As the Town of Bourne works feverishly to increase economic development in the downtown business district, concerted efforts are underway to entice commercial enterprise to the Growth Incentive Zone.
Is it possible, however, that those efforts are being hampered by the name of the village, which 400 years ago was incorrectly dubbed “Buzzards Bay?”
Should its name be changed to “Osprey Bay?” Does osprey, rather than buzzard, have a better ring to the ear of the outsider the town is hoping to attract with its efforts to revitalize, redevelop and remake the downtown business district?
Historic records show that in the early 1600s, English explorers and settlers, among them Captain Bartholomew Gosnold, gave Cape Cod its name after the plentiful cod that were found in the waters.
But those same settlers are credited, somewhat ignominiously, with misidentifying birds that were seen in great population in the region.
Historians report that the birds were identified as buzzards when, in actuality, they were osprey. So, instead of Osprey Bay, the area was dubbed Buzzards Bay, a misnomer that has stuck for more than 400 years.
After a downturn in their numbers caused by the now-banned pesticide DDT, increasing numbers of osprey are breeding along the shores of the bay, which lends fuel to the argument that a historical error should be corrected.
At first, “Buzzards Bay” only applied to the body of water the village overlooked, and not the village itself.
Bourne Board of Health member Galon L. (Skip) Barlow has family roots in Bourne dating back multiple generations. Mr. Barlow recalled that the village of Buzzards Bay was originally known as “Cohasset,” hence the Cohasset Narrows body of water that still divides the village from Wareham.
In the book, “The Names of Cape Cod,” authors Eugene Green, William Sachse and Brian McCauley confirm that the first name of the village was Cohasset. After Bourne broke away from Sandwich in 1884 and was incorporated as a town, the village was renamed Buzzards Bay, the authors stated. “Cohasset” went to the town on the South Shore.
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Suggestions have been made that it just might be time to ditch the name. When renovations to Buzzards Bay Park at the west end of Main Street were nearing completion a year ago, some folks suggested holding a naming contest to come up with something other than Buzzards Bay Park.
The village name is not used by two of the town’s newest businesses. The new age-restricted, over-55 apartment complex that is part of the 25 Perry Avenue complex has been named The Tides at Bourne, eschewing Buzzards Bay. Kathy L. Griffiths, director of marketing for Calamar, maintained that the name selection was not a conscious effort to avoid Buzzards Bay.
“We’re on the water and in the village of Bourne,” Ms. Griffiths said. “It’s as simple as that.”
Similarly, the new hotel currently under construction next to The Tides at Bourne is called The Hampton Inn Cape Cod Canal, accenting the picturesque view the building will offer and forgoing its village location.
In fairness, the assisted living facility next to both The Tides at Bourne and the Hampton Inn Cape Cod Canal is called Keystone Place at Buzzards Bay.
Bourne Planning Board chairman Elmer I. Clegg grew up in Bourne. He left when he enlisted in the US Army after graduation from Bourne High School, and spent the majority of his adult life in Virginia. He and his wife, Patricia A. Clegg, returned to Pocasset in 2012, moving into Mr. Clegg’s childhood home.
Mr. Clegg shared that, as a young man serving in the Army, whenever he met someone for the first time, the conversation almost always began with, “Where are you from?” His initial response was always Cape Cod. The follow up question was, “Which town?” he said. His response was Buzzards Bay, he said, which often drew a bewildered reaction.
“They all said, ‘What the hell is that, Buzzards Bay?’” he said. “So it strikes people at first with a funky connotation.”
Ironically, Mr. Clegg admitted that despite growing up in Pocasset, for years when people would ask him where he was from, he would always say “Buzzards Bay.” He said the only rational reason he could come up with for saying Buzzards Bay over Pocasset was “it was the commercial sector of the town.”
Mr. Clegg added that, in his role as chairman of the planning board, and with so much focus and attention being paid lately to the rejuvenation of the downtown business district, he has given a lot of thought to economic development in Bourne. Part of that thought process has been playing the “what if” game.
“What if Gosnold, when he sailed up the coastline, had identified the osprey properly?” he said, intimating that Osprey Bay has a more appealing sound and nuance for the region.
“Buzzards Bay is a natural drag on it, in my opinion,” he said.
Consider the names of Bourne’s other villages. Some have been taken from Indian tribes such as Cataumet, Pocasset, and Sagamore. Monument Beach sounds like an honorable recognition.
Gray Gables has an early New England redolence, steeped in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Colonial America. Bournedale evokes thoughts of small-town America, conjuring images of Andy Griffith’s sleepy Mayberry, North Carolina. All six have a mellifluous pronunciation.
In contrast is the harshness of “Buzzards Bay.”
