Little Egypt Heritage Articles
© Bill Oliver
2 December 2007
Vol 6 Issue: #46
O’siyo, Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen of Little Egypt,
Some communities come up with some unusual names. For instance there are
names for salutatiions such as "What Cheer", Iowa, card games such as
"Show Low", Arizona, and how about names for food such as "Toast",
Carolina or "Cookietown", Oklahoma. Usona, California is an acronym for
"United States of North America". If you were Mr. Snow and a had partner
named Mr. Flake, would you name a town "Snowflake", Arizona?
Communities get their names from geography, local history, personal
experience, beliefs, subsistence hunting, gathering, social structure
Languages say a lot also, for instance in southern England there is the
Cinque Ports. The French word for five is cinque, hence Five Ports.
Chicago is based on the Algonquin phrase for "where wild onions grow".
Tulsa is a Muskogean Indian word for the town which stood where Tulsa
now stands. Pocatello, Idaho was named for an Indian leader. Winnipig is
another Algonquin word and it means "dirty water". The Choctaw had a
village named "red pole" which served as a boundary marker. Red poll in
French, of course, is Baton Rouge. "Boise" in French means wooded. The
French did explore west at least as far as Idaho. How would you like to
live in "the mouth of the rat"? Or, Boca Raton, Florida. "Vlacht bos"
means flat forest in Dutch. Look at that closely and can you see the
curruption into "Flatbush", Brooklyn. Schenectady, New York is a
combination of Dutch and Iroquis. The Iroquis called it "the place of
the pines" and the Dutch heard something like "Scheaenhedstede" [stede
means town in Dutch].
Then there is always "Tesnus" which is sunset spelled backwards. There
is Magnet, Hazard, and Surprise, Nebraska. Massachusetts has the corner
on some names: Piety Corner and Brimstone Corner, with Tree of Knowledge
Corner in between.
As fascinating as names of communities can be, the stories behind them
often bring together historical fact and legend. And, more often than
not, more than one explanation for a name exists.
What is a Cincinnatus? More, who was Cincinnatus? A Roman ruler who
resisted tyranny. Following the Revolutionary War, military officers
bonded together to form the Cincinnati Society in his honor.
This story is told in Santa Claus, Indiana, which at one time was known
as "no name village". In 1856, folks met in a local church to change
that and after a long time with no solution a stranger arrived at the
door of the church riding in a sleigh. The youngsters there cried out
"Santa Claus" and so it was.
Hot Springs, New Mexico played host to Ralph Edwards and the town
fathers changed the name to the more snazzier name, "Truth or
Consequences". Or, was it the other way ‘round? :) Dime Box, Texas has
an interesting history and can be read at:
Those researches who try reading old documents can sypathize with
Correct, Indiana. Supposedly, the town was to be named Comet for
Halley's Comet, but postal officials in the early 1800s couldn't read
the handwriting on the application, reading it instead as "Correct".
Finding Toad Suck, Arkansas and Frog Jump, Tennessee, I reminded myself
that Frog Town wasn't exactly a lone name. There is Frogtown and
Frogcity, Illinois, Frogtown, Mississippi, and once Toledo, Ohio might
have been called Frogtown. There were many small communities within
present day Toledo and it could have been called any one of them,
including Frogtown. For where the present day county court house stands
was an area known as "Frogtown". Since the entire area of Northwestern
Ohio was within the "Great Black Swamp" this doesn't seem such an
Originality and appropriateness also play a part in naming communities.
Guide Rock in Webster County, Nebraska had that name before any Euro
settled in the valley. The bold promontory was a land mark used by all
peoples to that area. So, it was quite natural for the rocky precipice
which marked for them, the promised land to bear that name. Still this
wasn't the first name to be pushed for the name of the community. Red
Cloud was the first choice; however, to name it other than Guide Rock
would have been a clear misnomer.
The name of the westernmost township in Webster County was not adopted
until after much time, disappointment and controversy. The first
postmaster and mail carrier was a man named Uncle Allen Ayers, who was
selected for the position because he was also county commissioner, and
therefore, got mail on his trips in that position. Mr. Ayers naturally
had the first privilege of christening the embryo town. Mounting the
carcass of a buffalo, he gave the name of the slaughtered animal to the
new settlement. When the name was reported to the postmaster general, a
change was ordered due to there being another postoffice of that name in
the state. This, it is said, caused the general citizenry to become
interested in naming the village. A meeting was held and Hilton,
Nebraska was chosen. Still, for the same reason, this name was also
turned down by the postmaster general. Captain Knight came forward then
and suggested Rockford for the ford nearby. This too, was turned down
due to several other Rockford communities. Milton Learwe rallied a group
of folks in favor of calling it Cairo. This caused quite a commotion, so
W. J. Vance, credited as the first settler, called upon Mrs. Ayers, who
had suggested that he give a name different from any suggested so far
and that she would send that in to the department. Mr. Vance thus put
upon his head his "thinking facility", took the preposition "in", the
article"a", and the noun "vale" and built the coined word: Inavale, a
name of such peculiar felicity that all who have or seen it have been
"charmed with its propriety and euphony". Though attempts were made to
change it, In-a-vale it has remained.
Now should you think that name is peculiar, think of the town in
Missouri that got its handle in 1868 when the first postmaster wrote a
letter to the postmaster general in Wasnhington, D.C., reporting that
"We don't care what name you give us as long as it is sort of peculiar."
So, we have Peculiar, Missouri. But, then Missiouri also has Tightwad.
Was it just a single storekeeper who was thrifty like a Scot, or was it
the whole town?
e-la-Di-e-das-Di ha-WI NV-WA-do-hi-ya NV-WA-to-hi-ya-da.
(May you walk in peace and harmony)
"Myths are universal and timeless stories that reflect and shape our
lives ..." Alexander McCall Smith, Dream Angus
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