Hitler Pond to Judas Creek: A Brief History of Controversial Place Names
If some Russians have their way, the city of Volgograd would soon revert to the name it carried from 1925 to 1961: Stalingrad. While many Russians still remember Joseph Stalin as a vicious tyrant, others recognize his importance to the country and are willing to consider the change in honor of the victorious Battle of Stalingrad, which is approaching its 70th anniversary. According to Russian news site RT, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov approves of the shift because, after all, the world is filled with "streets, squares, and boulevards" that still bear Stalin's name.
The news got us thinking about other places in the world named for — or carrying the unfortunately same name as — controversial historical figures. Let's stick with Stalin for a moment. Zyuganov is right to say that some places still pay homage to either the battle or the man. The most notable site, at least outside the former Soviet bloc, is the Stalingrad station of the Paris Metro. However most places made a change sooner or later; the Canadian township of Hansen, in the city of Killarney, finally approved ditching its Stalin name in 1986.
Staying with figures from the Russian revolution, we find that Vladimir Lenin is a bit more palatable to some than Stalin, but he remains controversial enough to have many of his sites renamed as well. The city of Saint Petersburg became Leningrad (via Petrograd) after Lenin's death, only to revert back to its original name in 1991. The area around the city is still known as the Leningrad Oblast. There's a street in Berlin once named for Stalin that's now named for Karl Marx, though some would like to see that changed, too.
Places with names of other World War II leaders — at least from the Axis side — are understandably harder to find. The U.S.G.S. geographic name database points us to Hitler Pond in Ohio and Tojo Mine in New Mexico. The small town of Swastika, in Ontario, considered taking Winston Churchill's name after the war, but so far has resisted a change, arguing it had the name "swastika" before the Nazis did.
The American south is a hotbed of Confederate place-names. The most objectionable would seem to be Confederate leader Jefferson Davis, but a quick Census search turns up Jeff Davis counties in Texas, Mississippi, and Georgia. Remnants of a transcontinental highway bearing the Davis name still occasionally spark controversy in various parts of the country. (A far bigger problem in the south — and other regions across the United States — are places with racially insensitive names.)
Traveling farther back into history brings a few surprises. There's a mine named for Genghis Khan in Boulder, Colorado, that's unlikely to be a coincidence. The city of Ettelbruck, in Luxembourg, is named for a linguistic variant of Attila — Ettel — as in Attila the Hun. Georgetown, the capital city of Guyana, was named for King George III, certainly an unsavory figure from the American perspective. Six states have a place called Napoleon; the Missouri city by that name, for sure, goes for the old French commander, as its neighbor goes by Wellington, for the other commander at Waterloo.
So long as there's a Judas Creek in New Jersey, there's likely to be a place named for just about anyone.
Top image: Paul Ferguson/Flickr