|Ermatinger House, Oregon City|
England was not the only country to utilize Old World place names when branding the New. Both Spain and France titled their American domains New Spain and New France. Scotch settlers up north Latinized their homeland and called their territory Nova Scotia. The Dutch named their settlement on Manhattan Island New Amsterdam after Holland's capital back home.
This recycling of old names began all over again when the inhabitants of the Eastern seaboard began to go West for more elbow room. Portland, Oregon, the metropolis closest to my house, was called Portland after the hometown of one of the city's founders.
The story has it that Francis Pettygrove (a native of Portland, Maine) went into partnership with Asa Lovejoy (a native of Boston, Massachusetts) to develop the area by clearing trees and building roads. They threw up a few buildings along the river, and it was then time to christen the new town. Each man argued persuasively for the town to be named after his place of origin; each man gathered an equal amount of adherents to his point of view. Portland or Boston, what would it be?
The argument took place in the Ermatinger House (now a museum located two blocks from my apartment in Oregon City) and lasted far into the night. Finally, some tired soul--perhaps Francis Ermatinger, the house's owner--suggested that the only way out of this deadlock was to flip a coin. And so they did. Pettygrove won two out of three coin tosses, and the new town was dubbed Portland, destined to become larger and more prestigious than its namesake in Maine.
What is it in human nature that prompts explorers and settlers to name a new world in remembrance of the old? Is it a sign of respect for their own origins, a healthy connection with the past? Or is it a restrictive nostalgia that tries to ignore or overcome the differences of the new by homogenizing it with the old?
Did the colonists have a vision that their New Jerusalem would be merely an exact replica of the Old Jerusalem? Or did the colonists choose to use the old names so that they could expand, improve on, and glorify everything good that the old places had stood for?