Sooey generis

July 27, 2006

From Dogtown, Ala., to Camel Hump, Wyo., the United States is filled with place names that are neither lofty nor swanky. Some communities wear their gritty sobriquets with pride, refusing to hide their bare-knuckled origins behind scented veils of gentrification. Others, afraid that outsiders will mock them, surrender to trendy pretension.

For example, the little Eastern Shore town of St. Michaels - lately a weekend getaway for the Cheneys and the Rumsfelds - declared that a patch of public waterfront property should be named Church Cove Park. What did the locals call it before then? Muskrat Park. Seems it's easier to rename the place than it is to explain that a muskrat is a very clean animal that lives in the marsh and once was highly sought for its fur.

The name of Baltimore's own beloved Pigtown is under assault. Again. Believed to have its origins in the 1800s, when swine were driven from the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad through Ostend and Cross streets toward the slaughterhouses in South Baltimore, the name was changed to Washington Village in the 1970s, when city leaders decided urban renewal gave them privileges of unpoetic license. Still, Pigtown remained Pigtown to most city dwellers and continues today to have its staunch adherents.

But now comes an effort to list the neighborhood with the respected National Register of Historic Places. A place in the register would give Pigtown a cachet it has never had before and open the door to tax breaks for those interested in maintaining the old architecture of the area. Some Pigtowners - er, Washington Villagers - insist that bearing the name of a rotund, muddy animal is not only undignified, it belies the upwardly mobile transformation sweeping through much of the community. The name Pigtown, they suggest, should skulk into the shadows of bygone days and let the more refined moniker step forward.

We disagree. We like the name Pigtown. It carries authenticity and charm. And we'll take charm any day over hollow prestige. Besides, pigs generally have been given a bum rap. By nature they are not hoggish - look to the cow for that trait - and some types are said to have the highest IQ in the barnyard. Lots of people have discovered that pigs make good pets. In Europe, they are prized for their ability to forage truffles. In short, there's no shame in this name.

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