Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Did Many U.S. Cities with German Names Changed During the War?


Over the years, I've heard of various cases of ridiculous changes to American vocabulary due to war hysteria during the Great War, e.g. sauerkraut to liberty cabbage. Thankfully, most of these were temporary. My impression, though, is that this did not happen a lot with the more serious matter of town or neighborhood names.  I needed some facts, however, to back this up. The most obvious test case for me seemed to be a name so common that you can still run into it in any part of the country: Germantown.  Back in  1917, I wondered, were there hundreds of Germantowns spread across the fruited plains, that surrendered the heritage of their, presumably, German settlers to the mood of the times?


A whole hour on the Internet led me to exactly two Germantowns that threw in the towel and gave in to the silliness during the war. One is a town in Texas, now named Schroeder. It's got a famous dance hall. If you keep reading you will find more interesting stuff on Schroeder below  The second is a place in California that rechristened itself Artois, after a part of France that the Germans held onto for the entire war until things started collapsing north and south of them in late 18.  (Yes, I know about Vimy Ridge.) All I've been able to ascertain about Artois, California, is that it's hard to find on a map and it's hard to find anything historically significant about it. Serves them right, IMHO.   

I invite readers to contribute any interesting name-change cases I might have missed during my in-depth research in the comments section below, but I just don't think it happened a lot.  Americans I'm proud to assert were apparently more sensible back then about their community than their vegetables.  Hooray!

To give my finding some authority here's what America's place name numero uno authority,  Professor George R. Stewart of the University of California, had to say on the matter:

There was plenty of hatred and hysteria [during the war], but the attitude seemed  to be: “It’s our name now!” Moreover, two hundred years of German immigration  had planted thousands of names; an unlettered American could not distinguish  German from Iroquoian, and might himself be of German origin. When  Germantown in Texas made the change [to Schroeder], the citizens honored a local  boy killed in France, not realizing or caring that Schroeder was a thoroughly German  name.

Update:  Our loyal and well-informed readers have begun adding to the list.  Please check-out the comments section below.  MH

9 comments:

  1. According to the always-reliable Wikipedia, the town of Berlin, Michigan, changed to Marne in 1919.

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  2. My favorite is Bismarck, Pennsylvania, which changed its name to Quentin in honor of Quentin Roosevelt.

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  3. The Germania Club in Milwaukee changed its name to the Wisconsin Club in 1917.

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  4. Here is a link to our Canton news paper about North Canton changing their name.

    100 years ago New Berlin became North Canton

    https://www.cantonrep.com/news/20171111/100-years-ago-new-berlin-became-north-canton

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  5. In New Jersey, German Valley changed its name to Long Valley at some point during WW1. I remember seeing a framed postcard at an antique shop using the German Valley name.

    Also in New Jersey, New Germantown changed its name to Oldwick in 1918.

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  6. Yes, Berlin, Michigan, became Marne, but one tough-minded German living there refused to change the name of his business. Hence, for years, Marne had the Berlin Raceway, which led to endless explanations when I was growing as to the disconnect between the names and the heritage of Great War hysteria.

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  7. In St. Louis Berlin Avenue was changed to Pershing.

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  8. Initially posted 4/3- In Baltimore,MD German Street became Redwood Street and the German language was no longer taught in the schools.

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  9. A list of Australian place names that were changed:

    http://www.diggerhistory.info/pages-asstd/name-changes.htm

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