ALBANY.

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”).

Comments

  1. John Elliot says:

    And how is it pronounced in your part of the world: Albanny or Orlbanny?
    There is also an Albany in the south-west of Western Australia. Pronounced Albanny, but the UK pronounciation is Orlbanny, I think.

  2. This inspires me to do some long-overdue digging myself on the original settlers of the Albany area. I’m told I have an “Albany accent” that belies the fact that I grew up in Massachusetts. Western Massachusetts, that is. I always have to clarify that otherwise folks won’t believe me – I just don’t drop those “Rs” like I’m “supposed” to. lol….

  3. And how is it pronounced in your part of the world: Albanny or Orlbanny?
    The latter (though we don’t, of course, pronounce an “r”).
    Western Massachusetts, that is. I always have to clarify that
    Yes, people outside the state don’t realize that Western Mass (where I currently live) is a very different place; why, lots of folks here don’t even root for the Red Sox!

  4. A popular association (I dare not suggest cognacy) with Albion?

  5. lots of folks here don’t even root for the Red Sox!
    I’ve noticed that! I grew up in Western Mass. and just moved back here a year ago after 13 years near Boston. I run into many Yankee fans, though.
    Interesting about “Orlbanny” – I tend to say All-banny.

  6. Dear me, I needn’t have asked; Wikipedia has it all (yawn).

  7. Yes, in central New York we say ALL-banny, with a strongly stressed “ALL – like in “haul.” Land on those “l”s hard! But I never ever knew (or asked) where the name came from. Thanks, LH!

  8. Well, I can add Greater Albania to Greater Galicia now. Both part of the great Dravidian Diaspora, of course.
    Royal genealogy is always fun, lots of nice pointless detail. Has Pynchon written about Nazi Prince Charles?

  9. Interesting about “Orlbanny” – I tend to say All-banny.
    Same thing; I was just using his distinction. Brits tend to use -r- to indicate particular vowel sounds, which makes things confusing for us rhotic sorts.

  10. “Elizas blessed field, that Albion hight”
    –Spenser’s “The Faerie Queen”
    Lots of Albion mentions in the Renaissance, and of course there’s Blake.
    I have a certain fondness for WAMC because Wanda Fish (I think that’s the name, though perhaps I am confusing her with “A Fish Called Wanda”) had a guest on her (folk?) show who told an anecdote that led me to write a book, once upon a time when I lived on Willett Street in fairish Albany.
    And later I moved to pleasant home climes (with none of this dratted snow that’s coming down just now), but was rudely yanked back into the listening area of WAMC. But have not gotten any more book ideas from them.

  11. Despite the disgrace the Seaforth Highlanders (Rosshire Buffs, 78th of Foot)remained the Duke of Albany’s Own until amalgamation erased its identity in the 1960s.

  12. I thought the name Albania (the country) was derived from the very old word ‘alp’ (mountain), which means Albania stands for moutain country.

  13. That is one of many hypotheses, all of them vaguely plausible, none of them even slightly provable.

  14. Clearly the parents of composer Alban Berg were endowed with a multilingual sense of humour…

  15. Actually, the people in Eastern Massachusetts don’t even realize that there is any Massachusetts west of Springfield (or sometimes even west of Worcester).
    As to pronunciation: I’d say it’s more like AWL-bun’ny. A secondary stress on the ny, sort of like All Bunnies all the time, 1010WINS for the floppy eared.

  16. Liz: re the Eastern Mass. perception of the world (way off topic but a good story) — the classic illustration of this is the apocryphal tale of two old Brahmin ladies from Beacon Hill, who acquired an automobile and decided to drive it to California. When asked, “Which way are you planning to go,” they answered: “Why, we thought we’d go through Newton Centre.”

  17. I love it!

  18. Martin, that’s a great story!
    My favorite was when a TV news reporter was reporting about snowstorm conditions in “the western part of the state.” He said, “Well, Nat, we’re in Framingham right now….”
    For those not familiar, Framingham about two hours due east of the Massachusetts/New York border.
    Sigh! : )

  19. They probably list all those cities because that’s where their transmitters are–stations have to do that, I think, and if they cover a huge area, then they probably have a bunch of transmitters.

