What do Cape May Court House and Sea Isle City have in common? It appears many residents in both, based on an unscientific survey, believe both town names are too long. That's right, way too long.
Having lived in the county seat for most of my life, I have filled in countless forms in many ways as I did my best to cram Cape May Court House on a tiny line, meant for such places as Avalon or Woodbine.
When the county seat of Cape May County was deemed correct centuries ago, maybe there were no forms to be completed. Time was of little consequence, so writing the four-part town name filled in lots of otherwise dead time.
I'm sure many quill pens laden with black ink had their nibs rubbed bare as law clerks and those in the courts, County Clerk's and Surrogate's offices had to hand write documents: "Given under my hand this twenty-seventh day of November in the Year of Our Lord 1871 at Cape May Court House, New Jersey."
Similarly, when the first designs for Sea Isle City were drawn, with an eye toward a pleasant seaside retreat, it probably seemed logical to call it a city that was an isle by the sea.
That was a time when days were lived at a slower easy pace. When there was little else to do in the summer than bathe in the breakers, catch fish and spend the summer overlooking the cool Atlantic Ocean.
Now everything is done lickety-split, faster than kiss a duck, or two shakes of a lamb's tail.
At the Herald, when datelines are written for stories that originate in the county seat; we have long used "Court House" as the place. No disrespect to Cape May, but multiply the words a few thousand times, and you can see the space we have saved.
Ask a resident of Colonial Avenue or Dory Drive where they reside and they'll likely respond, "Court House."
In the days of having to interact with long-distance operators when placing telephone calls, as when I was in the Navy calling home, I can't say how many would ask if anyone would be at the courthouse, since it was a weekend evening.
Many forms have little tolerance for Cape May Court House. How many times it's been abbreviated, there's no way to tell.
It is written Cape May CH, Cape May Crt Hse, CMCH and probably others that I've forgotten.
It seems the same affliction has visited Sea Isle City. Ask folks on Landis Avenue or 42nd Street where they live, and it's likely they'll respond, "Sea Isle."
At a writers' session at the Herald, we asked for a consensus of how we ought to write about Sea Isle City City Council. The response was fast and unified, "Sea Isle City Council." (The same went for Ocean City Council, but there isn't much that can be done to rename Ocean City).
Crowds like to go to the Sea Isle Promenade, or the Sea Isle Library, or simply frolic in the Sea Isle surf. Few ever say they are going to the Sea Isle City Promenade, or Sea Isle City Library. You get the idea, the name is simply too burdensome for the modern age.
That stated, what should be done? Would a referendum be a good idea to see what the new name of the towns ought to be? Beats a heart of an elected official so brave as to champion a name change?
Would Court House win? Could the place be reimagined as "County Seat" or "Middle Town?"
Would Sea Isle be a hands-down voter favorite? Since His Honor the mayor likes to refer to the city as "The Capital of Cape May County," maybe it could become "Capco." That would easily fit on any form, almost like Villas or Goshen.
We are saddled with those antiquated names, like them or not. Is it disrespectful to shorten them?
Folks live in Cape May Point, and often refer to it as "The Point." That's not bad.
Things do get a bit sticky when Stone Harbor residents refer to their "Point." Only wild critters inhabit the place, and not safely, since those snare traps clamp unsuspecting varmints.
Regardless, life goes on in those misnamed municipalities where we live. If the U.S. Postal Service had its way, they'd all be numbers based on the ZIP Code. That would certainly take the bite out of Cape May Court House and Sea Isle City. Five numbers would easily fit on any form, big or small, and that would be quite an improvement.