Prior to the smartphone era, when folks still read in analog fashion upon porcelain thrones, a great many Maine residents kept a Maine Atlas and Gazetteer in the privy. Published by Yarmouth-based mapmaker DeLorme, this oversized, soft-cover booklet neatly divided the Great State of Maine into 96 pages, or quadrants, each of which depicted a specific 16-by-11-inch detail at remarkable scale. Some of the best bathroom reading in captivity, and not completely idle diversion: We studied The Gazetteer so as to better familiarize ourselves with the state’s baroque topographies and place names, in addition to those potential routes that might traverse and connect them. The conditional nature of these journeys is critical to Maine’s particular mythos, of course. The unofficial state motto, offered to folks from away seeking directions, spells this out pretty clearly: You can’t get there from hee-yah.
GPS titan Garmin purchased DeLorme back in 2016, along with Eartha, the massive, slowly rotating globe that still occupies three full stories inside the former company headquarters. GPS-enabled mapping applications have certainly reduced the need for physical maps of all kinds. However, the need to better know and understand this place we call Maine remains undiminished.
I’ve live here since 1992, for example, but the myriad places and oddball municipal naming conventions continue to fascinate. I’m a Masshole born, bred and proud — the Oxford English Dictionary added “Masshole” in 2015 (How do you like them apples!?). Until 1820, Maine was part of Massachusetts, where homages to a multitude of British place names remains common. This makes sense: Winchester and Boston and Middlesex were the very towns, cities, counties and regions from whence a great many 17th and 18th century settlers hailed.
Maine has its share of similarly UK-derived place names among its 23 cities, 430 towns, and 30 plantations. But the naming conventions here are more varied and bizarre. Way more. It’s possible, for example, that the founders of Lebanon, Norway, Poland, Mexico, Sweden, Smyrna, Stockholm, Moscow, Carthage, Monticello, Bremen, Rome, Athens, Troy, Denmark, Peru, Palermo, Dresden, Paris, West Paris and South Paris all hailed from these original locations. But I doubt it.