On Route 36 south of Lonaconing, Md., on George’s Creek, sits the old mining community of Nikep. Or is it Pekin?
How this community came to have two names, each the reverse of the other, was explained by Washington Post reporter John Kelly in two “Answer Man” columns in 2004. Here’s the first one; here’s the second.
Pekin, pronounced PEE-kin, was the original name, supposedly because it was on approximately the same latitude as ancient Pekin, the capital of China. At some point, the Post Office got tired of mail addressed to Pekin, Md., getting sent by mistake to Pekin, Ind. – one of the several other U.S. Pekins at that same latitude.
The Post Office fixed the problem by arbitrarily reversing the name of Maryland’s Pekin to form Nikep, which most locals pronounce as if it rhymes with “hiccup.” But many Pekin residents and businesses, including the railroad, refused to observe the new name, so confusion has reigned ever since – even though Nikep/Pekin long since lost its ZIP Code and its post office, the reason for the change in the first place. Its residents’ postal address is now Lonaconing.
China’s Pekin, meanwhile, became Peking and now Beijing.
Lots of place names in the United States are formed by reversed spellings. Dan Tilque has an interesting article on the subject, with addenda.