January Blog: What Happened to the P in Hamden? - Hamden Regional Chamber of Commerce
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It could have been intentional or just an historical oversight.

“Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast
The little tyrant of his fields withstood;
Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,
Some Cromwell guiltless of his country’s blood.”

The above lines are from Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,” an overly-long poem (29 stanzas). This stanza is right in the middle. The Hampden referenced isn’t our own Town; it’s a reference to John Hampden, a 17th Century Englishman who rose up in opposition to King Charles I, and after whom our Hamden is named. You know, like Dixwell and Goff and Whalley.

John Hampden was only 48 when he died, during the Civil War against King Charles, in an ambush near Chalgrove. It is reported that he may have died from wounds suffered when his pistol exploded.

However, my purpose is to get the answer to a question I’ve wondered since I first moved here: What happened to the P in Hampden? When did it vanish?

Well, that’s not easy to find out. I did locate the “History of the Town of Hamden, Connecticut: With an Account of the Centennial Celebration, June 15, 1886.” We didn’t have any comparable event on the Bicentennial of the Town, and it’s too bad. The names of the people who spoke that day are quite familiar: Rev. Austin Putnam, the Hon. Henry Tuttle, “Mr. Ives of Mt. Carmel,” and J. H. Dickerman.

“A Centennial Hymn” was written for the occasion, by Deacon J. M. Payne:

One hundred years have fled,
And numbered with the dead,
The true and brave.

Yet for our common weal,
We’ll emulate their zeal,
And to our God appeal,
Our country save.

May Hamden ever be
Worthy of Liberty
Our fathers won.

That still doesn’t explain the missing P. But later in the Centennial Celebration book (which also includes very entertaining descriptions of those in attendance, including the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and the “pretty maidens of Hamden…they all wore their Sunday garments and they all had cheeks as red as roses and eyes as bright as the sunlight”), I found the following explanation, in a speech by William Phipps Blake (a geologist):

“Our peculiar orthography of the name requires a passing notice. It has been generally written here without the silent p, while Hampden is the prevailing English orthography. Yet we find that Hume, in his history, writes the name Hambden. President Stiles, of Yale College, so late as the year 1791, referring in his diary to this town, writes the name Hampden.”

And then he says, “But it is not my purpose to weary you with historical details.”

Oh, how I wish that Mr. Blake would have wearied us with more historical details. Perhaps we should campaign to put the P back in Hampden? Or should we accept a P-less Hamden, as a gesture of simplicity?


The Side Bar by Joseph McDonagh is a monthly blog of random topics on local interests. Joe is a writer posing as an independent insurance agent. His interests include the Red Sox, healthcare, etymology and linguistics, history, and the cultivation of democracy.