Consider, as well, the association of “buzzard” with ghost towns in Hollywood Westerns. Buzzard Gulch, for instance, conjures images of a bone-dry, deserted burg, featuring decrepit buildings and populated with more tumbleweeds than people.
Buzzard Gulch Incorporated is, in fact, the name of a store in New Hampton, Missouri. Its logo features a mean-visaged bird perched upon the branch of a dead tree, overlooking an arid landscape.
There is also the pop culture characterization of the buzzard that works against the name. In July 1942, the animation division of Warner Brothers Studios introduced Beaky Buzzard. Beaky appeared in the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons, often opposite Bugs Bunny.
Long-beaked and thin-necked, sleepy-eyed, with an oversized, bald head, a dim-witted voice and obnoxiously shy persona, Beaky is the antithesis of the actual bird of prey that is the buzzard.
Etymologists note that “buzzard” first appears in late Middle English, and comes from the Old French word “busard.” Busard is derived from the Latin word for falcon, “buteo.”
Osprey, meanwhile, comes from the Old French term “ospres,” which is based on the Latin word “ossifraga.” Ossifraga defines a bearded vulture, with “os” meaning bone, and “frangere” meaning to break. Combined, it refers to the bird’s habit of dropping bones from high up to break them and reach the marrow inside.
Historical precedent exists for a town or village to change its name, notably here on the Cape and Islands.
A section of Tisbury on Martha’s Vineyard was originally known as Homes Hole. It was then commonly spelled Holmes Hole after the descendants of John Holmes who settled in the village in the late 18th century. In 1871, however, it was officially renamed the more pleasant “Vineyard Haven.”
Truro was originally named Dangerfield because of the intense fog and ocean swells that often led to maritime casualties. In the December 1864 issue of “Atlantic Monthly,” Henry David Thoreau wrote of the area, “I found that it would not do to speak of shipwrecks in the area, for almost every family had lost someone at sea.”
Wellfleet was at one time known as Billingsgate. Osterville went through a modest name change from its original Oysterville, so dubbed for the abundant supply of oysters found there.
Steven P. Strojny is the vice chairman of the planning board. Mr. Strojny is also a professional real estate agent with Sotheby’s International Realty in Falmouth. When it comes to enticing someone to buy property, names matter, and Buzzards Bay is not an ideal brand, he said.
“Osprey Bay, of course, would be a much better name from a marketing standpoint,” he said.
In 1960 Mr. Strojny pointed out, a group of investors that included TV talk show host Merv Griffin, bought a 685-acre island that was part of the Bahamas. Known as Hog Island because hogs were raised there, the name was immediately changed to Paradise Island, and it has since become one of the most popular resort destinations in the world.
“So yeah, names matter,” he said.
Buzzards Bay certainly is not the most questionable town name in the world. That designation could be ascribed to Swastika, Ontario, in Canada. Founded in 1908, residents are said to disavow the modern appropriation of the word, Adolph Hitler’s Nazi regime and the Holocaust, in favor of its more historic interpretation.
Dating back 7,000 years, the symbol was used in Eastern Indian cultures to denote “well-being.” Before Hitler’s rise to power, it was even used by British RAF pilots on their planes as a good luck symbol. Coca Cola and Carlsberg used it on their bottles. “Swastika” was even the title of the Girl Scouts of America’s own magazine prior to World War II.
Are shy folk drawn to Embarrass, Minnesota? Horror fans might gravitate to Frankenstein, Missouri, or even Hell, Michigan. Do people obsessed with bodily functions gravitate to the towns of Pee Pee, Ohio, and Intercourse, Pennsylvania? Is Santa Claus, Arizona a breeding ground for jolly old elves? Are eternal optimists rounding out the population of Whynot, North Carolina?
The name Buzzards Bay does have its supporters. Some like the edginess it suggests. Some merely appreciate its alliteration.
Peter J. Meier, chairman of the Bourne Board of Selectmen, grew up in Buzzards Bay and still lives near his childhood home in Taylors Point. Mr. Meier said he appreciates the name Buzzards Bay for its historical essence, and he would “have a serious problem” changing the name. It is, after all, where he has lived his entire life, he said.
On the other hand, he admits that from a marketing standpoint, trying to sell people on the idea of moving to, or opening or relocating a business to the Growth Incentive Zone, the best name choice might not be Buzzards Bay.
“Maybe a name change is part of the marketing process,” he said. “Maybe it’s something that should be explored.”
Mr. Meier suggested that the name Buttermilk Bay might be more appealing. Such a change would be easier, too, since Buttermilk Bay is already a part of Bourne, he said. He also questioned the necessity of having nine separate villages throughout town. Residents, for good or bad, tend to identify themselves as coming from Pocasset, Cataumet, or Sagamore Beach, as opposed to being from Bourne, he said.
“We are one community, the Town of Bourne,” he said. “Bourne needs to emphasize more as a community.”