The Mast-Head: No ‘the’ in Springs

    The tussle over language and local place names has entered my own house, with my elder daughter announcing this week that she had taken a singing lesson in the Springs. I shuddered. As anyone who grew up here can tell you, it’s Springs, not “the” Springs, but my daughter doesn’t believe me.
    There is no telling where the “the” thing started, but it seems to have been quite some time ago. Back when I was a kid, in the 1970s, hanging out during summers at Indian Wells, the city kids we knew would say they lived in the Springs. To which we, born and bred here, as it were, just snickered.
    Controversy brewed some years ago, as I recall, when a group had signs made welcoming visitors to the hamlet, placing an out of place “The” in front of its name. Though carvings of scallop shells on the signs were quickly lifted by vandals, the signs remain, as does the misnomer.
    Authoritative sources, including Springs’s grade school, the East Hampton Town Code, the United States Census, and the classic, if I say so myself, East Hampton Star calendar all call the place Springs. Still the “the” endures and, who knows, may actually be increasing in use.
    Place names are mutable, sure, especially when many people are relative newcomers. My grandmother, who wrote books on local history and came from a family with 17th-century roots here, for example, left the “S” off Ditch Plain, a tradition we at The Star follow to this day. Do I think we will prevail and the thousands who have made Ditch Plains the Malibu Beach of the East will change their tune? No, I do not. But with Springs, I think there is a chance that tradition will prevail.
    What Springs or anywhere else is called may not seem to matter, but I would argue that it does. If oral tradition can be bent in this way, the qualities that make Springs appealing to its residents may also may be bent. Strong senses of place make for strong communities; change the name and more changes may follow.
    As far as the elder daughter is concerned, Dad is wrong no matter what argument he makes on the subject. “When they change the sign,” she said, “then I’ll change what I call it.”