A Scottish friend was holidaying in the Republic of Ireland a few years ago.
Being a keen photographer, he stopped in his journey to capture on camera an unfortunate conjunction of road signs. Driving through County Kildare he noticed a sign for a school, with the silhouettes of children. Underneath was the sign identifying the village though which he was passing. The name of the village? Kill!
North America has a host of towns with strange names. In Amish country in Pennsylvania one finds the towns of Paradise, Bird in hand, and, yes, Intercourse. This train of thought was started by discovering that the town of Dull in Perthshire was twinned some years ago with a town of Boring in the state of Oregon. A resident from Dull as on a cycling holiday in Oregon and passed through Boring, and suggested a twinning arrangement. Now another town has got in on the act, and the town of Bland Shire in Australia has joined the ‘League of Extraordinary Communities’. Boring and Bland, it seems, were named after early residents, while Dull comes from a Gaelic word which means ‘meadow’. Speculation is that the towns of Dreary and Ordinary, both in America, may soon join the League.
Authors have often used names suggestive of their purpose. In the nineteenth century Samuel Butler published a satirical novel entitled ‘Erewhon’. One does not have to be a panellist on ‘Only Connect’ to see that when spelt backwards, he is referring to Nowhere!
No one, however, gave names such significance as John Bunyan in his great allegory of the Christian life, ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’. His hero, Christian, starts out from the City of Destruction, the name given to our fallen world, which lies under the judgment of God. To escape from the doom that is coming, he desires to make his way to the Celestial City, the heaven of our striving. On the way he meets various individuals whose names denote their character, such as Faithful, Pliable and Talkative. In the Slough of Despond he encounters Giant Despair, while his route takes him through Vanity Fair. There, at a trial, the jurymen have tell-tale names, such as Mr. Hate Light and Mr. Live Loose.
In Hardy’s novel, ‘Far from the madding crowd’, a character says, ‘Twas a bad leg allowed me to read “The Pilgrim’s Progress”.’ I wish no such misfortune upon my readers, but the volume will repay perusal.