What’s in a Name?

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This is simple, really. Let’s not make it complicated.

It’s two syllables, they share a single vowel; these are all sounds common to our language.

“Ipswich.”

Say it out loud.

You have no problem saying it. You live around here.

But for people in the Midwest, it’s somehow difficult. For people in the South, it’s befuddling. For people in the West, it’s nigh unto impossible.

I’m on the phone with someone. Where do you live, they ask? “Ipswich,” I answer.

But this is an answer that can only be replied to with another question. Choose from the following menu:

“Huh?”

“What?”

“Say that again?”

“Are you kidding?”

Even people who keep their cool and intend to ask “How do you spell that?” seem to be incapable of simply asking the question. They have to precede it with a grunt or a snort or a chortle-swallowing yelp. I say “Ipswich” and I immediately hear the telltale “Arp!” — after which they try to recover: “Uh… how do you spell that?”

Only my cousin in Chicago was able to resist asking a question. Upon hearing the name of my new town, she barked, “Oh, for cryin’ out loud!”

It’s Ipswich, folks.

People have been living in places called Ipswich since at least the year 1200, when King John granted the English town its first charter — before that, it was “Gyppeswick”; we should be grateful for “Ipswich”!

Chaucer made fun of Ipswich for the conniving greed of its merchants (no connection to our own Ipswich Merchants Association, I assure you), but he didn’t seem to find the pronunciation of the town’s name funny at all.

In the 1520s and 30s, Ipswich was where Protestants went to be burned at the stake — I suspect this is why John Winthrop sent John Jr. to set up a new Protestant town and call it Ipswich: payback! See? He wasn’t trying to be funny at all.

And yet, people hear I live in “Ipswich” and they can’t seem to leave it alone. They never had a big overblown reaction when I lived in Griffith, or Springfield, or Scottsdale. I got no chuckles or cackles from Chicago or even Naperville. But now I live in Ipswich. Which makes people giggle uncomfortably.

Of course, in order for the Midwesterners, the Southerners, or the Westerners to “hear” it properly in a phone conversation, you have to spell it. This disturbs them even more. Nothing in their universe begins with the letter I followed immediately by the letter P. Nothing starts with “Ip.” There’s a visceral craving for a consonant there: they want it to be “Hip” or “Sip” or “Nip.”

No, it’s “Ip.” It starts with the letter I. If Indiana and Illinois can start with I, why can’t Ipswich?

Then there’s the matter of the missing T. How often do you receive mail addressed to your place in Ipswitch? People desperately want there to be a switch or a witch in there somewhere. Certainly down through history we’ve had our share of witches — perhaps we still do; I’m not going there — but in the spelling of our name, there’s no switch, there’s no witch, there’s no itch. It’s Ipswich. The T is in Boston.

“Ipswich.” Say it out loud. And no smirking.

 

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