Moscow Madness: 23 U.S. Communities That Share Their Name with the Russian Capital

Moscow, Arkansas, welcomes you (Image:  Wikimedia Commons )

Moscow, Arkansas, welcomes you (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

With thousands of cities and communities the world over, there's bound to be some places that bear the same name — people are only so original, after all. For example, in the United States alone, there are 31 cities named Franklin, 29 each named Clinton and Washington, and 28 named Arlington, the most well-known of those probably being in Virginia.

While it's hardly uncommon for cities and communities with the same name to exist even within the same country, though, I've got to imagine that 23 U.S. communities sharing a name with the capital of another country is a little out of the ordinary. The fact that those 23 communities share their name with Moscow, the Russian capital, is only slightly ironic, considering the adversarial relationship the U.S. has had with the former Soviet Union over the years. Given that history, you've got to wonder how nearly a couple dozen American communities ended up with that name, right?

Well, I did a little digging and it turns out only some of the communities currently bearing the same name as the Russian capital were named with the original Moscow in mind. A handful of those that were named for Moscow, Russia, seem to have drawn their inspiration from Napoleon's invasion of and eventual defeat by Russia in 1812.

That's according to Irina Vasiliev anyway, a professor of geography at the State University of New York at Geneseo. Back when she was a doctoral candidate at Syracuse University in the late 1980's and early 1990's, Vasiliev got to wondering why there were so many communities in America named Moscow. Her research — during a time when online resources would have been limited to non-existent, mind you — revealed that silly little Napoleon, who pretty much destroyed his (French) empire's reputation in suffering that defeat to Russia, had more than a little to do with it.

Take the people of Northfeld, Maine (1), for example, who were so impressed that the Russians had thrown Napoleon out of Moscow in 1812 that when they incorporated their town four years later, they changed the name to Moscow to commemorate the historic event. Then you have Moscow, Vermont (2), which apparently gets its name from the cracking sound of a falling mill stone that locals equated with the ringing of church bells in Moscow, Russia, during Napoleon's campaign, and Moscow, Minnesota (3), which received its name due to a large forest fire in the 1850's that reminded people of stories they'd heard of the Russian capital burning during 1812.

These three Moscows (in Maine, Vermont, and Minnesota) and at least five others, including a village in Ohio (4), a township in North Dakota (5), a borough in Pennsylvania (6), and unincorporated communities in Alabama (7) and Indiana (8), draw their names from Russia for similar reasons (or so it is purported), while other Moscows across the U.S. borrowed the name simply because it felt exotic or prestigious. Among the communities falling under that description we might list Moscow, Mississippi (9); Moscow, Arkansas (10); and Moscow Mills, Missouri (11).

Not to be confused with New Moscow, Ohio, which is also a thing (Image:  Wikimedia Commons )

Not to be confused with New Moscow, Ohio, which is also a thing (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Some American Moscows have not a thing to do with the Russian capital, however.

Moscow, Idaho (12), is the home of the University of Idaho (go Vandals!) and the largest — and probably most well-known — American Moscow out there, but its name does not derive from Moscow, Russia. Rather, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, one account holds that the town was named by Jonathan Neff, a homesteader who had lived near Moscow, Pennsylvania, and liked the romantic associations of the name, while another account claims the name comes from the Nez Percé word "masco," which means flax, because the plant grew abundantly in the area.

Two of the stranger stories come out of the communities of Moscow, Kansas (13), and Moscow Township, Michigan (14), though. In Kansas, in 1887, residents had sought to name their new city after Luis de Moscoso Alvarado, a Spanish explorer and conquistador. For the sake of simplicity, they shortened the name to Mosco, but when they sent their petition to Washington, a postal clerk there, thinking the Kansans didn't know how to spell, added a "w" on the end. Wasn't that kind of him?

In Michigan, the area now bearing the name Moscow Township used to be known as Little Kalamazoo. For some reason, the locals wanted a name change and the only sensible thing to do was to draw a new name out of a hat, of course.

Stranger things had something to do, too, with the naming of Moscow, Tennessee (15), which, according to Vasiliev (you didn't forget about our good pal from New York already, did you?), was named as such for no other reason than a misunderstanding surrounding an Indian word that means "between two rivers."

Still other American Moscows — looking at you, Texas (16) and Iowa (17) — get their names not from Russia but from other American communities that originally borrowed the moniker, while at least one community, Moscow, Rhode Island (18), copied the name from a nearby natural feature: Moscow Pond, which likely derived its name from "maskaw," a word from Narragansett or a closely-related Algonquian language that means "rushes," according to the Wikipedias.

We haven't even accounted for the five other Moscows — those in Wisconsin (19), Kentucky (20), West Virginia (21), Maryland (22), and Virginia (23) — included on the map embedded in this Public Radio International article from 2016, but I've kind of had it up to my neck in Moscows as it is. Besides, how will you learn anything if you don't do some of your own research, you lazy freeloader?

Geez, that escalated quickly.