Score one more for the little guy.
The Saint is finally gone from St. John.
After enduring the slow grind of government bureaucracy for more than a year, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names this month officially changed the spelling of a tiny town in Stafford County back to its original spelling, letting the town’s 1,200 residents spell their hometown St. John – the way they always intended.
The town of St. John was established in the fall of 1874. Originally the community’s name was Zion Valley but it changed in 1879 during the Stafford County seat war between Stafford and Zion Valley.
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Residents in Zion Valley suggested to John Pierce St. John, the eighth governor of Kansas, that if the county seat could be in their community, they would be willing to change the name to St. John.
They won. The name was changed.
For almost a century, the town’s businesses and families blissfully spelled their town’s name just like the governor did.
But in the 1970s, the United States Postal Service – in its quest to transition to computers – inadvertently changed the name of the town to Saint John, even though the town’s post office still said “St. John.”
Before long, almost every government agency, computer catalog and Google map said Saint John.
Last year, an online petition was started by St. John High School alumni asking the Postal Service to change its current listing for the town – Saint John – back to the abbreviated version.
The Postal Service changed the name in a matter of days. But the U.S. Board on Geographic Names in Reston, Va., remained steadfast in its decision to spell the town with a Saint – until its July 9 meeting.
According to a letter sent to Gary Meyer, one of the alumni who had petitioned for the name change, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names made only a few changes to St. John. Lou Yost, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names executive secretary wrote Meyer:
“The Board approved a change to the names of (these) … associated cultural features and civil divisions (St. John, City of St. John, St. John City Hall, St. John Elementary School, St. John High School, St. John Municipal Power Plant, St. John Police Department, St. John Post Office, St. John Sewer Treatment Plant, St. John Volunteer Fire Department and the Township of St. John).”
But it refused to change the names of St. John’s churches: Saint John Church of Christ, Saint John the Apostle Catholic Church and Saint John United Methodist Church. “This decision was made in the belief that the features were more likely named for Saint John and not for Governor St. John.”
Still, this is a victory, says Meyer, a 1986 graduate of St. John High School who now lives in Colorado Springs.
“I think it is pretty cool,” he said. “The No. 1 rule of courtesy or manners is to call people what they want to be called. That’s why this matters.”
And so, when people now Google a certain town in Stafford County, they will find St. John (although it still comes up Saint John on Facebook and the Weather Channel).
Jim Ronen, a longtime resident of St. John whose family roots stretch back to the county’s formation, said it’s a problem that has bothered him for at least a decade.
“Some people may not have given a toot but I do,” Ronen said. “I have always been from St. John, and it feels good that at least the higher ups have said this is St. John.”