DOWN THE ROAD A PIECE – In the know about Maine


As a radio talk show host, it’s assumed by many, of course, that I know everything. It’s not surprising that people think this when you consider how many talk show hosts promote themselves as ‘”know-it-alls.”

I’m not saying I’m a know-it-all. I’m just saying that people think I know a lot and these people frequently ask me questions about Maine and things related to our state.

Go figure.

On computer websites, these frequently asked questions are known as FAQs and just to show that we are in touch with all things of a cyber nature here at Storyteller Central, I thought I’d do an all-FAQ column for this second week in July. If nothing else, it should help the tourists, who are now as thick as black flies here in the Pine Tree State.

The first question we had to deal with, of course, was: How many times does a question have to be asked before it can be called a “frequently asked question,” or FAQ? We still haven’t come up with a suitable answer to that question, but we’ll do the best we can under the circumstances.

The most frequently asked question we get here is a simple one: “How did Maine get its name?”

Here’s a typical email: “John, We know a little about the names of the other New England states. We know that the names Massachusetts and Connecticut come from Indian words, Rhode Island’s name comes, for some strange reason, from the Isle of Rhodes, Vermont’s name comes from the French words for ‘green’ and ‘mountain,’ and New Hampshire is named for old Hampshire, the picturesque county in England. But, John, we have no idea where Maine’s named comes from. Can you help us? Ken.”

Ken, I wish I could be of some help to you. Although we know that there is a province of Maine in France, a town named Maine in Virginia and Ireland and an island known as Maine in the scattered group of Scottish islands known as the Orkneys, the simple truth is we don’t know what connection our Maine has with any or all of those other Maines.

As far as we know, someone at some time started calling this corner of New England “Maine” and the name stuck. Sometimes names stick like burdock, so be careful.

If you have any ideas for a name we might want to stick on our state, I suppose you can submit it to us and, who knows, we might just change our name. Before you make any submissions, Ken, you should know that the names “Lobsterland” and “Moosehaven” have already been considered by our panel of experts and both were rejected without comment.

In an email that is typical of another FAQ, Eric writes: “John, I once read that a tourist can’t say they’ve ‘experienced’ Maine unless, during their visit, they have a ‘personal encounter’ with a moose, a lobster and a lighthouse. Can this be true? And what does it mean, John?”

Eric, first, I want to call your attention to our license plates. Here in Maine we ask the guests at our state prison to put the word “Vacationland” on the license plates they cheerfully pound out for us at their place there in Warren, so that people like you will know how important vacations (and inmates) are to us.

Eric, we take tourists and their vacations very seriously. It’s safe to say that nothing in Maine – not trees, not even seafood – has been studied more intensely and measured more carefully than tourists and the vacation experiencethey have while within our borders. Not only do we know how many tourists visit our state each year, we also know where they come from, why they come, how much money they bring and leave and, when it’s over, what they thought of their Maine experience.

We also know that if a tourist doesn’t see a moose, eat a lobster and photograph a lighthouse, the trip will be judged a failure.

We also know that a seafood platter may substitute for a lobster, but there are no substitutes for moose and lighthouses.

Enjoy your vacation.

John McDonald is the author of five books on Maine, including “John McDonald’s Maine