5 Towns That Had to Change Their Names

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Many places have undergone name changes at some point in their past, often because the land came under new rule or because the settlement outgrew its old designation. But some towns and cities had more unique reasons to transform their titles. Scandal, shame, or a desire to honor their history can spur a community to present a fresh identity to the world. Here are five places whose name changes aren’t your average rebranding.

1. Berlin, Ontario, Canada, became Kitchener

A memorandum issued by the Kitchener postmaster shortly after the city changed its name from Berlin in 1916.Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

A lot of German immigrants settled in Southern Ontario in the 19th century, and the city of Berlin was named as an homage to their motherland. This was fine—until the 20th century, when said motherland started bombing Canada’s allies during World War I. That, combined with the large population of pacifist Mennonites in Berlin, spelled trouble for the city. All the pacifists meant a large number of local men weren’t signing up for the war effort, which caused people from other towns to look at the heavily German-populated Berlin with suspicion.

Soon, there was a referendum (not supported by the majority) to change the city’s name. Citizens were given a variety of new names to vote on, but there was no space on the ballot to keep Berlin “Berlin.” Anyone who supported the status quo was, according to the National Archives of Canada, “immediately perceived, by those who wanted change, as being unpatriotic and sympathizers with the enemy.”

Violence, riots, and intimidation followed. Only 892 people out of a pool of about 5000 eligible voters voted on the referendum. A meager 346 votes were enough to change Berlin to Kitchener, named after Britain’s Minister of War.

2. Pile-Of-Bones, Saskatchewan, Canada, became Regina

Queen Victoria and the Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, Duchess of Argyll by Hills & Saunders.National Portrait Gallery, London // CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Today, Regina is a city more than 220,000 people strong. But in the 1880s, it was a barren grassland frequented mainly by buffalo and the Cree Indians who hunted them. Its original name, oskana kâ-asastêki, means “where the bones are piled.” The macabre moniker references the enormous piles of bones the Cree would construct in the hopes that living buffalo would return to visit their dead ancestors. Later settlers shortened the name to “Pile O’ Bones.” In 1882, the wife of Canada’s governor general, Princess Louise, suggested they change the name to honor her own mother, Queen Victoria. Regina is Latin for “Queen,” and all female monarchs sign their name using it. Thus the Saskatchewan settlement was elevated out of the boneyard to royal heights.

3. Wineville, California, became Mira Loma

This ranch was the site of the ghastly Wineville Chicken Coop Murders, which prompted the town to change its name.Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Clint Eastwood and Angelina Jolie made a movie called Changeling, about a mother who is sure the kidnapped son returned to her is not actually her boy. The film was based on true events, and those events are why the town of Wineville, California, became Mira Loma (it’s since been incorporated into Jurupa Valley). The real-life kidnapped boy, Walter Collins, was likely murdered in Wineville along with at least three other boys by Gordon Stewart Northcott. The case became known as The Wineville Chicken Coop Murders, as the partial remains of Northcott’s victims were recovered around the criminal’s chicken coop. Northcott was hanged in 1930, and the town sought to escape its appalling notoriety by changing its name in 1931.

4. Staines, Surrey, England, became Staines-Upon-Thames

Ali G caused an English town to change its name.Anthony Harvey, Staff/Getty Images

Americans have come to loathe or love Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat or Bruno. In his native Britain, he was first known as the character Ali G, an obnoxious wanna-be white boy rapper. Part of Ali G’s background is that he grew up in the mean ghettos of Staines—which is actually a lovely middle-class town in Surrey. His fame was such in the UK that the people of Staines didn’t appreciate being associated with his image. The borough council opted to change the town’s name to the more elegant Staines-upon-Thames, partly to distance themselves from Ali G’s obnoxious antics, and partly to advertise their proximity to the River Thames to encourage tourism. Though Ali G may have put the town on the map, as Alex Tribick of the Spelthorne Business Forum said, he also “put the stain in Staines.”

5. Gay Head, Massachusetts, became Aquinnah

Aquinnah was once named after its colorful cliffs.Massachusetts Office Of Travel & Tourism, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

On the western edge of the island of Martha’s Vineyard, there is an outcropping of craggy, brightly tinted rock. The white settlers who arrived there in the 1600s described them as the “gaily colored cliffs.” The association stuck to the settlement that grew nearby, and thus, the town of Gay Head was born. In 1997, the people of Gay Head voted to change their town’s name to Aquinnah, to honor some of the residents’ ties to the Wamponoag tribe, who were the original holders of the land. As Carl Widdis, the tribesman who started the petition in 1991, said, “I guess it's simple. An Indian place should have an Indian name."

