The world is full of “twin cities” – two cities side by side that are essentially one. Just consider St. Paul and Minneapolis in Minnesota, Dallas and Fort Worth in Texas, and Buda and Pest in Hungary. But, New Jersey, and more specifically, northern Monmouth County, is home to its own pair of cities forever linked together for better or worse. I’m talking about Matawan and Aberdeen, or if you prefer, Aberdeen and Matawan. Not only is/are it/they the most famous twin cities on this side of the Mississippi, but it/they is/are the town(s) in which I grew up.
I won’t bore you with the full history of Matawan and Aberdeen, but just know that Matawan is officially known as Matawan Borough, and Aberdeen was originally called Matawan Township, until 1977 when residents voted to change the name to avoid confusion. Interestingly, Wikipedia tells me that the name Aberdeen was chosen so the town could appear first alphabetically of all the municipalities in the Armpit of America. Given the nature of the two towns, that is quite understandable. You see, Matawan is the older of the two and is full of history; it’s been around since the Revolutionary War and has seen a lot of action since then. Most prominent, the town was one site of the infamous shark attacks that plagued the shore in 1916. As for Aberdeen, it is the much more boring of the two, notable for absolutely nothing.
Despite their origins and divergent histories, the two towns are forever linked together, sharing a post office, school district, sports leagues and their dirty secrets. But in each joint venture, there is always the challenge of deciding whose name should come first. Sometimes, it’s Aberdeen – after all, it does come first alphabetically. But other times, history trumps the laws of convention and Matawan comes first. And, as is often the case, an institution will be named after one town although resided squarely in the other.
Just consider my former high school. Though it is in Aberdeen, the school bears the name of Matawan. Another interesting example is the towns’ train station. Matawan Station had long been a staple in town, taking thousands of commuters to their jobs in New York City. In the late 1990s, however, the historic train station was closed down and a new one was erected across the street and across the border – Matawan Station was now in Aberdeen! The whole thing caused a big uproar about what the new station should be called. Matawan traditionalists held that it should keep its old name; those in Aberdeen wanted it named after its new town. The result was a compromise, and the new station was christened “Aberdeen-Matawan Station.” However, the name never stuck; everyone from the train conductors to Aberdeen residents themselves still call it Matawan Station.
The relationship between Aberdeen and Matawan is indeed a complicated one, and the issue would hit me head on when I went to college. During the first week, everyone in the dorm would ask everyone else the same question, “Where are you from?” This being Rutgers, nearly everyone was from somewhere in New Jersey. Still, whenever I answered with my true hometown of Aberdeen, I was always met with puzzled looks. I would then clarify that it was near Matawan, which most people recognized, most likely due to the high school and train station that bear its name, despite both being in Aberdeen. And so from that experience, I learned to always say Matawan whenever asked about where I’m from. So Aberdeen gets the shaft again. But at least it’s still the first town in New Jersey alphabetically!
All joking aside, Monmouth County’s twin cities were a great place to grow up.
Whether Aberdeen comes first…
Or Matawan does…
I couldn’t be more proud to call them my hometown(s)!