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Mystery Solved:

I could understand names such as Ithaca, New York — classical names have often been seen as classy in America — and Memphis, Tennessee and Cairo, Illinois, which are based on the conceit of the Mississippi as the American Nile. Other names, such as Boston and New York, simply reflect the settlers' Old Country. But why St. Petersburg, Florida? How is the Sunshine City on the Gulf of Mexico connected to a Russian city near the Arctic Circle?

Well, Wikipedia reports, the answer is pretty simple: The city was cofounded by Peter Demens, a Russian who spent much of his youth St. Petersburg; though I doubt that many of its residents are Russian, its important early settler was, and that's all it took. Moscow, Idaho remains a mystery, though:

The origin of the name Moscow has long been disputed. There is no evidence that it was named by a Russian or for a Russian city. What can be verified is this: five of the settlers met to choose a proper name. They wanted a prestigious name, one that would bode well for the town. They failed to come to an agreement quickly, and so they designated the postmaster, Samuel Neff, to complete the official papers. He chose Moscow, which because of its favorable meaning, 'city of brotherly love,' met the desired requirements. An interesting sidelight to the choice is that Neff was born in Moscow, Pennsylvania and later moved to Moscow, Iowa.

UPDATE: I have no idea why anyone would think that Moscow (or, in Russian, Moskva) would mean "city of brotherly love." (For whatever it's worth, "brother" in Russian is "brat," and "love" is "liubov'.")

Sceptical Muscovite (mail):
Since when does 'Moscow' mean the 'city of brotherly love'?
9.18.2006 2:45pm
texas 3L:
While I can't speak for the Moscows in Pennsylvania and Iowa, the locals in Moscow, Idaho hate being compared to Moscow, Russia. Each time I visit my friends near there, the locals do not stop reminding you that the pronounciation of their Moscow rhymes with toe, not cow.
9.18.2006 3:12pm
John Steele (mail):
I have quite a few relatives in Moscow, Pennsylvania, and I'd ask them what they thought, but unfortunately they're all at St. Catherine's.
9.18.2006 3:34pm
Ben of MA:
Many Lisbons in the US
http://www.loc.gov/rr/hispanic/portam/lisbons.html
(includes a map of all Lisbons in US)

There are at least 37 communities named 'Lisbon' and it seems unlikely that they were named by immigrants or others with a connection to Portugal. As the above page notes, these municipalities were not located near the highly localized Portuguese settlement. I've read elsewhere that only one of these municipalities was named by someone having any connection with the original Lisbon (although the reason for naming is usually obscure).

My guess is that Lisbon was on the mind of early Americans just as it was on the mind of Europeans at the time -- as one of the greatest Capitols of its day, it was destroyed by earthquake in 1755, shaking the faith of all Christendom. It then was dramatically rebuilt under an enlightenment-inspired geometric plan.
9.18.2006 3:40pm
Duncan Frissell (mail):
And don't forget Moscow, Ohio. I worked on a nuke there.
9.18.2006 4:05pm
Don Miller (mail):
When I was 5 years old, I lived about 50 miles from Moscow Idaho. President Nixon was visiting Moscow Russia at the time.

I couldn't figure out why the news media kept mispronouncing the name of the town. I also couldn't figure out why my parents weren't more interested in my suggestion that we go to Moscow and meet the President.
9.18.2006 4:37pm
Gordo:
By the way, Moscow, Idaho is a very nice, small university town (the University of Idaho). There are far worse places to be stuck for a while.
9.18.2006 4:57pm
Steve H (mail):
When I lived there, the local stuff I read suggested that the place was named after the Pennsylvania town. Nothing I read ever suggested that the town in Idaho was named after the Russian city.
9.18.2006 5:06pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
There's a town in AZ, Snowflake.

It was actually named after the two pioneer families that founded it, the Snows and the Flakes.
9.18.2006 5:23pm
Brock (www):
There's also a Moscow, TN, about 40 miles from Memphis. Population about 500.