  20. And don’t forget Napoleon’s famous palindrome: “Abla was I ere I saw Alba”.

  21. why, lots of folks here don’t even root for the Red Sox!
    English nobility siding with the Germans, natives of Massachusetts rooting for the Yankees – well, I for one see the clear parallel.

  22. Richard Hershberger says:

    Concerning the western border of Red Sox Nation, I am given to understand that it is the boundary between true New England and the New York suburbs. Here in Maryland we are seeing something like it develop between the Orioles parts of the state and those parts forswearing their fealty in favor of the Nationals. The process is somewhat slowed, however, by the facts that the teams play in different leagues and that they both suck.

  23. Not only was Albany named after him but also, of course, New York itself. I’m a little surprised that a lot of these places weren’t renamed in 1783 – particularly that large city named after a British prime minister.

  24. Richard Hershberger says:

    Were any significant placenames changed after the Revolution? I know of minor changes. King Street in the town I now live in became Main Street. But parts of the eastern U.S. are rife with towns and counties and entire states named after British royalty. There seems not to have been any movement to change them. I am reminded of the bit from Rip Van Winkle with the tavern named the George. The sign was the same, but it was declared to now depict George Washington, not King George.

  25. The lack of renaming does seem odd from today’s perspective, but I approve: the mania for renaming things after every political change (or just to honor some politician) is a sickness in my view. In my reading of Proust I just came to a mention of the Allée des Acacias in the Bois de Boulogne; I did a little googling and discovered it’s now the Allée de Longchamp, the main road leading into the Bois. Why the change? Was someone bribed by the Hippodrome de Longchamp? Allée des Acacias is a perfectly nice name! But I digress.
    I am given to understand that it is the boundary between true New England and the New York suburbs
    No, that may be a small part of it but the Berkshires are too far away from NYC for that to be a big influence. The main factor is that people here in Western Mass feel neglected and despised by Boston, and express their resentment by rooting against the Sox.

  26. Steve,
    Have you read Farley Mowat’s book The Farfarers? It is an odd but enjoyable sort of half-fact/half-fiction about the people Mowat calls “Albans”, to whose former presence he attributes the wide distribution of placenames and ethnic terms of this form.

  27. No, I haven’t, but it sounds interesting.

  28. The “alternative chronologist” Fomenko suggests that ancient English history may have taken place later in Albania.
    http://www.univer.omsk.su/foreign/fom/england.txt

  29. I saw a performance of Handel’s opera ‘Ariodante’ last week. It takes place in Ariosto’s chivalric Scotland and the villain is the Duke of Albany. Or at least he is in the synopsis; in the libretto, he’s Duca d’Albania. This being Ariosto, there’s no reason why he can’t be both, I suppose.

  30. Terry Collmann says:

    I always assumed Alban Berg was named after St Alban, sometimes described (anachronistically) as “England’s protomartyr”. However, a quick check on Wikipedia, prompted by this thread, reveals to me the existence of St Alban or Albinus of Mainz, who seems a more likely candidate.
    Talking of the British St Alban, I find it suspicious that Britain’s Christian protomartyr should have a personal name so similar to the then name in Celtic languages of the island where he lived – an unlikely coincidence. “Popular tradition” (http://www.earlybritishkingdoms.com/bios/alban.html)says St Alban was a native Briton serving in the Roman army and stationed in Verulamium, modern St Albans – did the earliest versions of his story, perhaps written in Brythonic Celtic/Old Welsh, describe him as “the Briton”, that is, “Albaneg” (or whatever the 4th century case ending was), which was subsequently mistaken by later commentators for his name?
    Incidentally, in Modern Welsh, Albaneg can apparently mean both “Scottish” and “Albanian” …
    And on the pronunciation angle, the city of St Albans, ancient Verulamium, is known to its inhabitants as “Snorbuns” …

  31. An interesting idea about Alban/Alba — if it wasn’t the kind of misunderstanding you describe, it could have been that an Albanus was chosen as patron saint precisely because of the coincidence.

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