Not many live in Misery

A chap in Germany has been living on a street that translates as Scapegoat Lane. It has been Scapegoat Lane since the 14th century, and if the legend is forgotten, you can be sure there was a story there worthy of the Grimms. But the name offends the finer sensitivities of this chap, and he petitioned the town council to change the name to Rilke Street, after the poet. There is something about such name changing that offends me, and I'm pleased that the town council denied the request. Said this would open the door to all sorts of reforms, such as changing Crutches Street.

Back in the 1930s one of our quotable political jokes was about the man who appeared before the judge and wanted to change his name. ''Why?'' asked the judge.

''Because everybody laughs at my name. I'm tired of being laughed at.''

''Oh? So what is your name?''

''It's Franklin Delano Pottlewobble.''

''Ha, ha!'' said the judge. ''I see what you mean. What do you want to change your name to?''

''Joe Pottlewobble.''

Which, to a few people, made sense, so we mustn't draw a hard line against changing names. But we should reflect a mite on the humorless nature of a person who lives on a fine old street named Scapegoat Lane and doesn't admire it. That chap should be told that here in Maine, in the town of Falmouth, we have the ''Underwitted Road,'' named long ago for some unremembered reason, and that we have folks who like the name. On the other hand, ''Hardscrabble'' has dwindled.

Almost every Maine town had a section known as the Hardscrabble. Rocky soil, hard to till, and home of the unfortunate. The road out over the hill to Hardscrabble would be the Hardscrabble Road, and the name persisted until the land became more residential and people moved on who didn't appreciate the term. One Hardscrabble Road is now signed Bennett Street, but I feel this is not an improvement.

Dry Pond became a victim of nicety. Dry Pond is in the town of Gray, and it's just as wet as any pond anywhere else. What whimsy began that? But people who came to build cottages 50 years or more ago seem to have missed a point, because they took what must have been a humorless poll and decided to change the name to Crystal Lake. Nearby, in Lewiston, we have a pond called No Name Pond. No Name Pond was never named. We might shudder, accordingly, at the possibility of some Crystal Lakers who someday will think up a name for No Name Pond.

It's possible our township of Misery keeps its name because not too many people, nice or no, live in Misery. Misery is a wild-land township far up in Somerset County. An adjacent township is called Misery Gore; a gore is an irregular piece of land left over after a survey, or sometimes the result of a surveyor's mistake. We also have a place named Skunk's Misery, and to the credit of the People of Maine, there has been no great effort to change even that.

Our slab cities didn't exactly get their names changed, but moved along out of meaning. When Maine lumbering was young and sawmills were on almost every waterfall privilege, workmen used to build temporary shelters from slabs - the first cuts off a sawlog with one side all bark. Before sawing boards, a sawyer ''slabs'' the log square. A colony of such cheap housing easily became ''slab city'' to the jeering folks who lived better in real houses. The slab homes of slab cities went their way in time, but the sections around the early sawmills remained ''slab city'' for many years. If you had a fine home today at one of those old slab cities, how would you stand on changing to something like Longfellow Circle or Shakespeare Terrace?

In one town, when a mill built housing for its help, the section of new, all-alike, homes was called The Patch. The term is still heard once in a while today. But in Brunswick, Chickabiddy Lane became Bank Street when the bank was built, and I grieve that Mollechunk- amunk Lake is now something else - does it matter? I do hope nobody ever tackles Baileys Mistake. Ol' Bailey anchored his ship in the wrong place. Should we go for Schiller's Cove?

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