Monday, August 18, 2008

Real Names: Real Places

On a drive around Western Loudoun countryside this weekend, my husband and I noted that many of the old farmhouses and cottages have wonderful names -- Sunnyside Farm, Goatsbeard, Rising Moon, Solstice, Butcher's Run, Foxmount . . . . These names somehow add depth to the property, align with the character of the land, emphasize the "placeness" of the place itself. These properties, no matter how small, seemed worthy of their name, not as though the name were tacked on for commercial effect, but as though the name were a reflection of the land and the people there.

Near our home, there's a 300 acre farm that was recently bought for development. Part of what always made the place special, besides its spectacular views of the surrounding countryside, was its name: Jubilation. My fellow riders and I always dreamed about winning the lottery and buying "Jubilation" -- the name itself sounding rich and joyous on our tongues.

But the new buyers stripped the old name and renamed it "Dominion Knolls." It's difficult to dream about a place called "Dominion Knolls," which sounds flat and featureless, probably much like the houses planned to be built there. "Dominion Knolls" makes me want to yawn.

I wonder if the developer chose that name because it's much easier to put McMansions on a place named Dominion Knolls than to level off the rolling hills of a place named Jubilation. Dominion Knolls could be anywhere and look like anything, but not Jubilation, which captures the way I feel every time I ride out of the woods to the edge of the farm's open fields and see the hayfields and sparkling ponds roll out before me, the Blue Ridge a mist of lilac in the distance.

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