Topical Guide 54
Names and Naming: Place-Names
The only decent fishing along the Bolotomy is found at a spot known as Andy Whitley’s Gall Bladder because of Whitley’s fame as an angler and the spot’s resemblance, on maps and aerial photographs, to a gall bladder.
Boating on the Bolotomy
Here is a gall bladder:
Here is a portion of Peter Leroy’s hand-drawn map of Babbington, showing “Andy Whitley’s Gall Bladder”:
I wonder who named “Andy Whitley’s Gall Bladder.”
Was it the first mapmaker of Babbington? Was it the pilot who took the aerial photograph? Was it someone in a gathering of townsfolk who first saw the aerial photographs of the town? Was it someone who had actually seen Andy Whitley’s gall bladder or just some wag making a gag? A local doctor? A medical student? One of Andy Whitley’s pals? One of Andy Whitley’s enemies? Perhaps his rival in an affair of the heart?
I see a resemblance to a gall bladder in the little Bolotomy River backwater, but not so strong a resemblance that I would have named it “Andy Whitley’s Gall Bladder” if the naming had been entrusted to me.
However, I do think that the little lake in McGee Memorial Park should be called “McGee’s Peanut.” The resemblance is unmistakable, I think. But maybe I’m mistaken. Is the resemblance to a peanut just my perception, or misperception? I think not. I think you would agree with me. I’m going to seize the moment: I’m claiming the right to name the little lake “McGee’s Peanut.”
Hold on. Why not “Dorset’s Peanut”? The name was inspired by the resemblance to peanuts in my past, peanuts that possibly deserve an entry in The Topical Autobiography of Mark Dorset. Shall we agree to make it “Dorset’s Peanut”? I hope you will support me in this. If enough of us employ it as the name of the little lake, “Dorset’s Peanut” may acquire the evocative power of “Balbec,” “Venice,” “Florence,” or “Parma.”
I need only, to make them reappear, pronounce the names: Balbec, Venice, Florence, within whose syllables had gradually accumulated all the longing inspired in me by the places for which they stood. Even in spring, to come in a book upon the name of Balbec sufficed to awaken in me the desire for storms at sea and for the Norman gothic; even on a stormy day the name of Florence or of Venice would awaken the desire for sunshine, for lilies, for the Palace of the Doges and for Santa Maria del Fiore.
. . . They magnified the idea that I formed of certain points on the earth’s surface, making them more special, and in consequence more real. I did not then represent to myself towns, landscapes, historic buildings, as pictures more or less attractive, cut out here and there of a substance that was common to them all, but looked on each of them as on an unknown thing, different from all the rest, a thing for which my soul was athirst, by the knowledge of which it would benefit. How much more individual still was the character that they assumed from being designated by names, names that were only for themselves, proper names such as people have. . . . The name of Parma, one of the towns that I most longed to visit, after reading the Chartreuse, seeming to me compact and glossy, violet-tinted, soft, if anyone were to speak of such or such a house in Parma, in which I should be lodged, he would give me the pleasure of thinking that I was to inhabit a dwelling that was compact and glossy, violet-tinted, soft, and that bore no relation to the houses in any other town in Italy, since I could imagine it only by the aid of that heavy syllable of the name of Parma, in which no breath of air stirred, and of all that I had made it assume of Stendhalian sweetness and the reflected hue of violets.
[more to come on Wednesday, July 28, 2021]
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