Hello! I’m from The Future!

IMG_3007.1-270x202We were driving back from Trois-Rivières on the weekend when I came across one of my favourite road signs. No, not the nudist compound sign, although the pictogram of the family with their adorable naked bums is certainly memorable. Proportionally, however, I suspect it is far from accurate.

Instead, it was the sign for L’Avenir, a place name that sounds even better in English: The Future.

Imagine that roadside greeting: “Welcome to… The Future!”

It’s hard to live up to a name like The Future. Unless post-gender citizens are commuting to their cooperative workpods in personal levitation devices and being served by robot monkeys, your town is bound to be a let-down. There may have been a six-week period in 1980 after the video arcade opened when L’Avenir felt pretty avant-garde, but that’s the thing with the future: it’s always getting ahead of you.

L’Avenir, I’ve since learned, was named after a newspaper founded in 1847 by Jean-Baptiste-Eric Dorion, known as l’enfant terrible, an epithet that does not sound even better in English (“the terrible child”). When a post office was established in the region in 1853, Dorion proposed it be named L’Avenirville (“Futureville!”), and so it was. Eventually that became the name of the municipality, later still just L’Avenir.  And that, my friends, is the power of the press.

But what appeals to me most about this story is the prospect of that power in the first place. Imagine having an entire town to name. A village. A crossroads even. You can’t do that anymore. Every place in the world has already been named. Heck, these days we’re getting rid of place names through amalgamation and forgotten history; someday, all of Canada will be known simply as the Greater Toronto Area.

What gumption it must have taken to name your town The Future when all around were towns named after saints. My favourite of these is near the Ontario border, St-Zotique, which sounds like they finally ran out of saint names, alphabetically, right after St-You-Know-Who.

If not saints or the Virgin Mary, towns are named after obvious physical characteristics. Trois-Rivières, incidentally, is not three rivers but one river with two islands at the mouth that makes it look like three rivers, but I suppose “The-Illusion-of-Three-Rivers-If-You-Look-At-It-At-the-Right-Angle” was a bit of a mouthful.

Some towns are named for what they’re famous for, the most blunt being the Town of Asbestos. Motto: “You Got a Problem With That?” It’s like calling a lumber town “Trees.” You know what you’re getting in a town like Asbestos, which is why I stay away from the Town of Black Mould and the Village of ATM Fraud.

Who knows what pressure there was at the time to name these towns. Maybe there were many great option, and everyone had his or her favourite. (Who am I kidding; the “hers” wouldn’t have had a say in these matters, otherwise we would have a lot more towns named “Patronizingjerkville.”) Ultimately, with no consensus, people would settle for the one they hated the least, resulting in bland inoffensive names. This is also, incidentally, how countless couples end up watching Jennifer Aniston movies.

But that’s all over now. All the places have been named. You might be able to name your property (“Crestwood Manor,” “Hillcrest Paradise,” “Dog Poo Vista”) but your neighbours will talk about you behind your back.

If you’re a writer, though, you occasionally get to name an entire fictional town. That was the case in my upcoming, shamelessly promoted novel, A Hole in the Ground. In my scenario, the town was originally named Beverly after its founder’s mother, Prudence Pennock, nee Beverly. But due perhaps to a clerical error or to the abundance of tree-chewing rodents or quite possibly as an unkind reference to the somewhat toothy Prudence Beverly Pennock, the town eventually became known as “Beaverly.”

I also had to create neighbouring communities, one of which is named Cahoots for the sole purpose of allowing me to say that so-and-so was in Cahoots.

Talk about enfant terrible

Imagine the fun we could have if we opened the possibility of renaming some of our communities. I mean, really, could we do worse than “Beebe”?

I thought of this driving down the highway, how some towns are named after the circumstances that resulted in a traveller stopping in that location, giving us names like Providence or Freshwater. And as I shifted uncomfortably in my seat, I realize that if I pulled over to the side and established a town right here, I would have a name for it.

I would call it: Crampe-de-Fesse.

