Last Thursday, the Baltimore Sun ran a front page article by veteran journalist Jonathan Pitts titled “Loss of Sparrows Point name bittersweet.” This piqued my interest. The very same day, The Eagle ran (on page 4) a story by veteran reporter Nicole Rodman headlined “Sparrows Point Terminal becomes Tradepoint Atlantic.”

I immediately saw that the papers had approached this issue from different angles, so I read on with great interest.

That’s where the confusion set in.

As both articles correctly state, the group that purchased the 3,100 acre former Bethlehem Steel site has changed the name of the corporation it has established to manage and develop the site from Sparrows Point Terminal to Tradepoint Atlantic.

So far so good.

Then something odd happens.

Pitts goes on to write, “The move consigns to history a name Marylanders have associated with the site since Cecelius Calvert, Second Baron Baltimore, granted hundreds of acres in what is now southeastern Baltimore County to an English-born planter, Thomas Sparrow, more than 360 years ago.”

Okay. This was getting weird. First, I could get snarky and point out that the Lord Proprietary’s name was Cecil, and he only used Cecelius when he wrote his name in Latin documents. But that’s Wikipedia for you. The real issue, however, is Pitts’ use of the phrase “consigns to history.”

Why? Because a company changed it’s name?

The owners of Tradepoint Atlantic changed its name because, according to them, they plan to achieve a global presence and need a brand that is not so colloquial. I get it. So they ditched the words “Sparrows Point.” Its facility is still located on Sparrows Point. The Point, regardless of any decision by a Hanover-based business group, is still the Point.

Maryland Steel, for example, started operations at the Point in the 19th century. They were bought out by Pennsylvania Steel, which became Bethlehem Steel. All of these industries operated on the Point. Now Tradepoint Atlantic will as well. Why is there hand wringing over loss of a name?

Not to be too wonky or technical, but, by law, the official United States Map is maintained by the U.S. Geological Survey, a division of the Department of the Interior. A quick check of its website shows that the United States of America defines Sparrows Point as a “Cape … [n]amed for Thomas Sparrow who was given a land grant by Lord Baltimore in 1652.” It provides a location description, elevation, longitude and latitude.

And it includes the dates on which the United States Geographic Board officially adopted and affirmed the name of Sparrows Point. I have included copies of the cards on which they recorded their decisions. There is no indication that anyone has applied to change the name to Tradepoint Atlantic Point.

So what’s all this about the loss of Sparrows Point? Does North Point cease to exist if we change the name of North Point State Park (I am not suggesting this)? Does Sollers Point disappear if we change the name of Sollers Point Road?

Greater Dundalk exists on these three peninsulas (don’t write in. The OED says peninsula is an obsolete word). Here we have Edgemere and Fort Howard and Dundalk and Millers Island (which is, admittedly, on Cuckold Point, its own little peninsula) and Sparrows Point.

So how has Sparrows Point been “consigned to history”?

I hope Tradepoint Atlantic prospers. And, if it does, it will do so on Sparrows Point.

Jonathan O’Neill


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