Category: Susan Chesney
Our daughter Laura is applying to colleges, fourteen of them to be exact. Her brother Peter (Vassar ’08) took her on a college tour to New York and New England last summer. We didn’t accompany them so that we could save money. I have an expensive weakness for decent accommodations and healthy food. But our kids can travel on a shoestring.
Peter and Laura visited twenty schools. They texted and called us often, talking incessantly about the various colleges they had visited that day and those they would be touring next. I remember hearing the name “Sarah Lawrence” in a whole new light, and thinking, that’s pretty! “Bard” sounded quirky, and “Bates” sounded kind of creepy like the Bates Motel in “Psycho.”
When they returned home, the quest for the perfect college wasn’t over. Laura has a book called “The Best 366 Colleges,” with descriptions of schools across the United States. Laura has been carrying THE BOOK around for two years now. She has talked about this college and that and is open to going to school in Ohio, Pennsylvania and even as near to her family as (gasp!) California! As she talks about different colleges, I am hearing more and more names that have cool potential for baby names, my constant obsession, as you Nameberryites all know!
Because we live in California where most college are universities named after the cities they are located in, many of the far-away liberal arts colleges have names that I had never heard of until now, such as Kenyon, Allegheny, and St. Olaf. But others have names that are familiar like Reed, Bowdoin, and, of course, Harvard.
A few days ago as I was obsessing about names, I realized that THE BOOK is not only an amazing collection of college descriptions, it is also a delightful dictionary of classic, quirky, vintage, and place names that could provide great inspiration for all of us on Nameberry.
ALLEGHENY (al-uh–GAIN-ee, but my daughter and I think uh-LEG-uhn-ee is prettier.) – Pennsylvania
BEREA – Kentucky
BRYN (Mawr) – Pennsylvania
MARQUETTE – Wisconsin
One of my favorite places is the California desert, because in that silent place there are many secrets. Most people drive through the desert as fast as they can with their windows up, radios blaring, and air conditioners on. They don’t know about the gray-green sagebrush that grows in little clumps away from the highway, and that hidden among the clumps might be a bleached antler, lying in the sand. What if they knew that outside the town of Bishop, there are several hot ditches, natural and soothing hot springs, waiting to be soaked in, free of charge? Or what about this secret: that the desert is unpolluted– there is very little trash and the skies are a deep blue. I love the mirage effect out in the desert. There is a blend of haze and heat that shimmers and is mystical. In the movie “Lawrence of Arabia”, when asked why he loves the desert, Lawrence replies, “Because it’s clean.”
Among the precious secrets of the California desert is the treasure trove of names that dot the landscape along with the cactus, lizards, and Joshua trees. There are little towns, rivers, lakes, hills, plants, animals and even colors in the desert that can provide inspiration for babies’ names. Some of these names are comfy or even popular like Owen and Joshua. Others are vintage, offbeat and quirky such as Aberdeen and Rosamond. So let’s wander out under the cottonwood trees that grow next to the crick (creek), set up some lawn chairs, and talk about California desert names.
Some place names from the California Desert:
ALABAMA – the Alabamas, hills that are older than the High Sierras
My family and I love nothing more than to visit as many National Parks as we can. We’ve been to twenty-six of them, from Acadia in Maine to the Everglades in Florida to Haleakala and Hawaiian Volcanoes. It’s amazing that we didn’t name our children after one–we were only thinking of classic names then (we did name our son Peter, which comes from the Greek Petros, meaning stone, as in Yellowstone)–because they are such a treasure trove of possibilities. Not only the parks themselves but the waterfalls, mountains and beaches within them have distinctive names. The passion I feel for National Parks is captured so perfectly by the artful names given to these places. Who, for example, can say Shenandoah without crossing into the past, into less complicated times?
So here is a list of National Park-related names:
ALBERTA (falls–Rocky Mountain)
ANSEL (park photographer Ansel Adams)
ARCHER, ARCHIE (Arches)
ASH (mountain–Sequoia and Kings Canyon)
CARMEN (mountain range–Big Bend)
CRUZ (bay–Virgin Islands)
ELENA (canyon–Big Bend)
ELIAS (Wrangell-St. Elias)
EMERALD (ridge–Mt. Rainier)
ISIS (temple–Grand Canyon)
JASPER (forest–Petrified Forest)
JOSHUA (Joshua Tree)
JUNIPER (canyon–Big Bend)
KENAI (Kenai Fjords)
KING (Kings Canyon)
KOBUK (Kobuk Valley)
LASSEN (Lassen Volcanic)
MESA (Mesa Verde)
MUIR (naturalist John Muir who helped save Yosemite)
QUINCY (mountain–Gates of the Arctic)
ROYALE (Isle Royale)
SHASTA (mountain near Lassen Volcanic)
SMOKY (Great Smoky Mountains)
VERDE (Mesa Verde)
TIRZAH (peak–Mt. Rainier)
SUSAN CHESNEY, a graduate of Art Center College of Design, was the president of a graphics company for twelve years. She lives near Pasadena, California with her husband Kent, daughter Laura (son Peter lives nearby), dog Roxanne Louise and cat Moses Malone.