August 23, 2008
Betty and I were having a wee drinkie at the Elysian last week, talking about what we liked and didn't like about Hoboken. She had done a little research on the Internet about the history, and I had too, a year ago, before I made the move here from Lower Alabama.
We admire the city's elegant old neighborhoods, and its gritty soul beneath. We're students of the days when it was a rough waterfront town, and its beginnings in the 18th century as a resort for the wealthy of Manhattan. We like the openness of its people, and we enjoy learning about its happier days. We admire its ability to withstand the changes of the 21st century with its raffish underpinnings unscathed. It harbors the paradox of its age contrasted to the youthful hormones walking its streets. It has survived corruption, graft and desolation; yet it is hardy, hopeful and always interesting.
There is so much going for Hoboken that the one thing we felt was working against it was its very name: Ho-Bo-Ken. It could be native American, referring to the peace pipe; it could mean an early manufacturer of pipes in the area. The original name was apparently Hoboke, which the Dutch settlers thought sounded funny. They added the "n" which really didn't improve matters, not to our midcentury American ears. Does it refer to hoboes? There is some evidence that the word "hobo" was coined to describe the guys living under the viaduct some 100 years ago.
Who knows? One thing is for sure, the name "Hoboken" is bound to get a laugh from those who have never experienced the city.
Betty and I tossed around names that might fit. We didn't see any reason to come up with a totally unknown new name like Elegance, New Jersey, but something that might have some meaning here. I remembered that the Stevens family, founders of Hoboken, chose the best spot in town to build their castle--an overlook with the best views of the river and of the Manhattan skyline. The castle has long since been demolished for a more utilitarian building at Stevens College.
However, their name for the spot on the grounds considered the high point of Hoboken remains, and I hereby put it forth for consideration for a more appropriate name for the town itself.
Castle Point, New Jersey. What do you think?