What’s In A Name?

What’s In A Name?
by Matt Kross


Part 1


As Shakespeare said, “What’s in a name?  Wouldn’t a railroad by any other name still be fun?”  Well, maybe he didn’t quite say it like that.  I have been struggling for a while trying to come up with a name for my freelance railroad.  I originally started out with the Charles River Railway which was named after my maternal grandfather.  At the time, I had forgotten my US geography and didn’t remember that there was a Charles River in Boston.  Everyone thought my railroad was based in the Boston area instead of Western Pennsylvania/West Virginia area.  Because of that, several years ago I decided to rename my railroad.  I’m still trying to decide!


My railroad supposedly runs from Lake Erie, south along the Pennsylvania and Ohio border, to the Ohio River and the city of Georgetown (named after my paternal grandfather).  From there, a branch line runs into the mountains of West Virginia to the coal mines.  I grew up with the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad in our area and have always liked it.  Therefore, I have been thinking of going with the Georgetown and Lake Erie Railroad, the G&LE.  This will probably be my final choice but I am still exploring other possibilities.


Some other ideas I have considered: Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia Railroad, with the acronym POWER and referred to as the POWER Lines.  Another variation is the Lake Erie Southern, the LES or LES system, known as LESS.  Of course the two above railroads could merge and be known as the POWERLESS or LESSPOWER!


I have also been trying to come up with a herald and a slogan.  Since I am a north/south bridging route, I wanted something to convey this in my herald.  I came across a piece of computer clipart that I have played with to create a general symbol that I like which I have shown.  I haven’t worked out a complete herald yet which incorporates this.  I have found that a slogan is really hard to come up with.  I’ll talk more on this next month.


Another herald alternative which I have played with is shown.  In this one, I used the outline of the three states I am operating in along with some arrows showing where the railroad operates.


The Layout Design Special Interest Group’s April 1995 Layout Design News has an article “Naming A Model Railroad” and their Spring 1996 Layout Design Journal has series of articles on Prototypical Naming and Herald Design.  I recently bought these two publications at the NMRA convention and will have to see if they give me some more ideas.  More on this and other layout planning next month.  If you have anything you would like to share on this subject, please send it to me for the September Trainwire.



Part 2


Well, my comments last month about my difficulties in naming my model railroad, generated a number of comments from Division 5 members.  A number of you related your experiences and difficulties in coming up with your own railroad’s name.  As I mentioned last month, I came across some articles about naming your model railroad in the Layout Design Special Interest Group’s literature.  Here is some information from those articles.


In “Naming a Model Railroad” by R.L. Warren in the April 1995 Layout Design News, a review of 100 real, mainline railroad names was conducted.  He  found that the majority of the railroads had either a city (56%) or a geographic term (69%) in their title, while only 29% used the name of a state.  The use of the term railroad versus railway was evenly split 51% to 48%.  As far as whether to use the word “And” or to use “&”, “And” wins 36% to 20%.  The order of the names tends to string from either east to west or north to south.  Names of rivers appeared in 15%, but none of the railroads examined used the name of a mountain.


R.L. Warren wrote another article in the same publication titled “Developing a Herald”.  Here he looks at what the same 100 real railroads used as heralds.  He found that this was a very complex subject.  He references an article he found, “On the Mark: The History and Symbolism of Railroad Emblems” by James A.  Ward published in the Autumn 1985 Railroad History Bulletin.  He highly recommends taking a look at this article if you want to design your own railroad emblem.  Another source of information for emblems can be found in a series of articles in the April, May, and June 1974 and January 1984 issues of Trains titled “Fallen Flags”.  A quote from the “On the Mark” article says “Every corporate emblem projects a unique image compounded of its general shape and its interior design.”  Warren found that only 4% of the railroads analyzed did not have an emblem.  The basic shapes used in the sample of 100 are: circles 33%, rectangles 24%, parallelograms 10%, shields 15%, ovals 4%.  Overall, it is very difficult trying to come up with an original design for your own railroad.  The real railroads have professional marketing staffs and artists working on theirs.  As difficult as designing a herald or emblem might be, they are an important element in creating the right tone for a freelance model railroad.


If you are interested in reading these two articles, let me know and you can borrow the publication from me.   There is much more information in these articles than I could possibly touch on in this short space.


Back to my own problems for a minute.  Another area where I have had trouble coming up with names is for towns.  I again started by using names of family members such as Georgetown, Hilda, Port Mae, but I want a wide variety of town names.  I am finding it difficult to dream up interesting names.  These, again, set the mood for your railroad and some thought should go into them.  One place to start is to look at the city index on a real map.  If you find something you like, try making some variations from it.  Sometimes you can come up with some interesting names if you spell something backwards.  I plan to have the town of Kisim which is the last name of a friend of mine in high school spelled backwards.  I think it sounds like it could be a coal mining town in West Virginia.  I still have a long way to go in coming up with my final list of town names.  One thing that I do, which I would recommend, is to keep a notebook for your railroad ideas.  As something comes up, jot it down.  I find it helps to stimulate other ideas in the future.


Names for industries seem to be a lot easier.  I have a long list of possible industry names.  They can be serious or a play on words.  Usually you can work in the name of the town or geographical area.


I hope these brief thoughts spur some more comments and ideas from you.  It is not as easy as it seems at first.  You usually have to live with the names you pick and a number of people have commented to me that they wish they had put more thought into it.  I would appreciate hearing from you about your approach to naming things on your railroad.  It would be great if you could write your comments down for publication in the Trainwire.