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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Completely Off The Subject

There still are a few things on my list of observations about our current crisis, but I'm depressed and tired of thinking about it -- and especially about the Idiot-in-Chief.  In addition to the new global hell that we all are going through, I have my personal hell, as Hubby has regressed because of the pandemic.  I stopped him from watching the news a long time ago, but he sees the changes in the hospital and has become very anxious and paranoid. 


Transferring him to another wing with a new staff of doctors and nurses certainly didn't help, to say nothing about social workers who want to move him to a nursing home – the epicenter of the epidemic!  That may as well be a death sentence, but they regularly waste their time to nag me about it.  He thinks he's a prisoner of war and that the masked people around him are Viet Cong who plan to execute him.  I was able to hold off his fears while with him, but now that I am not allowed to visit… Well, my mental health requires a total change of subject. 


I suspect you might want some relief, too, so this column is going to be just curiously irrelevant.  One day when I still was allowed to sit at Hubby's bedside and was bored out of my mind, I got to thinking about names of states.  I've written enough history that is organized by state that, after some head scratching, ceiling staring, and visualization of the US map, I was able to list all of them in more or less alpha order on the back of a used envelope.


With this handwritten data and old-fashioned counting by making four vertical lines and then a slash for five (is there a name for that? Hubby would have known…), I realized that an astonishing number of state names end in vowels.  Just twenty of the fifty states end in consonants, while the other thirty end in vowels.  Even more amazing, 21 end in just one vowel, "a."  That's the same amount as all of the 21 consonants in the alphabet, from B through Z.


Those ending in "a" are:  Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia, and West Virginia.   


If you recall your elementary school phonics, the vowels are a-e-i-o-u.  No state ends in "u," but oddly enough, the other three vowels have three states each.  "E" ends Delaware, Maine, and New Hampshire;" "i" is the last letter of Hawaii, Mississippi, and Missouri; while "o" works for Colorado, Idaho, and Ohio.  Those nine plus the 21 above that end in "a" makes thirty of the fifty states.




Yes, I am filling up space and diverting myself from more serious topics.  At the same time, though, I care about solid methodology and following through on a thought.  The first step in any analysis is accumulation of data, and so -- in alpha order by beginning letter – here are the states ending in consonants:  Arkansas, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. 


I counted that again, too; it's 20 – or fewer than the 21 states ending in the letter "a."  Why? Why? I've never thought about it nor seen anyone study it.  I guess it's because "a" is generally seen as feminine – as in "Angela" and "Angelo" – but the feminine usage seems strangely disproportionate.  Moreover, the few masculine usages also are inexplicable.  Why California and Colorado, which both were named by Spanish speakers?  If anyone can tell me, please do.


States named for people also have some curiosities.  Virginia, of course, was named for the (allegedly) Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I, who succeeded her half-sister, Mary I.  Although Mary reigned earlier than Elizabeth, Maryland was named several decades later than Virginia.  Its founders were devout Catholics who probably intended to honor their Catholic queen.  Some assert that it's for the biblical Virgin Mary or for other women named Mary or Marie or Maria, including the wife of Charles I, who gave the land grant for Maryland.  Her name was Henrietta Maria, however, and that seems a stretch.


Other states that honor male monarchs also end in the seemingly feminine "a."  Louisiana was called that for Louis, the name of several French kings during the era of American exploration.  Ditto with Georgia, named for English kings of the 1700s.  "Carolina," which later was divided into North and South, was named for the English kings of that era we know as Charles I and Charles II.  How "Charles" became "Carolina" also is bewildering.  It works, though, to disguise the fact that the First was beheaded by his Protestant subjects and, a generation later, the Second had to flee to France to avoid the same fate.


In comparison, William Penn is simple.  A generous and democratic man, he nonetheless was the only founder who named his colony for himself.  He also was singular in adding the pleasant "sylvania" to his name.  The State of Washington is the most straightforward.  It had been part of the Oregon Territory, and some hot heads wanted to fight a war with Canada to extend it further north. 


