August 19 – 25, 2016Vol. 18, No. 11

The World of Names in Maine

Shown here in a vintage postcard, this signpost, errected ca. 1930 at the junction of Routes 5 & 35 in Lynchville, in western Maine, shows the distances to nine Maine towns with foreign names. Although the sign has been replaced several times over the years, it looks the same today as it did then.

by Esther J. Perne

Maine is in France, right? It was a hereditary countship in the 10th century. (See But who thinks of that? Maine is here and it's a great place to be. So, what are some other location names and what do they bring to mind?

Take Belgrade, for starters. Like its ancestor on the Balkan Peninsula, it has watery surroundings far and wide and there's a river (a stream) not exactly the Danube and a village not exactly a bustling commercial center, but it's a legendary summer vacation center.

A short drive north from Belgrade the road leads to Rome, westward it leads to Vienna, both quiet villages compared to their Italian and Austrian counterparts, but popular destinations today for their extensive mountain trails.

Beyond Rome are the towns of Norridgewock and Skowhegan on the Kennebec River. Like many names of area lakes, mountains and parks, these town names come from the native Indians.

Southward from Belgrade and to the west is picturesque Mount Vernon, which conjures up references to the country's first President. To the east is Sidney, which even without the same spelling, brings to mind Australia.

North of Sidney lie the "ville," the "land" and the "fields," Waterville, Oakland, Smithfield and Fairfield. These are the towns — and there are many more like them — whose names typically are basic descriptions of what transpired historically, who figured prominently or what characteristic predominated (water, oak trees).

Too practical? Too basic? Then it's time to explore Maine's world of names some more. There are countries to visit: Sweden, Denmark, Norway, China — and cities, too, like Paris, Madrid and Athens. . . .