Readers might remember that in our inaugural issue, we tackled the place name CBRM. And for those new to the municipality, hopefully, we gave you some background to roll up your sleeves and add your thoughts to the discussion.
In fact, in that first week, we asked Thirders their thoughts on the name CBRM. Either we hit a nerve or Thirders enjoy responding to polls. We had so many responses that our free app could not take the engagement, and we had to purchase one. (Keep them coming, please.)
As is obvious in the chart, Thirders do not like our moniker. Almost 75 percent of respondents hate it or think the name stinks.
New Waterford’s community award might tell us something about both the importance of place names and explain our displeasure with the municipality’s handle.
As Ashin Wilfy tells us in his story on page 4, “This award marks a distinguished achievement for New Waterford, with the selection committee recognizing its outstanding efforts and its profound commitment to uplifting its residents and safeguarding its unique history.”
In writing the article, Wilfy reviewed the community's application, noting that it “offered an insightful glimpse into the community's rich history, along with its remarkable efforts in nurturing a strong sense of belonging and collective purpose. The town's commitment to preserving its unique heritage and fostering community spirit was highlighted as a driving force behind its selection for this esteemed accolade.”
That all sounded a little familiar to us at The Third since we have been spending some time digging into the books to get a better understanding of place names and why Thirders don’t like the municipality’s moniker.
According to the experts, place names act as links to the past and to a collective identity-building capacity. Their function is more than to identify a place by name; place names should reflect or give rise to feelings of individual and collective identity attached to the place.
Place names, until politicians decided it was their duty, have been handed down orally from generation to generation for hundreds or thousands of years. As a result, these names become a special part of our cultural heritage in that they tell us something about the place to which they refer and those who coined the historic handles.
That means that place names have an emotive function too. “Place names are of such vital significance because they act so as to transform the sheer physical and geographical into something that is historical and socially experienced,” said place name expert Botollv Helleland.
Take Whitney Pier, Sydney Mines, or Louisbourg as examples. Whitney Pier is named after a former industrialist of the former steel plant and the pier where the rails and coal left the island. Sydney Mines after its rich history of coal production. Louisbourg after the French fortress and the colony that once lived within its walls.
We can refer to this in part as place attachment, a bond that people establish with specific areas where they prefer to remain and where they feel comfortable and safe. People don’t feel comfortable and safe because of the name of a community, but because of what the name of the community symbolizes to them. Pier Girls live in Whitney Pier and Bay Boys live in Glace Bay.
Place names are also a component of personal identity. This seems to be particularly true of many Thirders. How frequently do we describe ourselves in terms of belonging to a specific place? When we do this, we are creating “the source of meaning for a given setting by virtue of relevant cognitive clusters that indicate what should happen in it, what the setting is supposed to be like, and how the individual and others are supposed to behave in it,” says Helleland. (Now, that’s a place name.)
In the Third, it is not our traditional place names that make us twist our faces in rejection and dislike. Instead, it is the modern one that was imposed on us.
That had us flipping through the pages of our book collection to find the words taken from a UN report two decades ago.
“When established place names are removed by administrative or other devices, or when they are moved from their original community, many people feel this to be a form of encroachment,” it reads.
The report argues that because of the social importance of place names in creating community, we all have an important role in protecting them. “Society must also bear the responsibility for taking care of the place name heritage and seeing to it that place name planning is carried out in such a way that the functionality of the place name stock is preserved, and the cultural heritage is protected in a rapidly changing society.”
The books taught us that identities, and the place names that go with them, change over time. Sometimes because of external circumstances and others due to the sensibilities of the people who live in the area. How one generation conceptualizes their identity may be different for the next generation.