Reader mk posted a comment on my most recent entry about local place names in which she raised an interesting question – and brought back some long-ago memories for me.
She pointed out that there is a variant on the spelling of Queensborough, the shorter form “Queensboro” – and that some people apparently still use it. Her question was basically, “What’s up with that?”Well, I think I can answer. Back when I was a kid growing up here at the Manse, lots of people spelled the name of our village “Queensboro” – and in fact I am pretty sure it was considered the standard spelling. But in those days people also often wrote “Peterboro” for Peterborough, and “Scarboro” for Scarborough, and so on. And what was that all about?
My best guess is that it was a holdover from the long-ago days when writing paper was expensive and hard to come by for our pioneer forebears, and postage was also costly. Do you remember learning in school about how letter-writers in those times would “criss-cross” – that is, when they’d finished a page, turn it sideways and write at a 90-degree angle right over top of what they’d already written? That was to save paper. Here’s an example, from none other than Jane Austen:
And those were also the days when it was very common to see people’s first names shortened: “Geo.” for George, “Chas.” for Charles, “Jas.” for James, “Thos.” for Thomas. When was the last time you saw that? Probably in a newspaper from no later than the very early 1960s. But again, it was probably done to save space: if you were, say, Thomas A. Ross, shoeseller of Madoc, Ont., and wanted to advertise your shop in newspapers (and on matchbook covers, like here) you would save a bit of newsprint and ink – and thus money – by shortening your name to “Thos.” And so that’s what people did.
I know of at least one Ontario place not so far from here that has held onto its “boro” spelling, even as Peterborough and Scarborough and, yes, Queensborough have long since become commonly known by their full – and, let it be said, correct – names. That would be the village of Reaboro, the Lindsay-area home of my aunt and uncle where my four cousins grew up. I have to say (and I think my cousins would agree) that I think “Reaborough” would look quite weird.
But Queensborough? Now that’s one distinguished-looking name!