Let’s Keep The “Block” In Block Island

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What would the point of renaming the Rhode Island destination spot be?

In the wake of President Obama renaming Mount McKinley back to its original name of Denali, the Washington Post’s Nick Kirkpatrick has released a list of landmarks that should be retitled with their “old” names. One is (quite) near and dear to Rhode Islanders’ hearts.

Block Island

For thousands of years, Native Americans called this pear-shaped island in southern Rhode Island “Manisses” (“Island of the Little God, “) until it was visited in 1614 by Dutch explorer Adriaen Block, who renamed it after himself. Block? Have you ever heard of him?

Well, sure, Adriaen Block might not have a lot of name recognition at this point, but that’s hardly reason to take his name of the place 400 years later. Here in Rhode Island, we enjoy a long, rich history and we’re not about to simply rewrite it because a man’s full name is not well known outside the Island’s 1000 residents. If we’re going off of name recognition, “Manisses” is far less recognized. If we want a title with a big name, perhaps Rhode Island could go with “Isle of Kanye” or “The Trump Archipelago”.

Amerigo Vespucci got his name on a super-continent, yet he’s hardly a common topic of conversation. Theodore F. Green is much better known at this point for being an airport than a governor and US Senator.

Over at the ProJo, Mark Patinkin has jumped on the renaming bandwagon.


As in Block Island.

Which, comparatively, is kind of a yawn of a name.

If we’re now at the point where we’re going to start renaming places because we’re bored with their titles, there are a whole bunch of other places who are simply named after other places. Seriously, the period of our country’s settlement was as uncreative when it comes to titles as Hollywood is today. The Mayflower set sail from Plymouth, England…so naturally the Pilgrims designated the place they landed Plymouth, because there’s no way that would possibly lead to any confusion.

Back to the point, Rhode Island’s communities with English names are all simply sequels to British towns and cities. This wouldn’t be so much of an issue, if the folks deciding to use the names would attach a numeral to them. Instead, everyone went with sort of a franchise model, where territories were divied and everyone got a (Bristol, Newport, Jamestown, etc.) Seriously, have you ever looked at how many Newports the world has? We’re certainly not advocating a change to the city’s title, especially given that RI’s Newport has probably surpassed even the Welsh original on the world stage. We’re just saying that we don’t go around renaming places just because we don’t like the way they roll off our tongues.



“All aboard the Manisses Ferry…” Nope. Can’t see it working.

Manisses means “Island of the Little God” in Niantic, which brings out all sorts of romanticism from the New Age crowd…though we’re figuring enthusiasm would probably drop if we were to run with the English translation. Worst case scenario: A name change incites ISIS to level New Shoreham in an attempt to stomp out idolatry.

Even the best case scenario gives us a lot of confusion, a whole hell of a lot of paperwork, hundreds of signs that need repainting and a lot of stubborn locals who refuse to go with the change. We are a state famed on giving directions using long gone landmarks.

And to what end? There’s a lot of financial costs to be incurred with such a name change, with no real payoff.

Adriaen Block

While sailing past Block Island today is a rather trivial, if scenic, affair, when you’re a Dutchman in 1614, it’s a bit riskier. As a reward for taking on those risks, European explorers got to name the places they came across. Now, while naming the island after himself is not that original or selfless, it did create the only Block Island.

Alaska has spent decades trying to get Mount McKinley changed back to Denali. Meanwhile, in Rhode Island, any efforts to rename Block Island have been, true to the state’s nature, “small”.

While the people of Rhode Island certainly have the right to start renaming the state’s stuff, why should we bother? More importantly, as a tourist destination, why would we do anything that might make travel any more confusing than it already is?

So let’s take this idea, stick it in the bottom shelf of some desk somewhere…and perhaps dust it off in another century.

-Tristan Pinnock, Blast History Correspondent

Tristan's just this guy, ya know?