Other territories also had long histories.  The Missouri Territory once went all the way to the Pacific, while the Northwest Territory included the five states that stretch from Ohio to Wisconsin.  The Dakota Territory included both North and South Dakotas, while back East, the colonies of North and South Carolina once were one.  We have these four states with "North" and "South" in their names, but West Virginia is the only "West."  With appreciable encouragement from the federal government, it seceded from Virginia during the Civil War.  No state has "East" in its name, which is pretty much a natural result of the chief pattern of settlement, from the Atlanta to the Pacific.  Only water was to the east.




No state begins with "B," even though more surnames begin with that letter than any other.  Anyone who used old-fashioned phone books for making political calls back in the day can confirm this.  The first three letters of the alphabet have so many surnames that by the time we got from A through C, we were exhausted.  I imagine that is even more true now with the increased Muslim population having many names that begin with A.


But back to states, as opposed to surnames.  In addition to B, no state begins with E, J, Q, X, or Z.  The most frequent beginning letter is M, with eight states.  We have four "News:" New Hampshire, New Jersey, and New York refer to British places, while New Mexico, of course, has a Spanish origin.  It really should have been "Nueva" or "Nuevo," depending on whether we think that land was feminine or masculine -- or maybe the genderless English usage was the right choice after all.  New York, of course, originally was New Amsterdam, and its first settlers were Dutch.  Delaware originally was New Sweden, but when the English ran out the Swedes, they returned to the name that the aboriginals had used.


The trendy Kiowa Coffee shops make me think of two other states with names traceable to American Indians, Kansas and Iowa.  Others that come from native languages include Arkansas, Alabama, Connecticut, the Dakotas, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and doubtless more.  Enough already, right?




I tried without success to find a column I wrote several years ago suggesting a rearrangement of the states.  I remember that Adele Baylin, the mother of Tampa City Councilman John Dingfelder, called me about it.  We both laughed at the improbability of this ever happening, but nothing happens without a proposal.  The idea remains rational, but as in so much of overcoming our past, it takes time.  So, because I don't want to think about other things, here's the plan.


First we acknowledge that boundaries drawn in the 1600s and 1700s, when what became the United States was settled, are not necessarily sensible today.  The State of New York, for example, should not run from New York City on the Atlantic to Buffalo on Lake Erie.  Better to combine NYC with its suburbs in Connecticut and New Jersey and create one urban state, while industrial Buffalo hooks up with Rochester and Syracuse on Lake Ontario. 


Similarly, we should make a new state of Washington, DC along with its Virginia and Maryland suburbs, and perhaps Baltimore, too.  Southern Virginia and most of geographical Maryland would be glad to get rid of the urbanities.  This region, which still has a lot of farming, already calls itself Delmarva, which stands for Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia.  This would be an easy place to start a new map.


On the opposite coast, Seattle and Portland should be connected, while the western portions of those states hook up with Idaho and Wyoming.  One positive effect for democracy would be that these low population states would be entitled to just two senators instead of their current four.  The combined population of Idaho and Wyoming is 2.3 million, or less than that of just Tampa Bay, which is 2.8 million.  It is only arbitrary and obsolete state boundaries that give these cowboys vastly more representation in the Senate than we 21 million Floridians.


The same is true for huge California.  It has done a wonderful job of unifying its diverse population, but its large territory really should have been two states, with a northern one anchored by San Francisco and a southern one by LA.  That reminds me of Florida Panhandle people who enjoy saying they are from LA – Lower Alabama.  I'm sure they would be happy to live in a new Gulf Coast state running from Tallahassee to Biloxi.  And South Florida metropolitans would be equally happy to say goodbye to the Panhandlers. 


Legislatures could run much more smoothly if they didn't have constant conflict between these rural and city constituencies.  State budgets could be more realistic, with less deal-making to appease opposite interests.  I really do think everyone would benefit from some clear-headed thinking about future possibilities, as opposed to clinging to lines on maps drawn long ago.  But like Adele, I don't expect it in my lifetime.



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