Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

A blog about words, wordplay, and etymology, with slightly more than occasional political rants.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Itty bitty living space.

If you weren't aware, the full name for our smallest state is Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. That's not the name that appears on maps or anything like that, and according to a Washington Post article, many folks in Rhode Island may not even know the full name of the state.
Well, this election day, voters in Rhode Island will decide whether to drop Providence Plantations from the name. People in favor of the name change say that the word Plantation is so linked to slavery that it doesn't matter that Plantation originally just meant settlement. Like the Swastika, they say, even though the word used to be innocent, it's newer connotation makes the word toxic.
Of course, Rhode Island is part of the North, where slavery was made illegal early on. However, the state was heavily involved in the Triangle Trade, in which Northern folks made serious bank trafficking enslaved people. The word Plantation has nothing to do with that history, it was part of the name in the original charter, and just meant something like blessed settlement or maybe god-given settlement.
Anyway, I'm not sure how I feel about this. I know where I usually come down on issues like this - I'm not a fan of the fact that I root for the Cleveland Indians, for example. But given the word Plantation, dictionarily speaking, has nothing on earth to do with slavery, and the full name of the state has nothing to do with slavery, changing the name seems excessive and reactionary. Then again, I don't live there, so I don't really need an opinion anyway. Just an interesting story.
This story made me wonder something I've never bothered to wonder before. Why the heck is it called Rhode Island? It's not an island, and I don't even know what Rhode means. It turns out that Rhode Island, according to my many sources, is called Rhode Island because it's kinda shaped like the island of Rhodes. That is a really uncreative name for a state. Especially since Rhode Island, and apparently its namesake, are just kind of shaped like trapezoids. Maybe they should change that part of the name too.

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