Rutland: A name to be proud of

rutlandukAs a writer, I am particularly interested in the power of words and language. My graduate research into the transformative abilities of writing looked into the affect words have on us psychologically.

One of the most amazing findings was that of Dr. Masaru Emoto whose research with water changed the way I thought about words and our bodies. He taped various words, such as “love,” “gratitude,” “kill,” and “anger” on different beakers of water. He then photographed the water crystals from each beaker. The results were mind-blowing. The crystals from the positive worded beakers were smooth-edged, symmetrical, and beautiful.

The “ugly” worded beakers held water crystals that were unformed and, well, ugly. Now consider that our bodies are made up of approximately 60 percent water with our blood being 92 percent water. (Watch the video here)

This knowledge has made me wonder about the collective self-image of our city which might be compared to a beaker with a not-so-positive word taped to its side. I wanted to look into it a little bit further. Is our name really to blame for our problems?

I know this topic of the rather unattractive name of our fair city and county has been discussed many times before. Even Seven Days got in on the discussion this past July. The article called, “What’s in a Name: In Rutland, Not ‘Horned Animals Having Sex in the Streets,’” hinted that we might consider renaming ourselves, as some Rutlanders have also. But let’s not rush into that before we look at some more facts.

Origins

The origins of the name Rutland are vague, according to various sources I could find. The region of Rutland, England, may have its root in the word for “cattle-land” or in the Old English word rot, meaning cheerful or glad. But the first recorded reference to the area is as “Rota’s Land.” Roteland referred to a region owned or farmed by freeman farmers (as opposed to serfs), which had its own court. It was assigned as a dowry to Queen Isabella in the early 13th century and remained as the queens’ land for several centuries. As a surname, a listing of a Norman poet of the Welsh borders named Hugh de Roteland in 1185, makes it one of the oldest on record.

Rutland, England, located in the center of the country, is the smallest county in England. Its residents are nicknamed Ruddles, a derivation of Raddleman which, according to one theory of its origins, referred to someone from the “red-land,” referring to the red soil of the region. Monty Python member Eric Idle’s fictional-come-actual band, The Rutles, supposedly originated from this Rutland, and gained fame on the fictional TV network called Rutland Weekend Television.

Our Rutland

In contradiction to the story I’ve heard a few times that our town was named for the ruts in the road discovered by early settlers, our Rutland was named in 1761 by one John Murray, a Loyalist who hailed from Rutland, Mass., (which I learned has the pivotal distinction of being the geographical center of that state). The first Rutland families came to Massachusetts as pilgrims from England.

My mother, born and raised in the Midlands of England, not far from the original Rutland, told me she never gave this Rutland’s name a thought and was shocked when she first heard someone reference our town as “being in a rut.”

What do locals think of our name? I asked. Does it give us as a community a poor self-image? Does the name depress or embarrass you? Is it of no consequence? Are you proud of the name?

After digging out from under the emotion that this question raised, here were some of the answers I received on Facebook:

  • “I’ve never given much thought to the name ‘Rutland’ or ‘The Gut.’ I lived in The Gut in the city of Rutland. I’m great with both! It was a great place to grow up and I am very thankful for that.”
  • “There is bad here but way more good. State infrastructure has more to do with keeping Rutland down economically, not the people. Think of context: compare us with Camden, N.J., and we look pretty good.”
  • “I have never been ashamed or embarrassed when people ask me where I was born and raised.”
  • “… (N)ever thought much about it until I moved and got teased about living in a rut. … I don’t remember anyone ever putting Rutland down (when I lived there).”
  • “… (I)t would not matter what name this city was given but with few exceptions, it would still be today exactly what it is … it’s about the people within the boundaries and the heart within the people.”
  • “I have always felt the choice of names was unfortunate. After all, ‘Land of Ruts’ does not exactly do justice to what, for the most part, is a very attractive area. While a name is not all that defines an area, it certainly has an impact.”

The Other Rutlands

We are just one of 11 Rutlands around the U.S. (several others exist as unincorporated localities within larger municipalities), with at least three (that I could determine) named by settlers who moved from Vermont and who apparently missed home — in North Dakota, Illinois and Wisconsin.

Looking at the data from these other Rutlands, I wondered if I might see a trend. Are they “afflicted” by their moniker? I reached out to residents of a few of the other Rutlands for their personal opinions.

Above all others, I have to applaud the tiny town of Rutland, N.D. Despite only a population of 163 and yet boasting 25 businesses, their collective self-esteem is obvious. The website, which is chockfull of community-wide events, is subtitled “Pride of the Prairie.” To my questions on their Facebook page — the only other Rutland to have one — they responded:

  • “I’ve never thought about the image being affected by the name. … I associate Rutland with fond memories, good people, commitment to each other and the community.”
  • “Never thought anything was negative about the name Rutland.”
  • “I have had people say, ‘You live in Rut Land?’ They made fun of the name, but I have always been proud to say that Rutland is my hometown.”
  • “‘Rutland’ and ‘home’ should be interchangeable in the dictionary — they are to anyone who has ever lived in Rutland!”

Dawn George, the happy-to-oblige and obviously home-proud town clerk of Rutland, Wis., bubbled off some historical facts about her town. She even read me an entire letter over the phone about a visitor’s joy in the old church in the village, which she told me, has just been restored. But my question about the name Rutland and any possible negative reaction to it caused her pause. It had obviously never crossed her mind before: “Umm … not that I know of,” she said.

Jackie O’Brien, administrative assistant to the Rutland, Mass., Board of Selectman, also responded with surprise at my questions: “I’ve never heard of people making fun of our name.” And economically? How are they doing? “I think we’re doing well,” she said.

Of the seven Rutlands for which I could find records, three had a rate of unemployment higher than their state’s average, four had lower. Poverty rates were all over map from, 1 to 19 percent.

Except for Rutland, Vt., which ranked high, crime rates were in general very low compared to the national average. However, this comparison is hardly fair; the next largest population for which I could find statistics was in Rutland, Mass., which only has 7,973 residents compared to our 16,495. From there, the populations range from 393 in Rutland, Ohio, down to 126 in Rutland, Iowa.

And across the pond, what about Rutland, England? A vacation destination, which, with its man-made lake, is, according to the Office of National Statistics the “happiest county in the mainland U.K.” and the “least economically deprived.”

Interestingly, we were the only Rutland, other than England and, as mentioned above, the minuscule Rutland, N.D., to have a highly active and attractive online presence and calendar. I believe that says something positive about our well-being.

So, I am happy to report — based on my (admittedly) limited research — that I see no consistent evidence that the name Rutland causes any group psychological issues. Those I heard from in the other Rutlands talked with pride of the community of their towns. So, maybe it’s not our name that we should be changing, maybe just the language we use to describe it. As one Rutland, Vt., Facebook commentator wrote: “Call it whatever nicknames you desire, but Rutland is still my ‘home.’”

Our Rutland, very much like the original “Roteland,” is a land of cows, farmers and free people. It is not a place one needs to feel stuck in (or equate with creatures of a horny nature — thank you very much, Seven Days). And if there ever was a place beautiful enough to bequeath to queens, it would be Rutland County, Vermont.

Originally published 9/18/13 Rutland Reader | (c) Joanna Tebbs Young

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