Our Island shares its names with people, places, and products around the world, some for historically connected reasons and others by coincidence, complicating our Google searches and rerouting our Amazon orders.
Tisbury and Chilmark on Martha’s Vineyard are named after the twin villages of Tisbury and Chilmark in Wiltshire, England. Taking a drive down English Google Street View, it seems that the latter are separated today by three miles of distinctively British hedgerows and sheep pastures along narrow Chilmark Road. (Edgartown, named after a dead royal baby, is said to be unique in the world.)
Wiltshire’s Chilmark, population 525, is known for its limestone quarries dating back to Roman times. Since the 15th century, the village has had but a single pub to serve its thirsty denizens: the venerable Black Dog, currently on lockdown but still serving takeaway fish and chips, cask ales, masala curry, and beef and horseradish ciabattas.
“It’s a very popular, cozy, and lively place to eat and drink,” writes Vineyarder Elaine Allen about the British Black Dog in Chilmark. “Last time I was there, it was pouring rain and the restaurant was jammed to the max, so we got takeaway.”
The nearby town of Tisbury was the 1593 birthplace of Thomas Mayhew the Elder, who would eventually cross the Atlantic and become the governor of Martha’s Vineyard. This village later became home to such notables as the parents of poet Rudyard Kipling, and chemist Martin Fleischmann (best remembered as the guy who prematurely announced the discovery of cold fusion in 1989). The cover of Sting’s 1993 album “Ten Summoner’s Tales” was photographed in the English village of Tisbury.
Another Tisbury, founded in the late 1800s among “beautiful bush abounded with tuis, parakeets, kakas, bellbirds, and pigeons,” can be found outside New Zealand’s southernmost city, Invercargill. Named after the same English village by a different emigrant, the population of New Zealand’s Tisbury is currently fewer than 300. The motto of their red brick Tisbury School is “Kia kaha, kia maia, kia manawanui” (Māori: “Be strong, be brave, be patient.”)
“We currently have 111 pupils and five classrooms,” writes Mary Forsythe, office administrator at the Tisbury School. “There is not much else here at Tisbury, except a machinery business, local hall, and wool scourers. We are semirural on the outskirts of Invercargill, which is at the bottom of the South Island of New Zealand.”
And it’s not just place names. For decades, Scholastic Magazine featured a teen dating advice columnist known only as “Gay Head.” Ms. Head, who was probably a pseudonym for a series of staff writers, published a number of books during the 1940s and ’50s (and reprinted regularly throughout the 1960s), including “Dear Gay Head: Questions from the Mail Box answered by Gay Head,” “Etiquette for Young Moderns: How to Succeed in Your Social Life,” “Boy Dates Girl: Question and Answer Book,” “Party Perfect,” and “Hi There, High School! How to Make a Success of Your Teen Years.” (The latter includes such useful advice as, “Don’t wear your feelings on the outside. If they stick out like a porcupine’s needles, they’re going to bump into plenty of trouble. Keep them below the surface where they belong.”)
Another globally notable author with a locally familiar name is Katama Mkangi, a college professor and pro-democracy activist from Nairobi, Kenya, who published a series of popular novels in Swahili.
There’s “The Vineyard,” of course — the 1989 horror film starring James Hong as a famous winemaker and immortal vampire who lives in a tropical island mansion, where he lures attractive young people into his dungeon to hold captive and drain their life-giving blood. (imdb.com gives it a bottom-scraping 4.8 stars out of 10.)
New Vineyard, Maine, is just what it claims to be. At the turn of the 19th century, during a period of financial hardship preceding the beginning of the whaling boom, dozens of Vineyard families turned their backs to the sea and settled in Central Maine for a new life of farming. The region was settled by members of Island families named Mayhew, Norton, West, Cottle, Daggett, Allen, Hillman, Merry, and other familiar names, and to this day you can still find members of the Luce and Look families living there.
Then there was Martha Vineyard. Actually, there were a lot of them. U.S. census records list more than a dozen Martha Vineyards across the country. Women like Mrs. Martha Vineyard, a sweeper at the Standard Knitting Mill, the largest textile mill in Knoxville, Tenn., and the factory that inspired Knoxville’s title of “Underwear Capital of the World.” Mrs. Vineyard never attended school, and was a widowed mother of three; it’s doubtful she ever visited our Island. There were many others, too: Martha A. Vineyard of Tangipahoa, La., mother of 14 children. Martha J. Vineyard of Jasper, Mo. And the Martha Vineyards of Grainger, Tenn.; Roane, W.V.; Mcleansboro, Ill.; Loudon, Tenn.; Collinsville, Okla.; Webb City, Mo.; and Avery, Texas. Of course, we still don’t know with any certainty the identity of the Martha who inspired the name of our Island.
Mammoth Cave in Kentucky traditionally gives colorful names for its various subterranean features, including Bonaparte’s Breastworks, Portia’s Pasture, Fat Man’s Misery, and — you guessed it — Martha’s Vineyard. A visitor in 1853 described it: “At the end of El Ghor is Martha’s Vineyard, a cave so called from the resemblance of the incrustations on the roof to bunches of grapes.”
MVRHS doesn’t have the monopoly on high schools with those initials, either — there’s also a high school known as MVRHS (M.V. Raman High School) in Atmakur, Telangana, India, which is renowned for its dance performances and techno classes (in both English and Telugu), gracing the résumés of many young professionals in Hyderabad.
There are — and were — many other Vineyard namesakes out there. There was Tashmoo Park, for instance, a popular amusement park outside Detroit for more than half a century, which brought in a quarter of a million visitors each year in its heyday. (One of its founders in 1897 had summered on our Island, from which he probably pocketed the name when no one was looking.) And then there are fictional examples, like Oaks Bluff, the upscale enclave of National City where Supergirl confronts the supervillain Menagerie in Season 4, Episode 12. (Oak Bluff is also our real-life doppelganger in Manitoba.)
Chris Baer teaches photography and graphics at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. His book, “Martha’s Vineyard Tales,” containing many “This Was Then” columns, was released in 2018.