In the days before the Internet, the days of the very distant past before the establishment of local radio stations, to hear any reference to local places was rare. Of course, the local newspaper carried snippets from around the villages, but most of the time the names known to us remained known only to us. To go somewhere ten miles from home would be to enter a world where people might know few of the places with which you were familiar.
A name that seemed more familiar than many was that of the River Yeo. It was not until the M5 motorway was built, complete with signs advising drivers of the names of the rivers that the bridges crossed, that I realised that there was more than one River Yeo. It was not until an Internet search this week that I discovered there are no less than eleven River Yeos in south-west England, six of them are in Somerset. The Wikipedia entry lists the six:
River Yeo (South Somerset), which joins the River Parrett near Langport
Congresbury Yeo, which runs from Compton Martin to the Bristol Channel near Kingston Seymour
Cheddar Yeo, a tributary of the River Axe
Mark Yeo, a tributary of the River Axe
Lox Yeo River, a tributary of the River Axe
Perhaps each of the versions of the Yeo would have been thought special by the people living in its area. Among them, the Cheddar Yeo flows through Wookey Hole caves while the South Somerset Yeo is an important feature of the Levels. The common name for the rivers allowed people from different places to think that others shared their opinion of their home place.
“Exceptionalism,” the idea that your own country has a special or, even, unique place in the world, has become a significant feature of contemporary international politics. It has long been important in the thinking of the United States, and the approach of Brexit has led to the emergence of a British form of exceptionalism. Undoubtedly, numerous other countries might as examples of exceptionalist thinking.
As the word “Yeo” might apply to any of a number of rivers, so “Home” might apply to any country. If there could be a mutual recognition and respect of the differing claims to be exceptional, the conflicting exceptionalisms would be no more troubling than the different notions of what was meant by the River Yeo.