I love living in New Jersey but I wouldn’t want to visit here. It would be quite confusing. In an indirect way, the original inhabitants, the peaceful Lenape Indians, might be getting even for being elbowed out of their ancestral homeland.
There are usually hordes of bewildered out-of-staters wandering aimlessly in New Jersey, often along the Garden State Parkway. Even their GPS guides are sometimes befuddled by our geography and place names.
At a Parkway rest stop a few years back a man leaped out of a Jeep with Ohio plates and ran up to me, shouting incoherently. I turned to run, but he grabbed my jacket. “Please help me,” he pleaded. “I’m supposed to be at my neice’s wedding in a half hour, but I lost the invitation and I don’t know where it’s taking place. I do remember it’s in a town with an Indian name beginning with ‘M’, he cried.
“That may be a problem, sir,” I said. We have Manasquan, Mantaloking, Metuchen, Moonachie…..”
“Oh dear,” he moaned. ” And I have to be giving away the bride in 25 minutes!” I don’t know if the poor soul made it to the nuptials on time. Probably not. I last saw him frantically waving down a State Trooper’s cruiser.
Our early settlers probably should not have tried to match the Lenape’s actual tribal names for their hunting, fishing and camping areas, but instead, used English translations when naming the new towns.
It would certainly add to the confusion to change the system now, but we’re in a period of contrition with our Native Americans whom we’ve treated unjustly. Therefore we could try, with a few significant changes to town and city names in New Jersey and the Metro area, just to show our good intentions. The map makers and GPS techies would have to adapt.
First of all, with the literal translation, the revised name of Hoboken would be “Tobacco Pipe” which most would agree is a more colorful name and easier to remember.
“Manhattan” would change to the Lenape’s title of “Place for wood for bows”. Admittedly, that would cause problems, especially for the song writers. (The Lenapes actually owned Manhattan and sold it to the Dutch for about $25.)
The desperate wedding place seeker would have had no problem if his neice was marrying in Moonachie. It would then have been in the town of “Groundhog”. I’m sure he would have remembered that name on the invitation.
There certainly would be pros and cons for the literal name changes. Absecon residents might not object to living in “Swan Place”, but Secaucus citizens would most likely resent having “Black Snakes, NJ” on their return address labels.
“Metuchen” isn’t a very dramatic town name, but it has more punch than the Lenape designation. “Dry Firewood, NJ 08840” certainly lacks pizzazz. . I would be in the same boat having to live the rest of my life in “River That Creeps, NJ 07054”