word anymore, but those who have a sense of words understand it well.

Peter said...

That's interesting. Virginia is full of English town and county names, but my favorite place names come from Native Americans. My mother grew up in Gloucester County, but she lived close to the Piankatank ("Where the bullfrogs leap from bank to bank") River. Tappahannock is the seat of nearby Essex County. It's kind of cool driving through a lot of that on my favorite route to my home town to see my parents.

steve said...

Riss and Szelsofa--Wikipedia lists Budapests in Missouri and Georgia. Both are tiny, unincorporated villages. There are lots of Budas, though no Pests (the English word pest probably rules that out).

In North American Spanish, I believe "colorado" is more commonly used than "rojo" for red. I don't know wheter it come from a Native American language or is a compound beginning with "color."

steve said...

Peter--Thanks for stopping by. The Native American names are sometimes disguised as European ones. Moscow, Iowa was named for the Mascouten tribe (as is Muscatine).

I've always wondered about Spotsylvania--Spot's Woods?

Riss said...

szelsofa-thanks. (c: The photo I have on my blog was actually taken in Budapest. Great, great city. I have some work on show in Budapest at the moment actually...at a gallery whose name I shall have to copy paste to spell. more on that later. (c:

Steve-there are plenty of places that should be named Pest in America. I'm sure you know that though. (c:

And I'm now going to make it an unofficial life goal to make it to Budapest, Missouri. I just want a picture of the sign. The comparison will pale I'm sure. (c:

Shauna Roberts said...

In New Orleans, many of the streets were named when French was the official language and many people had classical educations. Today, neither is true. As a result, most of those street names have become quite garbled. I had to learn lots of mispronunciations when I first moved there because if one uses the correct French or Greek pronunciation, people don't recognize it.

Sustenance Scout said...

My kiddos have come home from school to tell me Colorado is the Spanish word for red, which confuses me since I'm not a native and have always though red was rojo in Spanish. Whatever works! As an upstate New Yorker, I'm fond of Native American names, too, though you can't beat Maine for odd town names, I think. :)

Tea N. Crumpet said...

What does Pennsylvania mean?

I love our history. In Alaska, our cities and landmarks and named for certain presidents, city founders and Native words which never cease to fascinate me.

twoblueday said...

So there are vampires in Kentucky, too?

steve said...

Riss-Budapest, MO is way down in the southeastern part of the state.

Shauna--I was thinking earlier about the fact the few people learn Latin today. Even a cursory knowledge of this "dead" language can help immensely in making sense of English. Speaking of mangling foreign names, my WIP includes a couple living in Old Town Chicago. I thought about putting them on Goethe Street, but decided I didn't want to deal with the Chicago pronunciation, "go-thee." I used Schiller instead.

Karen--Until recently, Americans learned Castillian Spanish. Nowadays it's more likely to be North American Spanish. The difference isn't huge, though.

Maine has a quite a few. I've always been fond of Dull Center, Wyoming, even if it no longer exists.

Tea, Literally, Penn's Woods. The Latin Sylvania shows up now only on light bulbs, in compounds, or in the adjective "sylvan," which is almost always followed by "glade."

Also vice presidents, such as Charles W. Fairbanks, the "Indiana Icicle."

Gerry--There are vampires everywhere. I've even been called one, for my sensitivity to sunlight.

Peter said...

Steve, right you are! From Wikipedia:

"Spotsylvania County was established in 1721 from Essex, King and Queen, and King William counties. The county was named in Latin for Virginia Lieutenant Governor Alexander Spotswood."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spotsylvania_County,_Virginia

They must have grinned when Spotswood became Spotsylvania.

My aunt by marriage was named Spotswood, which I understand is an FFV kind of name. (FFV = First Families of Virginia.) Her friends called her Spot.She asked us to call her "Aunt Spot," so we did. I love that name.