It does not sound better in English.

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About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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40 Responses to Hello! I’m from The Future!

  1. Karen says:

    Very subtle book promo there. I blinked and almost missed it.

    I grew up in New England, where all the towns (just about) are named after the English villages from which, I imagine, the early Anglo settlers could not wait to get away fast enough, only to find themselves, once they were here, surrounded by famine and hostile natives and gripped by a very severe case of buyer’s remorse.

    The town I live in now is named after a man who built a tavern at a crossroads. I would have preferred Futureville, because I like to believe we’d all have flying cars here.

  2. List of X says:

    I always wondered what circumstances let to town in Pennsylvania to be named Intercourse.

  3. Sheila Moss says:

    If you live in a town that people can pronounce, that’s a beginning. Forget about being able to spell it. That’s impossible.

  4. Paul says:

    Then there is the central American town of Truth or Consequences. Or the time I hauled a load of fish out of Dildo Newfoundland and an American customs woman would not let me cross the border because she was sure I was pulling her leg. With my first truck,my banker was a credit union and they had never financed rolling stock before. My bank manager was a nervous little guy (super nice) who insisted i call him once a week with a financial update. I would check the map and call him from the oddest town name I could find. I called him once from Scalp Level Penn.

  5. What are the tax implications of moving to the future?
    My little town: Sequim…is pronounced Squwim. Apparently it was orignally a native word for good hunting ground: Seguim, but some idiot thought it was better with a Q and now it means nothing except: Too lazy to use spell check.

  6. pinklightsabre says:

    Nice work bringing that around, you: almost “salesy.” That’s cool, made me think of West World too, combining robot gunslingers and robot monkeys, automatons. We have town down here a couple hours east of us that was going bankrupt in the 60s and came together to decide they needed a theme, an international theme, so they chose German: it’s called Leavenworth, and they made themselves a tourist destination. All the businesses have to use the same German font on their store fronts, though. Would like to be the guy who sells that script…

    • rossmurray1 says:

      I love me a callback. Re-watching Arrested Development these days, and that show is callback after callback.
      Coming back here from Jon’s travelogue. All German all the time!

      • pinklightsabre says:

        I know, weird right (Jon’s blogs about Germany): I have the same outfits as some of those guys in his pictures.

  7. There’s also Climax, Sask, whose settlers came from Dildo. Everything took a while, back then.

  8. “It’s like calling a lumber town “Trees.” ”

    I live in the Pacific Northwest between Beaverton and Portland (nickname Stumptown). I don’t wanna talk about it.

    Lest you forget, as cities expand across the countryside like a spreading beige melanoma, they’ve got lots of new streets to name. Current protocol is to chop down the tree, then name the street or housing development after it. I live in Cedar Hills where no one had seen a single stinkin’ cedar in 30 years. I don’t wanna talk about it.

  9. Ned's Blog says:

    There’s a town along the I5 corridor in California named Hump Tulips. I don’t know any more than that because I’ve always been afraid to actually stop there.

  10. Just don’t get the lawyers involved or you’ll be driving through “Ziffren, Brittenham, Branca, Fischer, Gilbert-Lurie, Stiffelman, Cook, Johnson, Lande & Wolf-ville”.

  11. I live in a community called Middletown. There is a Middletown in each of our 50 states. It’s as drab and humdrum as its name implies. I’m betting the other Middletowns are, too.

    Beaverly is WAY better, as I’m sure you know.

  12. Trent Lewin says:

    Beebe was a character from some Victorian novel, wasn’t he? A preacher or something? Now I’m stuck on this. Great.

    Life would be a lot easier if we just named every place and every person in it “Trent”. Has a ring to it, and life would be so much less complicated. It’s even one syllable. Simple and short, and vaguely sexy.

  13. breezyk says:

    I have to say that Cahoots is one of my all-time favourite words. I know the connotation is meant to be negative, but I can’t help but think people who are in “cahoots” are just having more fun and shenanigans than the rest of us.

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