I just had one of those moments in which you discover a hitherto unsuspected gap in your knowledge and become confused and (if you’re me) determined to get to the bottom of it. Our local radio station covers a wide area of the Northeast (and irritatingly insists on listing a dozen or so cities every time they do station ID), but their home base is in Albany, and this evening, hearing the word for the millionth time, I suddenly asked myself “Why is the capital of New York State called Albany?” I had a vague recollection that it was named for a Duke of Albany, but why would there be a Duke of Albany in England? Was I just thinking of Shakespeare’s duke (married to one of Lear’s daughters)? What was “Albany,” anyway? Did it have something to do with Albania? Fortunately, the internet came to the rescue: the city was named for James Stuart, Duke of Albany, who later became James II; the Duchy of Albany, purely notional by his day, had originally been a Scottish title, first granted by Robert III of Scotland (who, incidentally, changed his name from the then unpopular “John” upon ascending the throne, and eventually asked to be buried under a dunghill) to his brother Robert in 1398. Albany is an anglicized form of Albania, itself a latinized form of Alba, “the ancient and modern Scottish Gaelic name (IPA: [ˈaɫəpə]) for the country of Scotland” as Wikipedia puts it, continuing: “It was used by the Gaels to refer to the island as a whole until roughly the ninth or tenth centuries, when it came to be the name given to the kingdoms of the Picts and the Scots (Pictavia and Dál Riata), north of the River Forth and the Clyde estuary… (it is unclear whether it may ultimately share the same etymon as the modern Albania or the ancient Albania in the Caucasus).” So the confusion isn’t entirely cleared up, but at least I know why the city is called that, and what the Duchy of Albany was (there hasn’t been a duke of that title since 1919, when “Prince Leopold’s son, Charles, was deprived of the peerage… for bearing arms against the United Kingdom in World War I”; he later joined the Nazi Party and “spent the last years of his life in poverty and seclusion”).