Proper spelling of ships' names: the case of US gunboat Pittsburg/h

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#1
This arcane subject fascinated me enough to research and write an essay about it. This seems as good a place to publish it as any, and I would welcome feedback of any and all kinds. My own conclusions differ from several folks I very much respect: e.g. Gary Joiner.

Pittsburg/h was one of the city-class ironclads built by James Buchanan Eads for the Western Gunboat Flotilla (later called the Mississippi Squadron), and had a notable naval history, including engagements at Fort Donelson, Island No. 10, Fort Pillow, and the Red River Expedition. But scholars still argue about how its name should be spelled. As I discovered, the issue seems to turn on the rather quirky subject of burg/burgh place names in 19th-century America, in which Washington bureaucrats with too much time on their hands became deeply invested.
 

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Mark F. Jenkins

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#3
Much as with the Merrimac/k. :smile:

I do try to standardize as much as possible, and I come down on the side of the "without an h" myself, but it's certainly far from cut-and-dried. Taylor/Tyler always interested me as well, but that was a deliberate choice on John Rodgers' part, since former President John Tyler had sided with the Confederacy. (Not terribly on-point, since the boat was apparently named after an Alfred O. Tyler, not the former President.)

(RE Atalanta: when I first saw this, I thought it was a mistake too, but then I looked into the Greek mythological Atalanta and thought it a perfect name for a blockade runner...)
 

JPK Huson 1863

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#5
It does sometimes play holy heck with we beginners- then there are ship's who had name changes. It's less of a crime than getting " Pittsburg " wrong ( married to a native, and it's always criminal behavior ) but can drive you a little crazy. AND ships who had name twins- just found steamer Canonicus in a photo from Charleston Harbor, which caused 30 minutes of research.

No idea how you people keep track.
 

Mark F. Jenkins

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#6
I think to a certain extent spelling had not been as formalized as it is now as we have seen with the discussion on surnames.
Oh, heck, yeah. In 1848, the Koch brothers came over from Mecklenburg, Germany and settled in Ohio, and some of them Anglicized their names to Cook and some didn't. (I'm descended from one of those who didn't.) Or, on the other side of the house, two brothers actually quarreled over the spelling of their last name, so one spelled it Headley and one spelled it Headlee.

In the Civil War zone, I think it was Andrew Hull Foote's father who added the terminal "e" to a name that had up to then been spelled "Foot," thinking the extra e added a little dignity.
 

rebelatsea

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#7
The Cunard family did much the same thing. The ancestral German name is Kunders, from Crefield. Thomas Kunders anglicised the name to Dennis Conrad, but his six sons spelt it four different ways, the 6th son Samuel changed it to Cunrad, his son Abraham either deliberately or by accident took to writing it Cunard, which is where his son the Samuel Cunard of transatlantic liner fame got the surname.
 

rebelatsea

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#8
The other problem was that many people were semi - literate in our terms or they wrote things down as they were spoken. The Great Western Railway nameplate makers at Swindon got this down to a fine art plus they couldn't always spell the words, resulting in some to us, hilarious results. Laocoon for example was supposed to be Lagoon, and Laertes appeared at Paddington Station as Lateness - Brunel was not amused !
 

gary

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#10
I'd go with what the Naval History Division's Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships says. If she's a civilian ship, then what was her name upon christening?
 
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#11
I accord with all the general observations about (il)literacy, personal preferences, and the lack of spelling conventions in the mid-19th century. My central interest was in why and how the shorter Pittsburg spelling became standardized in the Official Records, especially given the fact that the city for which this "city class" vessel was named is "Pittsburgh." If anyone wants to weigh in on the hypothesis I set out in the attached brief essay, I'd welcome the input.
 



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