“The three most important things in real estate are: location, location, location.” — Attributed to Lord Harold Samuel

Recently I’ve been thinking about maps quite a bit, and as you’ve probably already guessed, specifically about some of the words used on them. So join me as I explore some map words and punctuation, beginning with our own state of Maine and expanding out from there.

Starting with the obvious, Maine is the only state whose name has just one syllable. And it’s one of only five states that can be spelled using the 12 letters of the Hawaiian alphabet (the others are Iowa, Ohio, Oklahoma and, of course, Hawaii).

Despite all of our state’s unusual place names, the only thing that the Government Printing Office’s Manual of Style has to say about Maine comes in its list of counties, where it points out that it’s “Kennebec in Maine” and “Kanabec in Minnesota.”

While Maine has myriad unique place names, some, such as Batchelders Grant Township near Stoneham, are noteworthy because of their lack of a possessive apostrophe, as are many other places across the country, such as Hells Canyon and Harpers Ferry.

So why are the apostrophes missing? Because the U.S. Board on Geographic Names long ago decided that by eliminating the punctuation, the names become “fixed labels,” and “the need to imply possession or association no longer exists.” (The BGN does allow apostrophes when they take the place of omitted letters, as in Lake O’ The Woods, or are needed to form a personal name, such as O’Malley Hollow.)

“What about Martha’s Vineyard?” I hear you asking. “How come that has an apostrophe, word guy?”

Well, it’s because, since 1890, the board HAS approved the use of an apostrophe in five geographic names around the country (your tax dollars at work).

Those five places are:

— Martha’s Vineyard, which is named after the daughter of English explorer Bartholomew Gosnold. It got its apostrophe back in 1933 (after having gone without one for 40 years) thanks to “a determined local campaign,” according to mentalfloss.com.

— Ike’s Point, New Jersey, which in 1944 was allowed its apostrophe after the board determined that “Ikes” would be unrecognizable otherwise.

— John E’s Pond, Rhode Island, which earned its punctuation in 1963 after the bureaucrats concluded that it “could be misconstrued as ‘John S Pond.'”

— Carlos Elmer’s Joshua View, Arizona, a promontory named for landscape photographer Carlos Elmer, which earned its apostrophe in 1985 by virtue of the fact that “three consecutive first names could be confusing.”

— And Clark’s Mountain. Way back in 1806, Meriwether Lewis named a mountain in Oregon after fellow explorer William Clark, but it wasn’t until 2002 that the members of the BGN “decided to adopt Lewis’s preferred spelling of the name and restored the apostrophe to Clark’s Mountain.”

And that’s some of the skinny on map names. If I lost you somewhere along the way, all you have to do is find a map with an ideolocator on it and it will tell you in no uncertain terms, “You are here.”

Jim Witherell of Lewiston is a writer and lover of words whose work includes “L.L. Bean: The Man and His Company” and “Ed Muskie: Made in Maine.”

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