The image above is of the Knauss Homestead, one of the founding family homes in Emmaus, established in 1777. It was the patriarch of the clan, Sebastian Knauss, who first donated land in 1759 on which Emmaus was to be built. The Homestead property borders directly on that of St. Paul Orthodox Church, where I am pastor. It’s probably a decent assumption that we now worship on what used to be Knauss land.
I ran across the following passage today which both amused and comforted in a curious way. It is from The Guardian: A Monthly Magazine for Young Men and Ladies, published by the Reformed Church in America. This particular issue was printed in 1881, and this text figures on page 88:
NAMES OF PLACES MISPRONOUNCED.
It is curious to observe how frequently the names of places are miscalled by railroad officials. On the North Pennsylvania railroad there is, for instance, a station called Bingen. The name is beautiful; derived from the old town in Germany which furnished the title for Mrs. Norton’s noble ballad, “Bingen on the Rhine.” Of course, it ought to be pronounced with the g hard: Bingen. Travelling that way, some years ago, we repeatedly heard the name announced: “Bin-jen! Bin-jen!” It put us in mind of “Old John Brown, who had a little Injun” It is, however, but just to say that this error has since been corrected.
On the East Pennsylvania railroad, near Allentown, there is a thriving town which was named by its Moravian founders after the village of Emmaus, to which the two disciples were going, on the day of the resurrection, when they saw the Lord. It should be pronounced in three syllables—Em-ma-us. We would like to know by what authority it is now spelled Emaus, and pronounced by railroad conductors, with an indescribable drawl, “Ee-maws.” Somewhere in that region there was once a guide-board, at a cross-road, which directed the traveler to “Amouse.” That was bad enough, but the modern form is hardly an improvement. We think the citizens of Emmaus should protest against the corruption of this ancient and honorable name.
In 1859, twenty-two years before this issue was published, Emmaus was incorporated as a borough of Pennsylvania (having been founded in 1759). Its original name was indeed spelled Emmaus, but one M was dropped in 1830 and the borough incorporated as Emaus, a more Germanic orthography which used a horizontal line over the M to indicate its doubling but sometimes dropped the line. Petitions circulated in 1938 via the local Rotary Club, and the spelling was reverted back to a fully written out double-M status.
I find it doubtful that The Guardian in 1881 knew the circumstances of the change which had occurred more than half a century before its publication. One might well also read some Anglophonic snobbery in the text above, especially since it is quite possible that Emmaus’s first hundred years or so probably heard a lot of German being spoken in her streets and fields on the north slope of South Mountain.
All that said, one has to take some small delight at citizens being encouraged (in a magazine for “Young Men and Ladies,” no less!) to mount up a protest against the “corruption” of their town’s “ancient and honorable name.” There is a certain honor that attaches to a name, and if you’ve ever had your own name mispronounced, you know what I mean. Names are something shared in a community. They not only mean something to individual people, but they also convey a common understanding and are an element of the economy of the place, the commerce of personhood that flows between persons.