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September 16: Duplicate Township Names

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In 1899, revised laws in North Dakota stated that no two townships could have the same name.

However, most townships didn’t act on the change. Pembina’s Pioneer Express opined, it was a law “in existence, but … in innocuous desuetude”—which was a fancy way of saying a harmless state of disuse.

In fact, there were several township names used three or four times! That is, until late August and September of 1904, when reports started trickling across the state that the plurality of same-names had to change, as ordered by the state auditor.

In all, about 60 townships had to change. One could keep the same name only if it was the first to legally organize with the name. If not, the local county commissioners had to decide on a new moniker.

For example, there were four Norman Townships in North Dakota. They were in Barnes, Cass, Steele, and Traill Counties. Since the one in Traill County was organized in 1880, before any of the others, that was the only one able to retain the name.

Other popular duplicates were Cleveland, Greenfield, Lincoln, Liberty, and Norway, each of which were used by four townships. Then came Dewey and McKinley, with three townships. And there were several more cases of duplicates.

People in Pembina noted that it would be best to keep the same first letter of the current townships, so that if listed alphabetically in any county books, they would remain in the same order. It seems the commissioners followed this advice, changing Avon to Advance, and Liberty to LaMoure.

Clever, but not all counties followed suit. In Cass, Webster Township was changed to Gunkel. They did keep one name similar, changing Norman to the oh-so-different…. Normana.

On this date in 1904, the Devils Lake newspaper noted, “The naming of the townships of this state are causing the authorities as much trouble as the naming of the first baby in the average household.”

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker


  • Devils Lake inter-ocean, September 16, 1904, p1
  • Oakes Republican, August 26, 1904, p5
  • The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, August 24, 1904, p6
  • The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, September 2, 1904, p8
  • The Pioneer Express, September 9, 1904, p1
  • The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, December 16, 1904, p13
  • The Pioneer Express, October 14, 1904, p8
  • The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, December 9, 1904, p11

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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