Returning from Europe a few years ago, after driving the autobahns of southern Germany with a stop in the French city of Strasbourg, I chanced to head out I-66 into Virginia beyond the Beltway. As though caught in a space warp, I encountered a roadside mileage sign that informed me of distances on that road to Vienna and Strasburg. It was as though I never had boarded that jet at Frankfurt.

What brings this to mind is a news item in the past day or so referring to Damascus. Not that Damascus, the one in Syria -- this Damascus, the one in Montgomery County. To refer unambiguously to our suburban town, not far beyond the shadow cast by the Washington Monument, the reporter found it necessary to append the word, "Md."

Likewise, Vienna, an incorporated town in Fairfax County, often must be described with the "Va.," although few readers of this newspaper are likely to confuse a reference to its main drag of Maple Street with a reference to the Austrian capital's Ringstrasse.

Around the region, we have several other places with foreign counterparts, most notably Virginia's Alexandria, which we accept as ours, and append the word "Egypt" when referring to the other. In this region, you'll also find two Springfields, the larger and better-known one in Fairfax County with a lesser known community in Montgomery County. Only the latter requires clarifying identification. Obviously, when we mention Arlington without further identification, we're speaking of Virginia, not Texas; and Rockville, standing alone, is the one in Maryland, not Connecticut.

The Washington Post's Deskbook on Style, which is supposed to guide our writers and editors down the path of consistency, says we should refer to Oakland without a "Calif.," which, of course, means that we must refer to the Oakland in our own backyard, the Garrett County seat, as "Oakland, Md."