I was looking at some Civil War era maps in a history shop in San Antonio, and Moscow, TN was actually on a map of the US. It's dot was the same size as the dot for Memphis.
9.18.2006 6:49pm
Dave Roberts (mail):
I'm happy living on the Russian River, just twenty minutes from Sebastopol. We, at least, do have a link with Russian fur traders in hte 1800's. Our area, just an hour north of San Francisco, was the southernmost reach of the Russian traders. They scared the hell out of the Spanish who wanted California for themselves.
9.18.2006 7:34pm
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
is there a "Lodi" in every state in the union?

interesting fact:
in the 19th century, railroad companies built towns across the midwest/west. one can, on a map, on lines east/west, find towns named in alhabetical order, named after greek cities, etc.

the towns were constructed along the same plan, a main street that "t-boned" into the railroad tracks, with a hotel on one corner, a bank on the other. and, there was an "otherside of the tracks", that being the area where the town stopped.
9.18.2006 8:46pm
Randy R. (mail):
If I were to visit St. Petersburg, Florida, surely some enterprising young thing would name a local haunt the Petrograd Cafe, right? Or an underground bar named the Leningrad?

If there isnt', there should be one.
9.18.2006 9:53pm
Tom Tildrum:
I'm reminded of one time on The Simpsons when they were watching Jeopardy. Alex Trebek intoned, "The capital city of North Dakota was named after this former German leader." Whereupon Homer shouted at the TV, "Hitler!"
9.18.2006 11:04pm
Ty:
We have a tradition of ridiculously out of place and mispronounced place names in these parts. Dubois (pronounced, oddly, 'doo-boys') and Boise (boy-see) come to mind. Of course, the whole state's name is made up. Idaho was a completely manufactured name, purported to be a native word for "gem of the mountains."

-Idaho 2L
9.18.2006 11:17pm
DF:
So. . . "Moscow" is Russian for "Philadelphia"?
9.19.2006 12:44am
Jay Myers:
This is all well and good but a far greater mystery is how and why French Lick, Indiana was so named.
9.19.2006 12:48am
The River Temoc (mail):
Moscow is hardly Russian for "city of brotherly love." City of "shout at the top of your lungs, throw temper tantrums, and drive like a maniac" is more like it.

Not that I care that much for Philadelphia, either.
9.19.2006 1:37am
Mike Brown (mail) (www):
Place names can often seem to mean something they don't - there's a little town called "Lew Beach" in the Catskills (Sullivan County, NY). There isn't any beach anywhere near the town, it's just named after its founder, one Mr. Lewis Beach.
9.19.2006 11:02am
Gumbey (mail) (www):
It has recently been discovered that Memphis means - killah, gangstah occupied area, which should be avoided at all cost, if you value your life.
9.19.2006 12:14pm
ys:
Peter Demens was a very interesting character who won the right to name the railroad terminus by allegedly flipping a coin with his busines partner, John C. Williams. He went on to other ventures ending up in California. He wrote letters on America to Russian publications for many years thereafter. His observations are astute, well-written, and many still relevant. This collection, as well as other books on Demens (all in English) could be obtained at the St.Petersburg (FL) History Museum. And no, there was no cafe Petrograd or St.Petersburg in St.Pete when a was there a few years ago (there is one in Boston though, where they serve Boston Waltz vodka manufactured in St.Petersburg, RF).


And don't forget Moscow, Ohio. I worked on a nuke there.


It is indeed a very nice tiny town next to the completely minuscule birth hut of U.S.Grant. That's the only building in the area that can remind of Russia. I don't know where that Moscow name comes from, but I do know about an even nicer Moscow, Vermont. At one time a while ago (don't have the exact date), schoolchidren there studied about the big Moscow and its bells, and I believe were able to procure a bell of that type. The townspeople were so fascinated that they decided to exchange their perfectly boring label of Smith's Falls to Moscow. This Moscow sits 2 miles away from the Von Trapp Family Lodge (yes those Von Trapps) and is famous for its 5 minute long 4th of July parade.
9.19.2006 3:10pm
ys:
The pattern of transporting names from the East Coast westward seems to hold for a lot places. Two interesting cases: Portland,OR named after Portland, ME (Boston was also in the running, but like in St.Pete's case, the other guy won); Beverly Hills was named by a native of Beverly, MA. And I am pretty sure that all Lexingtons could be traced to the Lexington of Paul Revere of the "British are coming" fame. Same, probably, with Moscows, as examplified by the case of Moscow, Idaho.
9.19.2006 4:00pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

This is all well and good but a far greater mystery is how and why French Lick, Indiana was so named.
Salt licks, probably discovered by a Frenchman.
9.20.2006 12:00am