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From Campaign Slogans to Social Movements, New Book Explores the Role Buttons Have Played Throughout History

Princeton Architectural Press/Amazon
Princeton Architectural Press/Amazon

From their early days on the campaign trail during the 1896 presidential race to their current role as a way of showing support for social causes like the LGBTQIA+ pride movement, pinback buttons have remained one of the most popular ways for people to express their values and beliefs for well over a century. And now, button experts Christen Carter, founder of Chicago’s Busy Beaver Button Company and the Button Museum, and Ted Hake, owner of Hake’s Auctions, have put their extensive knowledge of the subject into the new book Button Power: 125 Years of Saying It With Buttons ($25), a cultural journey showcasing 1500 of the most important and unique pinbacks throughout American history.

“Buttons seem like really a niche thing, but they really are very general,” Carter tells Mental Floss. “They cover so much history, and the history goes deep and wide.”

For the book, Hake and Carter—who both began collecting buttons during their respective childhoods—cover how buttons have been used to communicate messages during their 125-year history, from pinbacks featuring landmark political slogans and anti-war sentiments to others that simply proclaim a person's love of Dallas.

“[Buttons] are little windows on the world, and you can pick an avenue and head down to your heart's content,” Hake tells Mental Floss.

Some of the 20th century's most important moments had a button to go along with them.Princeton Architectural Press/Amazon

One of Hake's favorite buttons in the book doesn't feature a political or social statement—it's just a picture of a buffalo with the words “Eat Me at Bremen, Kans. June 9, 1935” emblazoned across it. But it wasn't just the design that really caught his attention; it was also its backstory.

The button's origins lie within the town of Bremen, Kansas, which, in June 1935, was celebrating both its 50th anniversary and the dedication of a marker for the defunct Oregon Trail, according to Kansas Historical Quarterly. Two weeks before the celebration, 500 townspeople gathered in Bremen to watch a buffalo get slaughtered, which was then shipped to the neighboring town’s ice house for preservation. When the big day finally arrived, the buffalo was shipped back to become the centerpiece of a community-wide feast. The button was made to spread the word for the unique event.

“Here he is on this button, inviting the good folks of Bremen to enjoy him,” Hake says. “So it is a little bit surreal, to tell you the truth.” During his research, Hake recovered this niche historical event that could’ve otherwise been easily lost to history. “At the end of the day, they capped it off with supper, a band concert, and they gave away a baby buffalo calf,” he says.

Buttons have been used to express both support and opposition to the United States's involvement in wars. Princeton Architectural Press/Amazon

While pinback button technology has not changed drastically in the past 125 years, Hake and Carter still consider their golden era to be from 1896 to 1921. “The colors are just unusual and beautiful,” Carter says. “They were able to get fine details that, [even] with digital printing, we can’t do.” Carter also enjoys how buttons were used as a communication device during the punk movement, saying, “They're important identifiers to a counter-culture movement, and they were not afraid to piss people off.”

Though the book covers buttons featuring celebrities, bands, and brands, many of the most popular ones come from the political arena and sports. Hake’s Auction just set the record for the most expensive pinback sold on September 23, 2020, with a 1916 Boston Red Sox World Series button that went for $62,980. “What makes it great is that every team member is on the button and up at 11 o’clock is one Babe Ruth. He was in his second year and was a pitcher back in those days,” Hake explains.

Even though there are buttons like the Babe Ruth ones that sell for thousands of dollars, it's still an accessible hobby for everyone. “You can start your button collection with just $10 and already have a good start. It is a good thing to collect if you don’t have much money or much space,” Carter explains.

The power of the political button eventually became fertile ground for satire in the '70s.Princeton Architectural Press/Amazon

Looking forward to the next 125 years, Carter hopes that buttons can become more eco-friendly by eliminating steel use and replacing it with recycled materials. “They haven’t changed that much in the last 125 years. They are pretty timeless in that way, and they are inexpensive, so whatever keeps them as inexpensive as possible as resources change in the next 100 years, they will probably change."

You can order Button Power: 125 Years of Saying It With Buttons on Amazon or on the Princeton Architectural Press website.

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