Kitchener, Ontario

From The Waterloo Region Record (hat tip: Bruce Patterson), notice of an event from the same era that brought us Liberty Cabbage (i.e. sauerkraut) or prompted the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod to switch its liturgical language from German to English.

KITCHENER — No drums rolled. All who waited outside city hall stayed silent, digesting the news. Berlin had picked a new city name. Few turned out to vote and nobody cheered the result.

You know the winning name: Kitchener. Residents chose it 100 years ago today in 1916, in a second referendum after a bitter name-changing debate that exhausted everyone and made the city the butt of jokes across the nation.

So yes, there was little enthusiasm when it was over. More like a long, slow exhale. On Sept. 1, 1916, Berlin officially became Kitchener.

Residents voted narrowly to change Berlin’s name in the midst of the First World War to prove loyalty and stem the backlash against a city with deep German roots.

Canadian soldiers were battling Germany, dying amid distant thunder on the Western Front in Europe. Canada, consumed by anti-German sentiment, eyed Berlin darkly, uneasy about buying goods stamped Made in Berlin, suspicious of its young men who were reluctant to enlist….

It’s a crazy story. When Berlin voted narrowly in May 1916 to change its name, it had no new name in mind. Kitchener wasn’t even in the running.

The city made itself a national laughingstock when a civic committee produced a bizarre shortlist: Huronto. Bercana (a mixture of Berlin and Canada). Dunard. Hydro City. Renoma (it means famous in Esperanto, an artificial language no country actually speaks). Agnoleo (an obscure Italian boy’s name).

Then it got crazier.

On June 5, 1916, British war leader Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener was killed when his battleship hit a German mine and sank off Scotland. His death stunned the empire, and his name was thrown onto a revised shortlist that was only slightly less odd. The final choices: Kitchener. Brock. Adanac (Canada spelled backwards). Benton. Corona. Keowana.

Kitchener barely won, chosen by 346 people. 

Click on the link to see the official ballot, which surprisingly was printed in both English and German (in Fraktur, naturlich). 

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