Tourists to Maine can become confused by some of the road signs they see.

Paris is just 48 kilometers south of Peru, and Norway is just a few minutes farther down the road. And you can drive to Mexico, Denmark and Moscow in less than an hour, too.

Map of Maine marked with communities named after countries and international cities (State Dept.)
(State Dept./Julia Maruszewski)

Why are Maine’s towns thus named?

Settlers who named these communities 200 or so years ago were inspired by others around the world who were fighting for their independence or defending themselves from foreign invaders. For example:

  • The inhabitants of the town of Mexico, Maine, named it in 1818 in support of the people of Mexico who were fighting for independence from Spain.
  • Denmark, Maine, was so named in 1807 by the residents who sympathized with the Danes, whose navy had recently been attacked by the British.
  • The townspeople of Peru, Maine, chose this name for their community when Peru declared its independence from Spain in 1821.
Road sign with distances for Norway, Paris, Denmark, Naples, Sweden, Poland, Mexico, Peru and China (© Alamy)
This confounding sign is among the most photographed in the New England state of Maine. (© Alamy)

Other towns named after countries — like Sweden, Norway, Poland and China — received their names for a variety of reasons. China, for example, was the name of a popular song at that time, and Sweden was settled by Swedish immigrants.

Maine, located at the northernmost tip of New England, next to Canada, likewise has cities named after historic political events in cities in far-off countries.

In admiration of Russia’s then-recent defeat of Napoleon’s army, settlers in Maine named their new town Moscow in 1812.

And Paris, Maine, was named in 1793 in recognition of France’s assistance in the American Revolution (18 other towns across the U.S. likewise are named Paris).

Maine is not the only U.S. state that has named towns after countries and international cities, but it stands out because there are so many of these overseas references so close to one other.