When I learned that my friend Sanford Small had passed away several years ago at the age of 86, the news reminded me that his was the oldest-standing friendship of my life outside of immediate family. I was 14 and he 24 when that association was born and despite the passage of years and intervening miles, it had endured and even grown, connected by the kinds of bonds life hands out only sparingly. When I think of him, I think of how, in his later years, he left behind a lifetime of sea-going service as the captain of a blue-water vessel to settle on the Vermont hilltop farm he had lovingly and thoughtfully established, far from the sea he had loved. As you drove up the long meandering driveway to his log home, you were met by a hand-crafted wooden sign proclaiming your arrival at “LANDFALL”, a name which was filled to overflowing with meaning.
Our present home place in southern Utah is known to us as “LIVINGOOD FARM”, even though there exists no overhanging sign saying so. Ever since we came under the influence of a pioneering couple named Scott and Helen Nearing, whose friendship we came to know and whose well-known book, “Living the Good Life” inspired us, we have thought of our dream-place in those terms. The Nearings themselves lived out their carefully-planned life of self-reliance overlooking the Atlantic on Cape Rosier, Maine on a piece of wooded land they called “FOREST FARM”.
As a youngster, growing up in the World War II years and influenced by a very-British uncle, I carried on a written correspondence with his niece who lived in an English country village in Derbyshire. Tutored by adults who were very big on proper grammar and etiquette, I would carefully address each letter and envelope to “Miss Gwendilyn Knowles, WHISTLECROFT, Derbyshire,” etc. etc. It had to be explained to me that “Whistlecroft” was the name of the Knowles home, and was a very important part of the correct address. The naming of the “places” in which people live has been a fascination for me ever since.
In America, where anything more than 100 seems “old”, residential history does not have the same significance it does in, say England, where it is not unusual for a residence to be six hundred years old, often with a nomenclature which has passed through many generations. The naming of properties began with “landed titles” and inherited nobility; family and class pride demanding appropriate coats-of-arms and unique addresses. The surviving “stately homes” of England offer a look back into those times, including such stand-outs as “HIGHCLERE CASTLE”, which served as the setting for the very popular television series, “Downton Abbey”. “WOBURN ABBEY” in Bedfordshire has a history dating back to the 12th century, and “SOMERLEYTON HALL” in East Anglia was first built in 1240.
The naming of far more humble abodes sprang up much later, and with a far greater sense of literary license, high imagination, and unhidden humor. If one makes a study of the naming of English houses it will be discovered that “ROSE COTTAGE” is the most favored choice, with such addresses as “THE BUNGALOW”, “ORCHARD HOUSE” and “THE YEWS” scoring high on lists regularly updated by several .com entities.
I especially admire such “cutting edge” choices as “CUCKOO COTTAGE”, “ROOKERY NOOK”, “SQUIRRELS LEAP” and “THE OWL AND TWO HOOTS”, while I find something mysterious and even arcane in “WHISPERS”.
By the way, it is considered bad form and unlucky to change the name of one’s cottage; a consideration not to be taken lightly!
At a time when so much around us is reduced to numbers, it is refreshing to see that imagination is still at work in the naming of a home-based shop in rural New England.
Original Al Cooper Photo