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Tuesday, November 30, 2004


New Jersey town names mystified

Growing up in New Jersey, I couldn’t help noticing that a lot of the town names sound the same. And I’m not talking about Oakland and Oaklyn, or Belmar and Bellmawr, or even Hopatcong and Pohatcong. This also isn’t about the fact that there are five Washington Townships and one Washington Boro, as well as four Franklin Townships and one Franklin Boro. No, I’m talking about the fact that many of NJ’s 566 municipalities were named as if only a handful of words were approved for use in naming towns. If that was indeed the case, wood was clearly acceptable, as was ridge — so now we have Ridgewood and Wood-Ridge. And Park Ridge. And Ridgefield. And Ridgefield Park. Keep in mind this is all in a state about as big as a wad of chewing gum.

Anyway, someone reminded me of this the other day, and for some reason I began picturing the state in terms of a Venn diagram. Some 80 towns in NJ have at least one of nine basic components in their name. This is by no means a complete representation of the lack of creativity at work in the state, which would require a few more circles. But with a few well-chosen additions to the chart — bridge, brook, and lawn come to mind — I think most of the non-Indian town names in New Jersey could be related to each other in this way.

Click the picture to see a bigger version.

NJ towns