And I thought astronomers were bad at naming things

Yesterday, my friends and I were hanging out and chatting (as we do). One of my friends, who enjoys geography trivia, was regaling us with information about the peninsula shared by Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia. This peninsula is one of the largest peninsulas in the United States. In fact, residents have tried to make the peninsula its own state several times in the 1700s and 1800s. This peninsula is bordered by the Chesapeake Bay, the Delaware River, the Delaware Bay, and the Atlantic Ocean. Such an important geographic feature should have a good name, right? Well this peninsula is officially known as “Delmarva Peninsula“. “Delmarva”, of course, is a portmanteau of “Delaware”, “Maryland”, and “Virginia”.

Now, I’ve often said that astronomers are bad at naming things. Most of our telescopes have acronyms which attempt to describe the instrument. For example, the “Thirty Meter Telescope” is a telescope thirty meters in diameter. But that’s small compared to the European Extremely Large Telescope, which will be 40 meters in diameter. Things get even worse when trying to name a spacecraft. You want the name to be memorable and still descriptive. That’s how we end up with things like OSIRIS-REx, the “Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer”, or InSight, “Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport”, or my favorite, JUICE, the “JUpiter ICy moons Explorer”.

But “Delmarva”? Really? That takes the cake. Or so we thought. Zooming in the peninsula to look around, I discovered a town on the border of Delaware and Maryland named “Delmar”. We had a good laugh about that one. Then my friend discovered “Mardela Springs” just to the west. And then we found “Marydel” up to the north. Even further north, on the Pennsylvania/Maryland border is “Sylmar”. At this point we’re cracking up. And we start wondering if there are other places in the United States which have funny portmanteau names. After all, anywhere two states share a border, there’s the possibility that a town has a silly name.

And so, I present to you Wikipedia’s List of Geographic Portmanteaus! It’s a Wikipedia list which contains a whole bunch of place names which were made by combining other names.  And sure enough, America is full of funny names! Now some of them are actually decently well known, like “SeaTac” (Seattle-Tacoma Airport) or “Texarkana” (a town on the border of Texas and Arkansas). But others are just old railroad stops or ghost towns. And that’s when you start getting really funny names, like “Dakoming” (Dakota/Wyoming), “Idmon” (Idaho/Montana), or “Alaflora” (Alabama/Florida). There are even two towns named “Missala”, one in Mississippi and one in Alabama.

Here are some of my favorites:

  • Latex (Louisiana/Texas)
  • Cal-Nev-Ari (California/Nevada/Arizona)
  • Nosodak (North/South Dakota)
  • Florala and Alaflora (Florida/Alabama and Alabama/Florida)
  • Alaga (Alabama/Georgia)
  • Moark (Missouri/Arkansas)
  • Virgilina (Virginia/North Carolina)
  • Armorel (Arkansas, Missouri, Robert E. Lee’s initials)
  • I wonder if they have good calzones in “Calzona”.

Canada has several good ones as well, especially with Saskatchewan and Manitoba:

  • Saskman Lake
  • Mansask Lake
  • Mantario
  • Mankota

Now all we need is a town on the border of Tennessee and Mississippi named “Tennesseessissippi”.

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